The Ideal Ballet Body - Dance Informa Magazine (2023)

By Brian Nolan.

In the world of classical ballet, our instrument is our physique, which is infinitely complicated, astonishingly diverse, extraordinarily functional, artistically imposing and at the very least – aesthetically pleasing. If we are lucky, work hard, are conscientious with our training and everything falls into place our instrument can then become our servant.

As dancers, we become very aware of what our body looks like. At each class or rehearsal we attend, we generally wear tight fitting clothes, dance enthusiastically in front of mirrors and are constantly comparing ourselves with others in the room. A dancer has to look at themselves for many hours in a day and/or accumulative in a week and as a result, we become very conscious of our shape.

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Do I have to be short?

The origin of classical dance came from King Louis XIV, but the origin of the classical figure or body type is said to come from a young dancer by the name of Marie Camargo who in the eighteenth century became a prominent figure in the theatre. She was said to be light-footed, very artistic with an assured technique, and most notably shorter than all of the male dancers on the stage. As Camargo became famous, every aspiring female dancer wanted to perform in the same company as she. Before her debut on the stage, ballet dancers of that era were not conventionally small, but, due to her popularity, the new figure became mandatory to succeed in the world of ballet. Thus, the 5’ 5” (165 cm) dancer emerged and soon it was the standard for all for decades. Sadly, as girls reached 5’5” their dreams would be shattered at the realization that they would never be the next Camargo. The company, aware of her extraordinary ability and popularity soon refused any new dancers who were taller than its star performer. Luckily for the taller dancers of today, this height restriction is no longer adhered to by most companies.

So what is the ideal female ballet body today?

Most experts concur that your body’s proportions are critical to having the ideal physique for dance. Apart from the aesthetic consideration, a well-proportioned body should endure the stresses and strains of the workload required of it with greater ease than one in which there is some contradiction. In reviewing the physique, we are examining the dancer who is hoping to enter a training institute of higher learning at an elite level or is aspiring to be a professional.

In reality, the ideal physique for a female classical dancer is slim, with a long neck, a shortish to medium length torso, long legs with complimentary long arms and high insteps.

The height requirements of dancers are really designated by the ballet companies hiring. Most ballet company’s average height for a female is approximately 167cm. However, in Europe some companies require females to be no taller than the traditional 165cm, while others have a minimum height of 173cm. One company I know has their lead female principal dancer at a height of 184 cm!

An elite school will in general try to adhere to a standard body type, with the ideal physique for the female classical dancer generally shaped by the requirements of the ballet company attached to it or by companies relative to that region, area or country and/or simply by the height of the male dancers available.

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It is important to recognize that in the professional arena a mature dancer’s physique does not necessarily have to be (and probably won’t be) the same as the physique of a student in training. What might be acceptable to a ballet company might not necessarily be acceptable to an elite or national school. Companies want talent and talent comes in all shapes and sizes. Few companies will turn down an exceptionally talented dancer just because their torso is a bit long or their legs are a bit short, they might not have the best feet, or they are too tall or a little short – if they are truly talented, they are seriously considered.

Do I need to be thin?

At an elite level, slim is better than thin. Genetics play the biggest role in determining one’s physical shape. The size and shape of your parents determines the outcome of the female form. Puberty is the main contributor to the eventual physique of young girls. A girl can have a lovely physique at 11 or 12, go through puberty and sadly develop a less than ideal shape required of them to continue to the elite level. Some might simply have an odd shape until around 17 or so, and then mature into a perfectly acceptable dancer’s physique – so don’t give up if you are not the idyllic type! If you do not conform to the normal standards, remember that it is one thing to have the ideal physique, but unless its facility is qualitative, it is of little use – so in most cases talent prevails!

In general, during the intense training stage (12 -17 and especially 14 – 17) it is important for girls (regardless of the shape) to be ‘slight’, and the main reason for this is due to the opposite gender – the boys. At this level, pas de deux classes are imperative to the training of all classical dancers. Lifting is an essential part of class work, however, it only takes seconds for a lift to go wrong and for young male dancers to injure their backs. If the males are not strong enough to fully support the weight they are lifting they will generally hyper-extend their backs and possible chronic injuries to the lumbar thoracic and middle thoracic areas of the back can occur.

The Ideal Ballet Body - Dance Informa Magazine (1)

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Adam Bull and Amber Scott in Swan Lake. Photo Jim McFarlane

Pointe for girls is what pas de deux is for boys. Today, without good strong and aesthetically pleasing feet en pointe, girls have little chance of entering the pure classical arena. Boys on the other hand, need to be strong and physically capable of lifting girls with consummate ease and with little or no strain on their body during the execution. As males generally mature at a later stage than girls do, girls need to be ideally slim or light so the demands on the boys’ bodies during lifts aren’t too great. The girls (in general) also need to be shorter than the boys due to their increase in height en pointe.

A prime example of this is talented Australian Ballet Principal Dancer Adam Bull (who trained under me from 6 to 17 years of age). At 17 he was about 175 cm tall, he was thinner than most the girls in his class and lighter than 70% of them. So lifting in pas de deux (even though he had a gym-strengthening program) was very difficult as physically he was just too immature. Adam also has a very flexible back and the probability for him to hyper-extend it while lifting was imminent. As I had studied Human Movement, I was very conscientious of his development and, along with other boys similar to him, I was very selective with who he was allowed to lift and what lifts he was allowed to do. As a result, Adam was never injured in the entire 11 years I trained him. Further to this, within the next two years he grew to a staggering 195 cm (6’ 4”) in height and it was not until he was into his twenties that he ‘grew’ into his body!

Of course there will always be exceptions to this and some male dancers at 17 or 18 are fully developed and their bodies (provided they’ve had correct pas de deux training) are more than capable of lifting fuller bodied partners.

Any teacher who is not experienced in pas de deux and/or is not aware of the physical requirements of boys should not ‘experiment’ in lifting just because it might potentially look good.

Most companies will have a standardized physique from which they will try to be consistent. Corps de ballet members need to be very similar in height and shape, as with the traditional classical ballets, a company will have the corps appearing to be the same. There may be a variance in heights within the one company but in general they would still maintain a commonality with the group and henceforth a standard physique is required.

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Even though the training physique ideally needs to conform to the standards as previously stated, the professional dancer really can come in all shape and sizes – short, tall, wide, narrow, buxom, large hips, or long torso. What is important at this level is their ability as dancers. The males at a professional level should all generally be strong enough to adhere to all the rigors required of lifting.

ballet, ballet body, classical ballet, dance, Dance Informa, dance magazine, dancer body, dancer’s physique,

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What is the ideal body for a ballet dancer? ›

In reality, the ideal physique for a female classical dancer is slim, with a long neck, a shortish to medium length torso, long legs with complimentary long arms and high insteps. The height requirements of dancers are really designated by the ballet companies hiring.

How much should a 5'8 ballerina weigh? ›

The average height of an American ballerina is about 5 foot 2 inches to 5 foot 8 inches. In correspondence to height, weight would ideally range from 85 to 130 lbs.

What is the average height of a ballerina? ›

The typical height of a ballet dancer is 5'4″. Normally these girls are excellent at Adagio. Balanchine made room for even taller women with roles like The Siren in Prodigal Son, the Tall Girl in Rubies, and the Dark Angel in Serenade.

How hard is ballet on the body? ›

It is very physically demanding and hard on a dancer's body. I studied for about 11 years, three or four of them on pointe. By the time I stopped studying, I was wearing ankle braces and knee wraps on both legs during every practice.

How much do Russian ballerinas weigh? ›

(Click on each image to enlarge and clarify.) Note that according to the chart in the above illustration, the 5'7” Russian girl could weigh up to 109.79 pounds, but according to the chart below, a 5'7” foreign female student may not weigh more than 103.6 lbs (47 kilograms).

What body characteristics would you notice in ballet? ›

Turnout, alignment, and port de bras are fundamental characteristics of ballet. It is important for ballet dancers to keep these positions in check while they are dancing ballet. Other important aspects include posture, toe pointing, and correct body positions, lines, and angles.

What do ballerinas eat? ›

A ballerina diet focuses on low-calorie and protein-rich food. After all, they need to keep their perfect figure while also having enough energy to dance. As a result, they eat very specific foods, including eggs, chicken, green beans, potatoes, blueberries, fish, and other types of foods that have a lot of protein.

How do you become skinny in ballet? ›

To get the long, lean, and toned body of a ballerina, your best bet is to spend a lot of time on strength and flexibility. Yoga and Pilates are perfect for both, but you can also supplement with some high-rep strength training in the gym. You'll also need to perform lots of cardio, specifically dancing!

Do ballerinas have broad shoulders? ›

Ballerinas are expected to have a rather masculine but elegant shape with broad shoulders, small hips, small breasts and buttocks.

What is a male ballerina called? ›

What are male dancers called if female dancers are called ballerinas? A male dancer is called a danseur or a principal dancer, if he is ranked highly in a professional company.

Why do ballerinas have long necks? ›

Ballet dancers also regularly stretch their shoulders and back. Stretching the neck side to side helps achieve that sloped-shoulder, long-necked look that people associate with a professional dancer.

Why do ballerinas have long legs? ›

First, the ballerinas have disproportionately small upper bodies and need to build some more upper body musculature to have a balanced looking body. Or second, their legs are too big compared to their upper bodies and thus they need to actively reduce the size of their legs.

What is the hardest ballet to dance? ›

Pirouettes. Pirouettes are notoriously one of the most difficult ballet moves and it can take years for a dancer to learn how to properly execute a pirouette.

Does ballet make you lose weight? ›

Ballet burns calories

Adult ballet is a great all over body workout. In a typical 60 minute ballet class, you will burn 300 to 400 calories. As we've already mentioned, adult ballet increases muscle mass and as your muscles grow, you will burn more calories at rest.

Is ballet good for older adults? ›

Woods says everyone can benefit from the ballet basics, most importantly, “Find a time in your day to do some movement, even if it's just extending your foot out into the air or your wrist, and just gently moving some just gentle range of motion movements are so beneficial.” Woods wants everyone to realize, it's never ...

What is a ballerinas BMI? ›

Ballet dancers had significantly lower values of BMI (18.56 +/- 1.53 vs. 19.96 +/- 2.12 kg/m2) and FAT% (18.85 +/- 4.50 vs. 23.41 +/- 4.34%) compared with controls. According to BMI, 50.0% of ballet dancers and 23.3% of the control group were underweight.

How much money does a principal ballet dancer make? ›

Principal Dancer: $53,000 - $150,000+ a year for the top companies.

Can ballet dancers have flat feet? ›

Both pescavus and a flexible flat foot are quite common in ballet – and every combination in between. People aren't necessarily one or the other – a normal foot is in the middle of the continuum between pescavus at one end and a flat foot at the other.”

What is the most beautiful characteristics of ballet dance? ›

graceful, flowing movements. classical form: turn-out of the legs and pointe work. balance and symmetry. ethereal quality.

What do dancers do with their whole body? ›

Dancers use their bodies to take internal ideas, emotions, and intentions and express them in an outward manner, sharing them with others. Dance can communicate this internal world, or it can be abstract, focusing on shapes and patterns.

Why is body important in dance? ›

The body is the conduit between the inner realm of Intentions, ideas, emotions and identity and the outer realm of expression and communication. Whether watching dance or dancing ourselves, we shift back and forth between the inner/outer sense of body.

What age do most ballerinas retire? ›

At what age do most dancers retire? Most dancers stop dancing between 35 and 40 years old. Sometimes a dancer may have a specific injury that has forced them to stop dancing and sometimes their bodies are just tired from all the physical strength that is required for ballet.

How many hours a day do ballerinas train? ›

While training, students will dance between six and seven hours a day. In most professional companies, a morning class at 10 starts the day, and they could rehearse through until 6pm, with breaks. This punishing schedule is usually done up to six days a week.

Does ballet make your thighs bigger? ›

Any exercise that focuses primarily on the legs and which you do often and regularly will increase the muscle size. In this case, ballet focuses on building muscle strength in the core, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and some people may find that this makes their legs appear bigger.

What do ballerinas eat for breakfast? ›

Breakfast is a bowl of Greek yogurt sweetened with honey and topped with organic berries and homemade granola. I also love starting the day with a warm beverage—usually an almond milk matcha tea latte or a cappuccino.

What should I eat before ballet? ›

What to eat right before you dance
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, or pecans.
  • A piece of fruit.
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese.
  • Hummus and vegetables.
  • Natural energy bars or homemade granola bars.
Oct 15, 2017

What type of leotard should I wear? ›

Athletic shape (in-between size bottom and bust, no or slightly defined waist, and defined musculature)--You're in luck, as most leotard styles work for your body shape. To show off your strong back muscles, try halter and low-back styles. To create a more feminine look, look for thin camisole straps and lace details.

How do you pick a ballet leotard? ›

A leotard that has cotton- lycra mix should help you with your objective of ensuring that the leotard can highlight your posture and ballet stance. While choosing the color of a leotard, choose one that will complement your skin and hair color. Also, remember that darker colored leotards hide sweat spots.

How much should a male ballet dancer weigh? ›

At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, he fit the mold of a traditional male ballet dancer – guys between the heights of 5-foot-7 and 6 foot who weigh under 200 pounds.

Do male ballerinas wear cups? ›

Yes, male ballet dancers wear a dance belt, which some people refer to as a cup. This belt provides support and slight protection for the male genitalia but mostly it streamlines the appearance of the male anatomy for costume purposes.

Why do male ballet dancers not wear toe shoes? ›

Despite the fact that women's feet and legs are oftentimes more flexible than men's, according to professionals in the field of dance medicine and science, there is no physical or medical reason that men should not perform en pointe. It is purely an aesthetic choice.

How much is a ballerina paid? ›

A ballet dancer makes anywhere between $14,500 and $256,500 in a year. This range represents the highest and lowest earners. Most ballet dancers' salaries fall between $14,500 and $36,500. The average salary is about $1,326 per week.

How tall is too tall for a ballerina? ›

How the history of dance proves there is a place for both taller and shorter dancers. Many dance companies today still only hire female dancers, of heights around the traditional measurement of 5'5″ or the 165cm range with males needing to be taller than the female dancers when the females are en pointe.

Can ballerinas have hips? ›

Female ballet dancers typically have loose ligaments and shallow hip sockets (dysplasia) that enable upwards of 160 degrees of flexion when most other hips are limited to 120 degrees before impingement occurs between the ball and socket (hip impingement).

How do you get a ballerina body? ›

How to Get a Ballet Dancer's Body | Ballet Dance - YouTube

Are ballerinas usually tall or short? ›

Many dance companies today still only hire female dancers, of heights around the traditional measurement of 5'5″ or the 165cm range with males needing to be taller than the female dancers when the females are en pointe.

How do you look like a ballet dancer? ›


Are ballerinas muscular? ›

Ballet dancers rely heavily on their abdominal, back and pelvic muscles to provide essential stability. They train themselves to keep those muscles engaged throughout every pose, turn, leap and jump.

Do ballerinas have broad shoulders? ›

Ballerinas are expected to have a rather masculine but elegant shape with broad shoulders, small hips, small breasts and buttocks.


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