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Advice for Tall Ballet Dancers

Until George Balanchine founded New York City Ballet in 1948, the most celebrated ballet dancers were generally more petite in stature. Balanchine’s penchant for tall women changed the public’s perception of what a dancer could look like. As the world of ballet evolves, there is no longer an ideal height for a dancer. Yet, taller dancers — especially women — occupy a particular niche.

Since their limbs are elongated, their center of gravity is higher, and they grow at a much more rapid pace than smaller dancers, tall dancers have specific needs throughout their training. Additionally, once they begin to dance en pointe, female dancers can soar above their peers and colleagues on stage. This reality can affect their work in the corps de ballet and in partnering. This guide will offer advice to anyone struggling with the challenges of their verticality. With the proper approach, a tall dancer can be utterly stunning.

Teaching Tall Students

To promote confidence, teachers can instill pride in their taller dancers with just a few simple techniques:

  • It may be customary to put tall dancers in the back of the studio or stage so they don’t block or hide the shorter students. Instead of doing that, try placing taller dancers in front, even if they are off to the side a little bit.
  • Traveling across the floor is a great way to get dancers to move. Put your taller dancers in a group together so they can eat up the space without feeling like they will run somebody over.
  • If your tall dancers stick out like sore thumbs when casting roles for a performance, consider giving them special solos. Even if it is a brief solo, they won’t feel left out.

Common Challenges for Adolescents

Dancers between the ages of 11 to 16 will be going through a significant maturation process. During that time, they will also begin to hone their classical technique. The muscles strengthened and the coordination developed during these years are crucial for a successful career in ballet. Dancers who sprout up past their class during this time have a tendency to fall behind. Each time they advance their skills, they will subsequently grow, and then have to “re-learn” their body.

Hopefully, most teachers and directors are sensitive to this process, as building confidence in a young, tall ballet student is essential. It will be tempting for a budding ballerina to feel self-conscious about her height as she watches her classmates execute more advanced steps. Unfortunately, many tall teenagers begin to slouch, become timid in their movements, and dance “small.” It’s actually the exact opposite that needs to happen. The only way to build up a young dancer’s skill set is to have her fulfill her potential — and for a tall dancer, that means dancing BIG!

Tips for Tall Dancers

Don’t worry if you’re a taller student struggling to keep up with your shorter counterparts in ballet class. Your physical traits are probably going to develop at a different rate. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to improve your dancing:

  • Try Pilates to build core strength: By doing this, you will gain control over your limbs.
  • Stretch often for higher extensions: Staying limber will make your already long lines even more extreme.
  • Step “out” when you dance: By doing this, you will not only gain strength, but directors will begin to notice your command of the space.
  • Ask to understudy: If you are not getting the roles you want yet, understudying is great way to be ready when something comes your way.
  • Find a partner: Even if your partner is shorter and is unable to lift you, practicing steps such as pirouettes will acquaint you with pas de deux work.
Faces of Ballet ...
Muriel Maffre
Height: 5 feet, 10 inches
Resides: San Francisco, CA
School: Paris Opera Ballet School
Company: The San Francisco Ballet
Getting to know Muriel: Maffre is one of the tallest ballerinas working today. At the age of 16, she exceeded the Paris Opéra Ballet School’s height requirements and was forced to change schools. In addition to performing virtually every principal role in the San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire, she was also knighted by the French Ministry of Culture in 2008 for her contribution to the arts.

Find a Mentor

Looking up to a successful dancer who reminds you of yourself is a great way to build self-esteem. For that reasons, tall dancers should try to find an older dancer who is also tall. Watch that person in class or on stage and, if possible, ask about their experiences. Most likely, this dancer had to overcome some of the similar struggles. The idea is to learn from this mentor’s mistakes and successes.

Find Your Niche

If you are a taller ballet student with professional aspirations, start researching companies that hire tall dancers. Although the ballet world is becoming more open to artists of all heights, it may still be difficult to find a job with certain ballet companies. Once you have discovered a company you think could be a good fit, see if it has a training or apprenticeship program. Most likely, if a company hires tall dancers, it will be especially equipped to train tall dancers.

Stay Patient

Most tall dancers will tell you that their career peaked a little later than their shorter counterparts. Although it may take longer to become the dancer you want to be, you have to stay patient and hang in there. Keep your chin up. With enough diligence, you can grow into a unique and powerful dancer!

Tall dancers have unique strengths, as well as particular challenges. This guide will help you to maximize your potential as a statuesque dancer.
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