Broken Ballerinas

When I was 5-years-old I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I was obsessed by pink slippers and black leotards and most especially tutus. I changed into my pink sequined tutu when I got home from preschool, and I idolized my babysitter who studied ballet at LaGuardia High School and wore high ponytails and motorcycle boots. She gave me a pair of her toe shoes which I carried around in my backpack for most of first grade, maybe to impress my friends, but also just because I loved them. There is something so beautiful, so elegant, so feminine about ballet. It may be the most graceful art, but it is also the most disciplined. Which is why after age 7 I lost my patience for it and took to drawing on my walls instead—the visual arts are far more freeing.

I saw Black Swan a few weeks ago and then last week I saw The Red Shoes for the first time. Both films are set in the excruciatingly perfect world of ballet, and both are beautiful and devastating as they linger in your thoughts for days. There is no room for error in ballet, the movements must be perfect. If you can’t get your body to perform with the required grace, you either work harder, or give up. Part of the fascination with ballet (aside from the beautiful costumes and sets), is the perfection—it’s exhausting to watch at times, but when performed with ease, it’s completely mesmerizing.

Both the protagonist in The Red Shoes, Vickie Paige, and in Black Swan, Nina Sayers, are forced to make enormous sacrifices for their art—love, family, health, even sanity. The two films look at the world of ballet from the back, and both show us the physical and mental torment that come with the quest for perfection. Obviously not all ballerinas have nervous breakdowns, but it does seem that, more than other art forms, ballet projects the idea of beauty through pain. Maybe that feeds our fascination, or maybe it’s just the pretty costumes and the breathtaking elegance. Either way, both these films give deeply effective portrayals of the complexity of the ballet world and the dancers within them. There is the expected theatrical drama of who will get the lead and who will succeed, but it’s the vice-like pressure, the fear of failure, and the need to be the “ideal” that acts as the driving force. The pressure isn’t just from overbearing directors, or mothers, but all the more disturbingly, from within the individual.

Whether you’re a fan of ballet or you think Swan Lake is danced by hippos and ostriches, you will find yourself caught up in these films. While Black Swan takes the viewer on a spiraling trip into the psyche (the actual dancing not being very important), The Red Shoes delivers a heartbreaking account of impossible choice (with incredible dancing), both films make clear that an artist cannot achieve perfection without a certain degree of sacrifice. In the end, it is left to us to decide whether we believe the sacrifice was worth it.

I can’t take screen-shots of Black Swan because it’s not out on DVD yet, but The Red Shoes is simply gorgeous, here are some stills to convince you to see it.

Look, 40s era costumes with ballet slippers—how can you not love that?

Is this not gorgeous?

At a certain point it’s so beautiful, it doesn’t even look real anymore.

This post is pretty much just an excuse for me to do two things, 1. tell you to watch both of these amazing movies, and 2. make a pretty ballet collage on Polyvore. I hope I’ve gotten through to you on the first point, and see below for the second—I’ve never outgrown my 5-year-old self’s love of ballet inspired pieces, and I still love tutus—don’t you?

Odette / Odille by justinez featuring a ballet skirt

Lover Muse lace dress
$935 –
Lace dresses »

Black Feather Dress**
110 GBP –
Black cocktail dresses »

Organic Bamboo Drape Dress
149 GBP –
Wedge dress »

Relevé Dress
$78 –
Print dresses »

Ladies Shrug
10 GBP –
Shrug cardigan »

Tanya Tie Front Shrug
42 GBP –
Bolero cardigans »

White feather shrug
49 GBP –
White tops »

Lanvin skirts BLACK
1,365 GBP –
Black skirts »

vita viscose bodysuit
$48 –
French Connection »

Kia Luxury Leggings by Theory
161 GBP –
Leggings »

Repetto Bolchoi Metal
$350 –
Flat pumps »

Ladies Ribbon Bow Belt
8 GBP –
Ribbon belts »

Classic crystal tiara
35 GBP –
Crystal hair accessories »

NARS Night Collection Eyeshadow
$23 –



Filed under celebrity

9 responses to “Broken Ballerinas

  1. emily

    i could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about this post.
    ALL dancers DO have breakdowns. all the time. crazy crazy crazy crazy breakdowns. i am totally fucked up because of dance and my constant pursuit of excellence and perfection. it is a reality and an obsession.
    so is the desire for pain as a way to know i am alive.

    i never dreamed of being classically beautiful when i started dancing. that’s not why i started. that’s not why most dancers start. it’s a need. it’s not about the attention. we are sick and it is what makes us well. that’s why we are so dedicated. not to be the best. we are sick and it makes us well. it’s to understand our existance.

    i have some extra pointe shoes if you really want them.
    they are pretty special things. i can do everything they do in that movie, pretty well, and could teach you.

  2. mkz201

    I think I’ve known more permanently injured dancers than I have athletes in my day. It is shockingly hard on the body in a way that no other art form really is.

  3. haren

    Isn’t this a “Beauty in the Movies?”

  4. oliveit

    What an amazing shot of the 40s era costumes with ballet slippers! Will have to check it out!

  5. Sarah

    Why can’t the ballet world be as fun and whimsical as we want it to be? Pretending to be a ballerina around my apartment is so much fun!
    …but I know from the past, that real dance classes are so rigid, and filled with snooty ballerinas who point and laugh. Oh-and teachers who poke you and move you around and tell you to stop sticking your butt out! I will stick to dancing around at home (with my butt as far out as I like it).

  6. The sets on Red Shoes are Dali-esque, just an amazingly beautiful movie. Black Swan in also great, one of the best horror films I’ve seen in ages. Or is it a psychological thriller? Two very impressive and moving films now one great blog! Why don’t they make movies about bowling like this??? I want to see Deniro having a bowling breakdown.

  7. Lizzy

    i’ve been wanting to see red shoes! maybe you’ve just pushed me to see it. and wasn’t black swan sooo good? the part when she dances as the black swan is freaking amaaaaaaazing!

  8. jessica

    thanks for the polyvore collage – i was actually on polyvore last week trying to find a swan lake collage!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s