Ballet 101: A cheat sheet for answering the most common questions about ballet

As professional dancers, we have a pretty unusual job, and often people who are interested in starting a conversation with us end up asking us the same questions over and over again. And it’s understandable! Being a ballet dancer is a very different kind of career, so even the basics may seem foreign.

So I decided to create this little cheat sheet in order to give a primer on the world of ballet to those who don’t already know and are curious to find out.

Here are some quick, basic, relatively universal spark notes on the world of the ballet dancer.

Let’s get the easy ones out of the way, shall we?

Is it hard? Yes.

Is it competitive? Yes.

Do you go up on your toes? Girls: Yes – it’s called being “en pointe.” Boys: (Unless they work for the Trockaderos) No.

This is what a foot might look like if you could see through a pointe shoe. But what happened to that poor little toe?

Do you wear tights? Yep. Gotta show off the body.

(Here’s the most common question:) Do you do The Nutcracker? Definitely. If you dance for a professional ballet company in America, you do The Nutcracker every Christmas season. It’s how ballet companies earn enough money to survive throughout the year!

Can you do that spinny thing? Yes. It’s called a pirouette. (And here’s Mikhail Baryshnikov doing 11 pirouettes in my favorite dance movie ever, White Nights.)

Don’t you just love it? Usually.

A few slightly more complicated questions…

What is a male dancer called? A ballerino? You can if you want… but we call ourselves male dancers.

Are most male ballet dancers gay? Some of them are, but you don’t have to be gay to do ballet. There’s a higher percentage of gay men in ballet than in the general workforce, but certainly not every male dancer is gay. And if you are a male dancer interested in the ladies, then the ratios can look pretty good…

Do all ballerinas have eating disorders? Some do, but studies have found that it’s not as prevalent as you might think. Eating disorder rates are, however, higher than in the average population. Since body image is already a big issue for women in our society and our job deals so directly with “correct” body type, more developed eating problems can and do occur.

Do ballet dancers smoke? Many don’t, but then again, many do. It depends on where you go, but you’ll find ballet dancers smoking in any company. It might be anywhere from one tenth to half of a ballet company that smokes!

What do you call your dance group? A troupe? That’s technically the right word, but we usually call ourselves a dance company.

Have you seen Black Swan? (Answer of choice). But it’s a very dramatized description of our world.

And finally, always the most surprising, and my favorite…

What’s your real job? This is! I’m a ballet dancer!

Yep, being a professional ballet dancer is a full-time job. And it doesn’t leave me much time for writing, but I do what I can.

So, basic info out of the way. These questions are the ones that we are often first asked, but dancers usually enjoy sharing with anyone interested. We have so little direct contact with those who come to see us, so it’s nice to be able to discuss what we do with people coming from different areas of life. So if you’re ever around a dancer and you want to know something about what we do, don’t be afraid: just ask!

Did I leave anything out? Comment below if you have a question that I missed, and maybe I’ll add it to the collection.



6 thoughts on “Ballet 101: A cheat sheet for answering the most common questions about ballet

  1. Lucas

    Just saw news about attack in Nice. Are you ok. Thinking about you.

    Love Marsha and Mike

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Those are the ones 🙂 and there’s often this tension because donors don’t know enough about our world or are insecure about seeming too ignorant of our world! But I’ll take naive questions over avoidance any day.

      Liked by 2 people

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