My work as a nutritionist for dancers goes beyond what we put on our plates. It has proudly 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 so many dance-science professionals. And I’m proud to be part of that conversation.
So you can understand my frustration as I started watching the new series, Tiny Pretty Things. 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 sure that the show would be more of an injustice to the dance world whilst providing entertainment for viewers not-so-familiar with what we dancers go through.
Until I kept watching…
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.
The show is not an injustice to our world. Nope- I was wrong. It’s a call for continued action. Action to not only face these destructive stereotypes but to fight them headfirst from the bottom. Just as the dancers do in the show, challenging the “higher-ups” might be the only way to instill change. So through the clichés and the controversial yet addicting storyline, let’s dive into the two most apparent stereotypes portrayed.
Side note: It can be assumed that the characters portrayed are under-age. Despite this, however, much of the show is drenched with explicit scenes. Unnecessary much? I think so. The triggering content in itself worries me. For this reason, it’s strongly encouraged that dancers do not watch Tiny Pretty Things if they’re under 18 years. Furthermore, if struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, seek professional resources.
Stereotype 1: Disordered Eating
My initial concern was 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 come the subsequent waves of dieting habits that follow 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 their 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.
Stereotype 2: 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 also competitors. It’s a tough balance! But to isolate yourself for the sake of a lead with 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. All of which is very much apparent in the industry. With that said, dance families should know that these issues are not necessarily more real in the dance industry than any other industry.
But it’s essential for dancers to build confidence in themselves to overcome such obstacles as a means to succeed in any industry. There’s no doubt that our industry still has quite a long way to go. But facing these issues, as the characters do in the show, is clearly the only way we’ll move in a direction against them.