Long legs and necks, tiny waists, and skinny all describe the stereotypical ballerina body. However, BalletRox has a different idea of what a dancer should look like.
Anthony Williams, the first African-American dancer to join the Boston Premier Ballet Company, founded the non-profit BalletRox in 1992, because he wanted to give young people the opportunity to pursue their passion in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
One of the life lessons taught at BalletRox is body image. Ballet legend George Ballanchine described the ideal professional dancer’s body and many dancers say they have tried to fit into that narrow definition.
Dancer Misty Copeland recent published a book, ‘Ballerina Body,’ that focuses on having a lean, but strong and healthy body. In it, she notes a shift from the “bare bones” ballerina look.
According to BalletRox’s website, it offers affordable and handicap-accessible dance classes for children of all ages. While teaching students dance techniques, the teachers also provide fundamental life lessons.
Carol Knox, BalletRox volunteer executive producer, said her team works with students to empower them with the confidence they need for life.
“We are not looking to develop the greatest dancers,” said Knox. “We are really just making sure the youth that go through the program are happy, healthy, and are enjoying dance.”
BalletRox states that its mission is to bring diversity to dance and knock down the walls that divide people. The goal has always been to be different, and BalletRox strives to do that by inviting students of different nationalities, and even those who have physical disabilities. Knox said that her dancers go through many difficulties in their personal lives and use dance to help channel their emotions.
BalletRox, which offers a variety of dance styles, including ballet, lyrical, and hip-hop, teaches several age groups. The students, after learning dance numbers, participate in recitals.
A recent recital piece, “Unsteady,” focused on bullying, Knox said. Four dancers performed the emotional piece. One of the dancers had been badly bullied and poured her pain into the performance, Knox added.
Knox said the stereotypical image of dancers and how they view themselves is “so destructive.”
“I think dancers are so beautiful in so many different shapes,” Knox said, “and some of my best dancers look the opposite of what a ballerina body is supposed to look like.”