My work as a nutritionist for dancers goes beyond what we put on our plates. It has evolved into playing an active role in leading an otherwise antiquated industry towards healthier standards. Banishing the very stereotypes that make our art “cut-throat” is the goal of both myself and my fellow dance-medicine professionals. I’m proud to be part of that conversation!
So you can understand my initial concern as I began watching the new series. With the first episode laying the groundwork for the most common dancer stereotypes (eating disorders, cut-throat competition, and an overall “no pain no game” attitude), I was worried that such portrayals would only solidify conventional ideas about ballet.
But then I kept watching…
Side note: It can be assumed that the characters portrayed are under-age. Despite this, however, much of the show involves explicit scenes and triggering content. For this reason, it’s strongly encouraged that dancers do not watch Tiny Pretty Things if younger than 18 years. Furthermore, if struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, you might find the content triggering. If that’s the case, seek professional resources.
Let’s start here: the cast overflows with talent. I couldn’t be more appreciative to see these dancers perform on the big screen. And with exceptional choreography thanks to an A-list team, including Guillaume Côté, Juliano Nunes, Garrett Smith, Tiler Peck, and Robert Binet… Let’s just say I got hooked quickly.
And as I moved deeper into each of the varying yet intertwining storylines, it became obvious that my initial concerns were more of a reflection of my own ignorance towards what is true for the dance industry. Let’s break it down into the two most apparent stereotypes portrayed.
#1: The Normalization of Disordered Eating
It’s common for dancers to seek control over their food choices solely because they *think* it’s what they’re “supposed” to be doing. Seeing the characters depict such behaviors could easily trigger a dancer into this “I should be doing that…” mindset. And since this is literally the purpose of EVERYTHING I do at To The Pointe Nutrition, I couldn’t help but worry about these messages.
My eventual realization, however, is that although shifts are progressing, the dance world remains knee-deep in body ideals. Dancers who might not fit the “ideal” are still being ostracized for their body size and weight. With such realities comes the subsequent wave of dieting that follows a dancer’s decision to restrict calories or food. Facing this stereotype headfirst isn’t a problem, it’s a battle cry.
So if we step back and view the destructive results of such habits, like Oren’s inability to get through a simple photoshoot, we see that disordered eating can indeed cost a talented dancer’s time in the spotlight. And let’s not forget the very fact that we rarely hear about the prevalence of male eating disorders. Though less obvious and less expected, male dancers have the same susceptibility, risk, and hormonal consequences of restrictive eating habits. Thumbs up to the writers for portraying this!
#2: The Glamorization of Cut-Throat Competition
I get it– Netflix needs to hook their audience and for the most part, that audience is not necessarily dance-educated. As Bette does whatever it takes to get June’s lead role, one can only wonder if young dancers will feel the same pressure to turn to extreme measures for success (well, without turning to attempted murder!) Perhaps I got lucky in my career as a dancer. I never experienced an atmosphere as destructive as the one depicted in the show.
But I do understand the sacrifice and the competition. You spend your days and weeks with the dancers… your friends whom you grow so close with. You love each other, but at the same time… you’re competitors. It’s a tough balance! But to isolate yourself for the sake of a lead will drive you to burnout… a lonely one to say the least. Sure competition drives motivation… and much of this competition is born in the studio. But don’t let it consume you. A dancer should wear multiple hats in life. These experiences offer depth to your artistry… the artistry you need for the stage.
As for the additional issues depicted: racism, sexism, and socioeconomic elitism. There’s no doubt all are very much apparent in the industry. With that said, dance families should know that these issues are just as real in any industry.
My conclusion? The show is a fabulous call for continued action. The writers creatively use clichés and a controversial yet addicting storyline to not only address destructive stereotypes, but to also exemplify how we can fight them… from the bottom. It’s essential for dancers to build confidence in themselves to overcome such obstacles. And while our industry still has quite a long way to go, challenging the “higher-ups” might be the only way to instill change.