By Margaret Fuhrer
05 February 2021
“How am I supposed to feel confident in myself when these are the ballet body standards?” begins a TikTok video by user @hardcorpsballet. The question stopped this former dancer mid-scroll. An honest conversation about ballet’s cult of thinness? Yes, please.
Then came the slide show: not a parade of waiflike bodies, but instead the well-padded Bear from Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” and the furred and feathered creatures of Frederick Ashton’s “Tales of Beatrix Potter.”
Reader, I giggled.
I had entered ballet TikTok, where a rule-bound art form meets unruly creativity. Casual, confessional and playful, TikTok offers a release for ballet dancers, particularly students, who spend their days chasing impossible perfection. TikTok is a place to laugh about the impossibility, rather than obsess over perfection.
As more and more stuck-at-home dancers join TikTok, it has also become a place to dissect some of the problems and clichés that dog ballet. Users make darkly funny memes about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, abusive teachers, misogyny and homophobia. They are the same issues that dance films and TV shows mine for drama and melodrama. But the wounded whimsy of ballet TikTok reflects what it actually feels like to be a ballet dancer — the frustrations and joys of a demanding, problematic, beautiful art.
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