TThe ideal dancer’s body is unrealistic in many ways: more curvy than a Barbie, incredibly lean but super strong, with very particular proportions (in ballet, small head, long legs, short torso, high instep) . And also, it is hairless. As with swimmers, athletes, gymnasts, and others who wear leotards for a living, constant hair removal is part of the job.
This applies to both men and women. “I choose to shave because it gives me a feeling of preparation,” says dancer and choreographer Eliot Smith. “I think it gives me better body contours against the stage lights. On ballet message boards, it’s not uncommon to find parents of teenagers asking what to do about hairy legs appearing under white pantyhose (wear two pairs of pantyhose or comb hair with a pancake are two. suggestions, if shaving is not an option).
But is there an alternative? When pole dancer Leila Davis was pictured in an Adidas campaign in March showing fluffy armpits, along with toned abs, there was a lot of hate online, as you’d expect, but a lot of lovers. too. And there are a few – but not many – contemporary dancers who are happy to show their hair on stage.
“I want it to be standardized,” says Jessie Roberts-Smith, performer for the Scottish Dance Theater. And freelance choreographer Ellie Sikorski sees it as part of a larger whole. “This is not the first fight that I would choose on the homogeneity of the bodies on stage,” she said. “But there is something archaic about dancing – where your body is controlled in a certain way. You are taught not to have authority over your body and body hair is just a small detail. “
In ballet, a land of soft, clean lines and impossible perfection, it’s hard to imagine unkempt hair growing on stage so soon. “In classical ballet you will never see a beautiful princess tutu with tons of armpit hair,” laughs Nancy Osbaldeston, director of the Ballet Vlaanderen in Antwerp, which incorporates leg shaving and Brazilian waxes into its performance program. . She recently danced Palmos, a bare-legged, high-cut leotard ballet by Andonis Foniadakis. “There were definitely some tough times,” she recalls.
In fact, Osbaldeston thinks waxing is so much a part of the job that dancers might claim it as an expense. “I think someone told me that if you have a good accountant to do your taxes, you can set it aside,” she said. When Osbaldeston danced with the English National Ballet, she remembers a woman who came once and took turns shaving everyone.
Begoña Cao, winner of a national dance award, had a similar experience. “We put up a rug and locked the door. Laser removal is also popular. “I like to be tidy,” adds Cao. “It never crossed my mind not to take it off. If you are wearing a tutu, the audience from further afield cannot see anything. But you have your colleagues and people behind the scenes and those ballet fanatics who have their binoculars!
Outside of ballet, however, there are a few hairs sticking through, in line with a larger cultural shift among Gen Zs happy to show off their armpits. Natural on Instagram, or even dye their hair. And then there’s beauty brand Billie, which advertises razors with photos of models and their proudly hairy bikini lines.
“I feel like we’re moving more into a world where both are normal,” says Roberts-Smith, who is 26 and leaves her hair as it is, which is good for the Scottish Dance Theater. “I don’t even think about it anymore. I am fortunate to be in a company that embraces different shapes and sizes and hairless and hairy. It must happen. For me, this is one of the deepest inequalities between men and women, that we have been withdrawing for so long, and it is just considered normal by society. It’s crazy when you think about it, absolutely bananas. Obviously men shave their faces, but it’s the feeling of loathing attached to women’s hair that is so gendered. “There are all of these deeply ingrained things about cleanliness, which just isn’t true,” says Roberts-Smith.
Sikorski, 33, stopped shaving his legs at 17. “Because, I guess, I found out it was possible,” she says, and because the shaving irritated her skin. She’s more likely to have a reaction now on the tube than on stage – she had pictures of her taken as she clung to a stand above her head. There is, however, a hierarchy of hirsuteness. Sikorski remembers that in one of the first pieces she made, she wore a swimsuit. “I had hairy legs, hairy armpits, but I ripped off my jersey. “
“I think the bikini line is still a no-no,” says Robert-Smith, regarding the decision to let it all hang out – although she has a leotard coming up and isn’t considering one. ‘buy from Veet.
There are a lot more hair-related issues – more seriously, Afro-haired dancers who are adamantly told it’s not appropriate for ballet. French dancer Marie-Astrid Mence spoke about it in the movie Pointe Black last year. The vagaries of personal grooming may seem insignificant by contrast. But discrimination against afro hair is changing, according to Northern Ballet dancer Aerys Merrill, who has heard the stories but has not had negative comments about her own afro hair. In the United States, she danced Clara in The Nutcracker with her natural hair proudly on display. “Some companies are more tolerant; some companies want it to be extremely uniform, with the same clean look, ”she says.
Like Merrill, 17-year-old Taïs Vinolo, who featured in Amazon’s The Show Must Go On ad last Christmas, used to straighten his hair. “I didn’t feel comfortable with my own hair until a couple of years ago,” she says. Now she’s wondering if we’ll see any braided-haired ballet dancers on stage. “I hope it will happen. I’m pretty sure we’re close, ”she says, but adds that as a young pre-professional dancer,“ I’m afraid to bring this up with my teachers.
Some choreographers actively incorporate (head) hair into their choreography, with Pina Bausch being the queen of long flowing locks, whether they wrap around the dancer as an extra limb in Vollmond in 2006 or are used to whip the cruel Bluebeard in his 1977 version of the popular tale. . Osbaldeston says she was not chosen once because she had short hair and the choreographer wanted it long and voluminous. The choreographers have a vision in mind – and that includes facial hair. Sikorski knows a dancer who lost his job because he didn’t want to shave his beard.
Smith has become more relaxed about his own facial hair, he tells me, in line with a general shift in the industry that includes dancers with visible tattoos. As an art director, he’s open-minded, he says, but expects dancers to look “presentable” and open to what’s needed for a particular character.
“I guess it’s a question of whether ballet is a personal expression or if a choreographer has the final say in your appearance,” says dancer James Forbat who, incidentally, shaves chest and leg hair. by choice for performance, but never explicitly asked.
Sikorski raises a similar point. Do you see a body as an abstract tool for creating visual art, or a person who cannot be separated from what they are doing? “People think you can ignore a body, and I basically think you can’t and shouldn’t,” she says. “This is where I differ from a lot of people in the dance world. “
However, all these dancers agree on one thing: each for himself, each person’s personal choice must be respected. But the decision to shave and wax, or wear their hair straightened or natural, inevitably reflects the values of their art forms as well as the culture at large. Osbaldeston doesn’t think any of his female colleagues will stop shaving their armpits anytime soon. “I would feel bad to be a partner if a boy had you under my arms,” she said. “But they have hair there too,” she muses, “so I don’t really know the difference. “