Do pointe shoes cripple your feet? Do ballerinas eat dessert? We take a look at some of the most commonly held beliefs about ballet dancers – and apply some real talk.
20 Jul 2021
MYTH ONE: Ballerinas' feet are crippled
There’s no doubt about it, spending your working life in pointe shoes does affect your feet. Blisters form and harden, bunions and calluses develop. It may not look pretty, but it has a purpose: protection. Ballerinas’ feet are well used! Principal Artist Amber Scott says, “It’s like someone who works with their hands. The joints get bigger through use, the skin gets callused … they’re doing a job, and they’re adapting to that job.” After ballerinas finish their careers, their feet generally return to their pre-pointe condition: the calluses subside, and the skin becomes smooth and soft again.
MYTH TWO: Dancers don't eat
Our Soloist Karen Nanasca says, “I can’t count the number of times I have been asked, ‘Do you eat?’, which is infuriating… Fuelling our bodies and keeping them in optimum condition is vital in a career that is both physically and mentally demanding.” In a normal year, our company performs over 200 shows. Our dancers train like elite athletes, six days a week; during performance periods, their day can go from early-morning conditioning class to ice baths after the evening show, with only brief breaks in between. Like any athlete, our dancers must learn how to nourish their bodies for performance, strength, endurance and recovery. They’re also human, and love the odd splurge – many of our dancers enjoy baking, and there are always bowls of chocolates in the dressing rooms on opening nights.
MYTH THREE: Male dancers wear pointe shoes
They don’t. But never say never! Male ballet dancers wear flats, but there is the occasional role in the repertoire which requires them to don pointe shoes. Bottom, when he is transformed into a donkey in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, has pointe-shoe ‘hoofs’; the Ugly Stepsisters in some versions of Cinderella also wear pointe shoes. After preparing for and performing these roles, our male dancers report a renewed respect for our ballerinas’ strength and balance.
MYTH FOUR: You can't have a ballet career and children
In previous generations, dancers, particularly female ones, had to choose between family and career. But times have changed, certainly at The Australian Ballet, where the dancers have full-time contracts that include parental leave. Several of our ballerinas – including principal artists – have returned to the stage after having babies.
MYTH FIVE: Tall girls can't be dancers
Gone are the days when a company’s swans or sylphs would be a perfectly level line of five-foot-two women. Our smallest female dancer is 154cm; our tallest is 178cm. Technique, musicality, tenacity and that luminous ‘extra’ quality – artistry – are the important factors for reaching the heights in a dance career.