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Too tall to ballet

By Katia Gort

Film and TV Editor Katia gives a personal account of the prejudice she faced as a tall person in ballet.

I started going to ballet classes at the age of three. We had just moved to Spain from America, and my mother was eager to find a fun activity where I might make friends. I was a very tall child, and my dance instructor was not accustomed to the awkwardly long limbs which made me tower above the rest of the kids. After my introductory class, where parents were allowed to watch, the dance teacher approached my mother: “Your child is not very coordinated for her age”. My mother was as shocked at this remark as she was proud of her three year old dancing among much older girls. Asking her how old she thought I was: “Five”, the instructor responded. While I don’t remember this interaction, it set the tone for my ballet ‘career’: too tall to fit in with girls my age, and too clumsy to blend in with older dancers (an eyesore).

While the dance school was not a professional academy, it took itself very seriously and prided itself on the success of its students. The instructors were harsh and pushed everyone to perform to a high level. One teacher in particular would constantly insult me: she had dreamed of becoming a professional ballet dancer herself – only to be told in the last years of her academic training that she could not be a working professional, and her large chest would prevent her from being anything other than a teacher. I believe it was this disillusionment that led her to be mean towards girls like me, and it meant I almost quit.

While I did generally like the fast pace of learning, I was frustrated that even with my constant and determined efforts, my body was different from the other girls. Mostly a head shorter than me, their bodies looked neat and elegant in contrast to mine, and they had an easier time performing movements with elasticity.  As time went on I became more flexible and my body started to adapt to my arms and legs. I was tall, but proportionally so. I also became a good dancer. In the classes, I would always be at the front of the group and would often be chosen to demonstrate dance moves or exercises. 

However, regardless of how hard I worked or how many classes I took, I was never allowed to dance in the limelight when we performed in the annual dance festival. This might seem like a petty complaint, but in this carefully choreographed show, girls were deliberately placed according to their abilities – with the ‘best’ dancers at the front and the ‘worst’ at the back. This is not to take away from the talent and hard work from the girls in the front, but there were still clear biases in the decision process: personal favouritism, but also aesthetic prejudice. Because of this, I was never allowed to be a central dancer, despite being in the front row in class consistently for several years. My height, much like other girls’ weight or age, kept me confined to a corner. Limited by my height, which disturbed what the school deemed an appropriate image, my dancing progress stagnated, as I watched all the other dancers of similar abilities have their chance in the spotlight, while I remained on the sidelines. 

After three years of this treatment, the final straw was my teacher’s refusal to let me start pointe shoe dance classes. In our school, you could start dancing ‘pointe’ after having progressed beyond a certain level. I had achieved this two years prior, and had to watch girls who had started after me be ‘promoted’ to pointe while I was denied the opportunity. My teacher never explicitly said it was because of my height, but myself and my sister (the only two tall girls in the ballet school) were the only girls in our level this happened to. In frustration, I left ballet, and pursued jazz instead, a far less restrictive style in which I flourished. 

I spent over ten years doing ballet, and while I don’t regret it, I still get angry when I am reminded of the reason I quit. The way I was limited and ridiculed because of my height during a time where I just wanted to be accepted has left its mark. However, I refuse to let this hold more than momentary weight, and prefer to cherish the memory of my three year old self who just wanted to dance.


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