What is balletcore? In my view, the trend romanticises a toxic industry

Oozing blisters, unrepairable bunions, sweaty tights sticking to your inner thighs and battered muscles. Pulling up pants made of plastic, resembling black trash bags, and draining swollen, fluid-filled ankles up on the wall – I wonder how many of you pictured a ballerina while reading that?

It’s a far cry from the “balletcore” trend we’re seeing all over social media. Girls wearing baby pink crossovers, Miu Miu’s satin ballet flats are the hottest new must-have and leg warmers bunched up for that perfect soft aesthetic.

I know this because I pursued a professional ballet career – which had me competing in the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York and even took me to the studios of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia. I spent years pushing my body and mind to do things beyond my means.

It felt like no matter how hard I trained, the talent I possessed never outshone my physical flaws. I faced unemployment as I’d get knocked back, audition after audition, for “being two centimetres too short” or being one of the many Asian dancers that got cut 15 minutes into an audition I’d flown halfway across the world for. However, I turned a blind eye to many of the problems I faced, as my love for the art form bloomed in full force.

Once I left the bubble of the industry, the heaviness of “not making it” started to lift as I began to notice the darker aspects of the ballet world. The inherent misogyny, the ingrained racism. Almost every single dancer I know seems to have come out the other side with overwhelming emotional trauma.

Seeing girls twirling around on TikTok with their arms above their head in a circle unsettled my gut and gave me the ick. This fashion trend romanticises an art form that’s been called out in recent years for its traditionalist ideals. The battle between keeping choreography and company standards that have stood in place for centuries, against our 2023 values, is ongoing. The systematic issues that favour Anglo-Saxon bodies and privilege causing the whole art form to be whitewashed.

Blackface in productions is still prominent in some countries, where white dancers portray ethnic characters with a thick layer of dark paint covering their face and body. Meanwhile, dancers of colour are typecast to play the “gypsy”, the “oriental dancer” or the Chinese doll.

Not to mention the thousands of dancers who reap the consequences of having to maintain the perfect figure. I had roommates who starved themselves, hiding their uneaten food in our room. Girls and boys taking laxatives to ensure anything consumed will be expelled. Sniffing salts placed outside of exam classrooms to revive anyone on the verge of passing out.

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