Kent Forrest Ipsen’s sculpture of a ballerina. Image from the Smithsonian Institution.

For as long as I can remember, I have been captivated by ballet. The idea of being able to gracefully twirl around on my toes was my greatest girlhood dream. However, far from being the elegant, poised dancer to which many girls aspire, my legs would be wobbling and my arms would be shaking. I never even got so far as wearing those hard-toed shoes allowing me to have a go at twirling around on my toes! Despite this, I will never view my experience of ballet as pointless. Ballet taught me that it is okay to be myself.

Kent Forrest Ibsen‚Äôs sculpture of a ballerina brought back memories of my girlhood dream. I was drawn to the carefully sculpted pointe shoes located at the bottom of some very long legs. The pointe shoe is the indicator of perfection. Unsurprisingly, this is the feeling held by a large section girls learning ballet. Western society views the pointe shoe as a sign of a girl’s perfect strength and ability as a ballerina. The pointe shoe is the dream. Such success is something that many girls desire. But is there such a thing as a perfect ballerina?

Notice how the ballerina stands. Her torso faces the front left-hand corner and her legs face the front right-hand corner. It creates an illusion. At first, I would think this is a position to master in ballet, until I look at her arms. One arm is down by her side and the other holds a flower up to her chest. Her leotard looks a bit skew-whiff by her hips too. This isn’t how we imagine a ballerina. This is a depiction of a girl with her very own habits, personality, and identity. There is more to a ballerina than ballet.

This is not to deny the fact that the sculpture depicts the feminine ideal and adds to ‘princess culture’. Here is a tall, slim woman, with curves in the right places, holding a flower to reinforce her delicate nature. Even so, the sculpture goes a long way to show that there is no perfect ballerina. Ballet is an art and a hobby. It not only requires commitment and determination, it requires a personal touch. It requires girls to make it their own.

It is time to go beyond looking at standardised shoes. It is time to start celebrating the wide variety of girls that learn ballet. Even though I was nothing more than a bumbling ballerina who never went on pointe, I know that ballet has a point.

-Lucy Rivers
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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