Thanks to Sabrina for her comment and everyone who e-mailed, Tweeted, Facebooked, and texted me about this today.
If you haven’t heard the story: in writing a review of a performance of the Nutcracker, New York Times critic Alastair Macauley wrote: “Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many,”
Full article here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40639920
Ringer, who has dealt with eating disorders in the past, said “As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form,” She also said “I know there were 2,000 people probably out there. He got to put his opinion in the paper, but everybody else had a different opinion.”
I struggled with what to say about this. She seems pretty adjusted about it and I support anything she does. Thinking of it from my perspective as a dancer is what really gave me pause. For reference here are our bodies side by side (lest you be confused, I’m the one in black :). (My photo here is un-photoshopped, taken by the brilliant Richard Sabel. I am coming down out of the move that she is performing so beautifully, obviously with different arm position). I am working on getting her fantastic extension on the split leap, frustratingly I can do it on the floor but not in the air at the moment.)
I think the main reason that I struggled with my response it that I sometimes feel so far outside of what is “acceptable” that this kind of comment doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me. If people thought that I was 10 or 20 pounds too heavy, I might be harder hit. But once people start to think that you should be 100 pounds lighter, you just feel like you are completely outside the whole discussion. I remember being in a cha cha lesson where the teacher showed us a trick with our hip position to make us look 5 pounds thinner. When I laughed and told her that at my weight 5 pounds wasn’t worth the effort she looked confused for a moment but didn’t argue.
I don’t know why Jenifer Ringer dances but I dance because:
- I have things to say that I think can best be expressed through the movement of my body through space
- I love music and think that dancing gives it another layer of expression to affect an audience, and I want to be part of that
- I love the way it feels to work my body in this way – the power, the flexibility, and the grace of it.
- I love the discipline of seeking perfection of technique
- I love the way that excellent technique allows the freedom to say what I want to say unhindered
- I love entertaining people – making them feel something, making them think, telling a story, expressing something in the music
- I love the way that dancing my own choreography allows me to create my own world and then live it it. It’s like The Sims with toe-point.
I don’t believe that as dancers we put our bodies out there to be criticized. I think that we put our bodies out there to express things, to tell a story, to entertain. But because they are out there, people choose to criticize them, I assume for the typical reasons that I talked about in my blog about arm chair critics.
As for me, while I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to challenges people’s stereotypes, I would dance if I were naturally thin as well. I dance because I have something to say – something to express – not because I care to hear what people think about my body or its size. It’s certainly other people’s prerogative to get so caught up with how my body looks that they miss the point of my performance, but that right there is a big flaming sack of not my problem. Technique is technique and expression is expression and if people can’t see the technique and expression because they are so distracted by my size then I think maybe they have some issues to work out, but I just can’t bring myself to care.
To speak about the specific incident, I think I would have more respect for his critique had it been outright instead of trying to be cute with a joke about eating sugarplums. If he had said something like “Ms. Ringer appeared to have difficulty with [speed, lift, lightness, etc.] perhaps caused by her weight”, it would seem less like he was selling her up the river because he wanted to make a funny. When considering how much credence to give Mr. Macauley’s opinion, we may do well to remember that for whatever reason, this man sought out a job in which is he paid to criticize others full-time. I’d personally rather create than tear apart, so I guess that’s why I dance and he criticizes.
Best of luck with all of that Alastair. Here’s what I’m doing with my time: