What Is the Ideal Body for a Ballet Dancer?

While anyone can dance, pro ballet dancers tend to share some features

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Although anyone can learn to dance and ballet dancers vary in body shape, size and type, there are some physical characteristics that make it easier to become a successful professional.

Keep in mind, however, it can take years for professional ballet dancers to develop the specific suppleness, shape, and strength of their bones and muscles necessary to handle the physical demands. Still, only a small percentage of dancers will ever meet the strict requirements needed to become a professional ballet dancer.

The profile of the traditional, ideal ballet body:

  • Long, elegant limbs
  • Strong, supple back
  • Straight legs, not bowed or knock-kneed
  • Arched feet
  • A proportionate body to manage the strains of the activity
  • Good turnout from the hips
  • Loose hamstrings
  • Firm muscle tone
  • Slender frame (so they are easier for the male dancers to lift) and a short- to a medium-length torso
  • Short (in some traditions, 5-foot-5 is the cutoff) so they don't appear much bigger than the male dancers when en pointe
  • Neat, fairly small head

Even if you don't have the traditional body to be a professional ballet dancer, ballet can still be an extremely rewarding experience. There are also many dance companies that are not as focused on the traditional ballet body shape and more interested in abilities and talent. So even though the traditional characteristics may make the pathway to elite success easier, they are not the only road to making it. 

The Male Ballet Body

The ideal male ballet dancer should be larger than the female dancers, so he can lift them without injuring himself. For the same reason, male dancers are preferred to be strong.

Male dancers are traditionally preferred to look lean and strong, rather than bulky. A weightlifter physique tends to lack the flexibility that a dancer's body needs to perform the moves.

Still, just like with women, any man can learn to dance and many companies are increasingly more concerned with how a person dances, rather than how they look. The norm continues to stretch and change to be more inclusive.

The History of the Ballet Body

One of the first dancers to set a standard body ideal for a ballet dancer was Marie Camargo in the 18th century. She was very popular and also quite short. Because it is common for dance companies to select dancers who are generally the same size, shape, and height to create a uniform look on stage, this led to increasingly more short dancers, and that would be the norm for many years to come.

Changes Over the Years

The so-called ideal ballerina body has changed over the years and continues to evolve. Today’s dancers tend to look more athletic than dancers 70 or so years ago.

Instead of a softer shape, a muscular body is more common. But really, more people appreciate and accept dancers of all kinds of different body shapes today than ever before.

Famous Ballet Dancers with Nontraditional Dancers’ Bodies

  • Misty Copeland was told she had the “wrong body type” to be a professional ballet dancer. She took up the dance at the late age of 13, and is reportedly five-two and about 110 pounds, but with an athletic build.
  • Even one of the original ballet dancers in the 19th century, Marie Taglioni, was labeled as “poorly proportioned.”
  • Anna Pavlova, one of the most important dancers in history, had curved feet and weak ankles that made dancing on pointe so challenging that she had to create a specific shoe to help her. That eventually became the modern pointe shoe.