(Please note that the child being discussed in this post will not be named.)
Recently I posted a link to a YouTube video from a school where very tiny girls are taught big ballet tricks. One of them, an 8 year old, danced the lead in the school’s production of Swan Lake. Although the choreography was slightly dumbed down, it was still very difficult.
Very notably and probably not very surprisingly, the little girl gave the appearance of swan-like loveliness: lots of flapping of arms and darting about. This was enough to fool a majority of viewers into thinking that she really knew what she was doing.
But technically — again no surprise — she was a disaster.
More recent videos of her show that she has improved enough to win a prize at an international competition (she actually has a smattering of a turnout now and her feet are more arched), but the question remains: how long will she last? In the earlier video her feet were weak and looked painful. She had no turnout. She could not sustain anything.
Again, no surprise. Let me talk about figure skating for a bit.
In the 1980’s it became impossible for a female skater to win an elite competition with only double jumps. As the old school figures competitions (drawing pictures on the ice with the edges of one’s blades) dropped away, the emphasis on turning multiple times in the air before landing increased.
As a result, many older, more seasoned skaters were forced out of competition. There were two competing theories about this: (1) the kind of skater needed for jumps was older and had huge thighs and (2) the kind of skater needed for jumps was prepubescent and weighed about as much as a thimble.
The world being the way it is, Theory #2 won handily.
Over the next two decades we saw tiny skater after tiny skater win the Olympics with what amounted to triple hops (they could not really jump), no edges (blade-edge control is necessary for safe and correct skating), flabby musicality, and no actual technique overall.
What else did we see? Hip injuries. SEVERE hip injuries. It turned out that doing such extreme weight-bearing activities as landing triple jumps was very, very bad for little girls. Finally, after much prodding, girls under 16 (or was it 15) were banned from elite competition. Nowadays you don’t hear so much about hip injuries, although I’m sure there’s still a lot of that going around at the lower levels of competition where the girls are younger and triple jumps are the norm, if not required.
I have no doubt that even though proper ballet training strengthens the hips, the same is true in ballet. And it is well known that being on pointe too early can damage the feet. Yet very few of the viewers of the videos showing this little girl questioned anything. A few comments even snorted, “her teachers know what they are doing.”
I’d like to counter that: They do not. Want proof? Just watch the girls dance.
And I daresay in about 20 years, just watch them try to walk.