How Tall Is Too Tall to Dance?
To my fellow long-limbed dancers,
Almost every month, I receive a letter from an aspiring ballerina about her struggles as the tallest girl in the class. While growing up and peaking at six feet tall (in flat shoes), I used to have these very same insecurities.
Freelancing throughout Europe now, away from the safety net of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, I was recently met with overt commentary on my six foot frame during a ballet casting.
"But you're taller than the tallest girl we've ever had in this role!"
"Gosh, you're just stunning, I just don't know what to do!"
"I'm not sure the costume will be long enough...but you're just so beautiful."
Awkwardly grinning/gritting my teeth, trying to decipher whether I was being complimented or ostracized, I decided that no matter the outcome, a job that otherizes instead of celebrates isn't worth it. I've spent too many years loving myself fiercely to be reduced to someone else's limitations.
Angela Sterling, courtesy Henry
So, my elongated friends, I write this love letter today to remind you that the acceptance of your height can only start with you. This must happen before you even walk into the dance studio. Before the mirrors warp your body image, before the inevitable comparison to your peers.
In private, embrace how unique and "above average" you are (who wants to be average anyway?) Say it out loud to yourself, or write it down if that feels right. Most importantly, believe it. It might be difficult at first, even feel a little silly.
What helped me was to look for taller women—including some outside of dance—who inspire me. I have an arsenal of abolitionists, athletes, Goddesses from all over the world who demonstrate unapologetic pride in who they are. Find your own and imitate them, channel their essence until it starts to rub off on you.
I found that once I stopped shrinking, people stopped commenting on my height so frequently.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The question is not what you look at, but what you see." Feet considered too big actually have more surface area to extend the line; arms hanging well past the hips have all the more power to cut through space and conjure flight.
How lucky are you to have more to work with? There's more to feel, more nerve endings to ignite, more surface to tell the story on.
I personally love being taller because it means I'm that much closer to the heavens. What is dance, ballet, pointework, but a subconscious striving for ascension a.k.a. extension. I feel more divinely connected with my head this high in the sky!
Of course, you need strength to maintain control of all this fabulous canvas. This takes focus, possibly more than your peers.
If you're like me or most of the other tall dancers I know, fluid, luscious movement comes easily. The challenge is in how to work on speed, efficiency and precision. When I was younger, training in modern dance styles like Horton helped me compact when needed. Now cross-training helps do the trick.
Yes, there is more of you to control but also just as much to let go. There is power in that big body. Let your trunk be the engine and move those hips through space. If you are respecting the musicality and honoring the technique, I promise your audacity to fully "be" will only inspire your peers. (Even if they are afraid to admit it!)
So never shrink, dear ones. Never be afraid of taking up too much space. And know that you shall never have to fold your wings to walk through doors that are meant for you.
Keep spiraling out.
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For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.