I recently watched a short Karlie Kloss interview clip for W Magazine. In it, she praises her balletic training background, claiming that it is one of the reasons she is such a successful high fashion model, with its structure and articulation of detailed grace and discipline. Ballet has experienced a resurgence of coolness and has again become the hip thing for young girls to aspire to do, that through it, a girl learns how to move and be like a real woman. I recall Ashley Simpson gloating about it a few years back on MTV and of course there is Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman’s Black Swan siren swoon. 

However, after reading Empire of Ecstasy twice, I find it almost unfathomable that within one century, the evolution and revolution from the contrived, constricted, aristocratic and antiquated system of ballet to the vivacious freedom of expressive movement in modern dance has been lost to antiquity for the majority of the masses. At the turn of the 20th century, the pioneers of modern dance, mostly women mind you, revolted. They danced out their social etiquette frustrations and parodied the folly of ballet barefoot and bare breasted. These handful of powerful female personalities forged the way to an expressive bodily freedom of movement never before known nor granted to humanity, especially women. 

Ballet began during the Renaissance as an interpretation of fencing; it’s a war dance. Through the ballet tradition, men forced women into unnatural body positions, movements, corseted garments and torturous shoes that caused and still cause severe injury over time - bludgeoned, bloody, broken feet and compromised knees, hips and ankles. The feet of ballerinas are an atrocity to behold. The construction of pointe shoes has not evolved since the time of Anna Pavlova over a century ago. 

This was also a time in fashion history when corsets were either made with metal, wood or bone and it was quite fashionable for a lady to be able to wrap her hands completely around her waist. It was an excruciatingly painful epoch for women to live in, to be accepted as attractive, beautiful and sexy. Women were forced into a sadistic and thus extremely unhealthy physical form and lifestyle. This mode of living kept women completely unable to breathe and thus they posed no threat to men. Women were not just the walking wounded, they were the walking winded.

I am always amazed when I happen to walk behind a ballerina down the street, be it in New York, Hamburg, or Vienna, with the alarmingly distorted body image they have been brainwashed and trained to create of themselves for the world to gaze upon. You can pick one out of any crowd in an instant. They constantly turnout their feet, even when walking, which forces them to waddle like a duck, not a human, as if they have a bone malformation in their hips, deformed since birth. People who are actually stricken with this medical condition wear braces to train their muscles and bones to walk normally in a frontward parallel trajectory. Ballerinas are trained to be what they are and are so heavily infiltrated into the identity of a ballerina that they don’t realize they have to be retrained to walk like a normally functioning human being.

Dancing en pointe reminds me of the recently banned millennium long tradition of Asian foot binding, which crippled women’s feet to such a degree that their lower leg muscles atrophied and they were forced to walk with their hip and buttocks muscles. Asian women had to be escorted wherever they went because they simply could not walk without assistance and were thus home bound and foot bound, how convenient.

My mind wanders to the institutionalized and standardized image of current day models with their backs and shoulders hunched forward into a curve that makes whatever garment they are wearing ‘look good.’ And I thought scoliosis was a deformity, immortalized by Quasimodo in the classic film The Hunchback of Norte Dame. But no, it is currently a standard of beauty to aspire to. 

And then there is the at minimum 4 inch high heel trend that women are buying into, in order to make a woman’s leg look sexy and slim. I had reconstructive foot surgery because I wore high heels too much at one point in my college years. I’ve worn 4 inchers twice in the past 7 years and had to recover for several weeks after I wore them at my wedding. My husband ended up strapping my 4 inch stiletto platforms to his snake skin belt under his tuxedo jacket at the 2012 Life Ball because I was literally stricken with immobility.

Why do ideals and standards of beauty trends brainwash women into submissive masochism? Do women not realize that they are not acting much differently than all the women from The Old World, something that the great early modern dancers spent their entire lives unraveling? 

Here’s the Karlie Kloss interview link:

This post is posted on Tuesday 26 June 2012.
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