When Does Criticizing a Dancer's Body Go Too Far?

November 28, 2001

It seems like there’s a point where dance critics have seen so much ballet that they forget to watch the performance. They’ve watched the same dancers and the same (or virtually the same) choreography so many times, their minds start to wander during a show. They find something onstage that bugs them, and think, “Aha! A brilliant idea for tomorrow’s review.”


Case in point: The Guardian‘s respected dance critic Judith Mackrell today penned a column complaining about dancers who whiten their teeth. Granted, she starts off with an apology, saying she never likes to criticize dancers’ bodies rather than their performances. Then she writes, “Lately, though, I’ve become mildly obsessed by teeth, specifically the number of male dancers who’ve started appearing on stage with bleached, Hollywood smiles.” To her, she finds bright white smiles distract from a dancer’s eyes, which shee feels are “the most intimate point of contact between him and the audience.”


Yes, she’s British, and they’ve got different standards when it comes to smiles over there. But still—really? Isn’t there a point where a dancer’s choices about her physical appearance her own personal property, not a critic’s? Or is all of a dancer’s body is part of her art, and should be just as open to criticism as her fouettes? I’m curious what you think. Tell me your thoughts at [email protected].