‘The bikini line is still a no-no’: why does dance have a problem with body hair? | Dance

TThe body of the ideal dancer is unrealistic in many ways: better than a Barbie, incredibly slim but super strong, with very special proportions (in ballet, small head, long legs, short upper body, high ankles). And it is also hairless. As with swimmers, athletes, gymnasts and others who wear jerseys to live, constant hair removal is part of the job.

This applies to men as well as women. “I choose to shave because it gives me a sense of readiness,” says dancer and choreographer Eliot Smith. “I think it gives me better contours of the body against the stage light.” On ballet bulletin boards, it is not uncommon to find parents of teenage boys asking what to do with hairy legs that appear under white tights (wear two pairs of tights, or paint over the hair with 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, where she showed armpit fuzz, as well as toned abdominal muscles, there were predictably plenty of online haters, but also plenty of lovers. And there are a few – though not many – contemporary dancers who are happy to let their body hair be seen on stage.

“I want it to be normalized,” says Jessie Roberts-Smith, a performer with the Scottish Dance Theater. And independent choreographer Ellie Sikorski sees it as part of a bigger picture. “This is not the first match I would choose about the homogeneity of bodies on stage,” she says. “But there is something archaic in dance – where your body is monitored in certain ways. You have learned not to have freedom of action over your body, and body hair is a small detail of that. “

Smooth operators… Erina Takahashi and James Forbat practice for ENB.
Smooth operators… Erina Takahashi and James Forbat practice for ENB. Photo: Dave J Hogan / Getty Images

In ballet, country with smooth, clean lines and impossible perfection, it is hard to imagine unruly hair sprouting up on stage just yet. “In classical ballet you will never see a beautiful tutu princess with lots of armpit hair,” laughs Nancy Osbaldeston, principal at Ballet Vlaanderen in Antwerp, who fits in leg shaving and Brazilian wax around her performance plan. She recently danced Palmos, a ballet with bare legs and high-cut jerseys by Andonis Foniadakis. “There were definitely some skewed moments,” she recalls.

In fact, Osbaldeston believes that hair removal is so much a part of the job that dancers might claim it as an expense. “I think there was someone who told me that if you have a good accountant to pay your taxes, you can write it off,” she says. When Osbaldeston danced with the English National Ballet, she remembers a woman coming in once and growing everyone in turn like a job.

Begoña Cao, winner of a National Dance Award, had a similar experience. “We put a mat away from us and locked the door.” Laser removal is also popular. “I like to be neat,” Cao adds. “The thought never occurred to me not to take it off. If you have a tutu on, the audience can see nothing further from the outside. But you have your colleagues and people behind the scenes and the ballet fanatics who have their binoculars!”

Beard allowed… an Eliot Smith production.
Beard allowed… an Eliot Smith production. Photo: Darren Irwin

Outside the ballet, however, there are some hairs that look through, in line with a broader culture shift among Gen Zs who are happy to show their armpits. Natural on Instagram, or even dye their body hair. And then there’s the beauty brand Billie, which advertises razors with pictures of models and their proudly furry bikini lines.

“I feel like we’re getting more into a world where both are normal,” says Roberts-Smith, 26, leaving his hair as it is, which is fine by the Scottish Dance Theater. “I don’t even think about it anymore. I’m lucky to be in a company that embraces different shapes and sizes and hairless and hairy. It has to happen. For me, it’s one of the most profound inequalities between men and women, “that we have removed parts of ourselves for so long and it is considered normal by society. It is wild when you think about it, absolutely bananas.” It’s clear that men shave their faces, but it’s the feeling of disgust attached to women’s hair that is so gendered. “There are all these profound things about cleanliness that just are not true,” Roberts-Smith says.

Sikorski, 33, stopped shaving his legs as a 17-year-old. “Because I suppose I discovered it was possible,” she says, and because shaving irritated her skin. She’s more likely to get a reaction now on the tube than on stage – she’s got people taking pictures of her when she’s stuck in an overhead support. However, there is a hierarchy of millet. Sikorski remembers that in one of the first pieces she made, she wore a swimming costume. “I had hairy legs, hairy armpits, but I picked my bikini line.”

“I think the bikini line is still a no-no,” says Robert-Smith in terms of the move to let it all hang out – even though she has a jersey on the way and has no plans to buy any Veet.

See Sayaka Ichikawa, Damien Johnson, Marie-Astrid Mence and Jacob Wye in House of Dreams by Ballet Black

There are many more hair-related problems – most seriously, the dancers with afro hair who are told that it is not suitable for ballet. This is what the French dancer Marie-Astrid Mence told about in the film Pointe Black last year. The whims of personal care, on the other hand, may seem insignificant. But the discrimination of afro hair is changing, according to Northern Ballet dancer Aerys Merrill, who has heard the stories but has not experienced negative comments about her own afro hair. In the US, she danced Clara in The Nutcracker with her natural hair proudly on the show. “Some companies are more accepting; some companies want it to be extremely uniform, with the same smooth look, ”she says.

Like Merrill, 17-year-old Taïs Vinolo, who appeared in Amazon’s The Show Must Go On ad last Christmas, used to straighten her hair. “I first felt comfortable with my own hair two or three years ago,” she says. Now she wonders if we should see ballet dancers with braided hair on stage. “I hope it’s going to happen. I’m pretty sure we’re close to it,” she says, but adds that as a young pre-professional dancer, “I’m afraid to approach that topic with my teachers. ”

A woman's unshaven armpit seen from the side
‘I would feel sorry for my partner when he made a team’… the untrimmed armpit dilemma. Photo: Aleksei Koldunov / Alamy

Some choreographers actively incorporate (main) hair into their choreography, with Pina Bausch being the queen of long, flowing locks, whether she’s snatching around the dancer as an extra limb in 2006’s Vollmond or being used to whip the cruel Bluebeard in her 1977 version of the folk tale. Osbaldeston says she missed being cast once because she had short hair and the choreographer wanted it long and swissy. Choreographers have a vision in mind – and that includes facial hair. Sikorski knows of a male dancer who has lost his job because he does not want to shave his beard off.

Smith has become more relaxed around his own facial hair, he tells me, in line with a general shift across the industry that includes dancers with visible tattoos. As an artistic director, he has an open mind, he says, but expects the dancers to look “presentable” and be open to what it takes for a particular character.

“I guess it’s a question of whether ballet is a personal expression, or whether a choreographer has the last word on how you look,” says dancer James Forbat, who also shaves his chest and leg hair. of choices for performances, but has never done so. has been explicitly requested.

Sikorski raises a similar point. Do you see a body as an abstract tool for creating visual art, or someone who is inseparable from what they do? “People think you can abstract a body, and I basically think you can’t and shouldn’t,” she says. “That’s where I differ from a lot of people in the dance world.”

However, all of these dancers agree on one thing: individually, everyone’s personal choices must be respected. But the decision to shave and grow, or wear your hair straight or natural, inevitably reflects the values ​​of their art forms as well as the broader culture as a whole. Osbaldeston does not think any of her female colleagues will stop shaving their armpits soon. “I would have a bad conscience if a boy held you under your arms,” ​​she says. “But they also have hair there,” she ponders, “so I don’t really know the difference.”

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