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Fractured identities: injury and the balletic body

[journal article]

Wainwright, Steven P.; Williams, Clare; Turner, Bryan S.

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Abstract Social worlds shape human bodies and so it is inevitable that there are strong relationships between the body, professional dance and identity. In this article we draw on Bourdieu’s notions of habitus, and various forms of capital, as the main theoretical framework for our discussion. Our ethnography of the balletic body elicited dancers and ex-dancers’ perceptions of their bodies and sought to reveal some of the facets of their embodied habitus. The sheer physicality of their working lives - of feeling exhausted, sweaty and out of breath - is something dancers (like all athletes) become ‘addicted to’. Ageing and injury can reveal this compulsion to dance and so dancers invariably find it very difficult to, for example, give up class once they retire from the stage; or miss a performance if they have a ‘slight injury’. In other words, the vocational calling to dance is so overwhelming that their balletic body is their identity. In addition, there is an unremitting loop between individual habitus and institutional habitus (the ballet company), which affects both the meaning and management of injury. All our informants at the Royal Ballet (London: n = 20) had suffered dance injuries. The injured, dancing body is perceived as an inevitable part of a career in ballet. Everyone spoke of the improved athleticism of dancers, and of the expansion in facilities to maintain healthy dancers. However, most dancers can expect several major injuries during their careers. Such epiphanies force dancers to confront their embodiment, and their thoughts invariably turn to their body, career and self. Critical injuries threaten to terminate a dancer’s career and so endanger their embodied sense of self. On a more everyday level, dancing and performing with painful, niggling injuries is the norm.
Free Keywords body; dance and ethnography; identity; injury;
Document language English
Publication Year 2005
Page/Pages p. 49-66
Journal Health, 9 (2005) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)