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Crazy/Possessed Ballerinas. Are There Any Other Kinds? 

In preparation for our two part Horror Best Listing (pre-Exorcist and post-Exorcist which arrives tonight) I caught up with a few classic titles. One of them, briefly discussed on the latest podcast, was Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977). I can't say I took to it exactly, despite being partial to films which boozily strip naked and beg their Production Designer & Cinematographer to f*** them.

slumber parties in horror movies? never a good idea

Suspiria (have you seen it?) starts sort of well, flying right into an unnatural rainstorm with a weirdly off kilter urgency as ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany to attend an prestigious ballet academy. But those first two kills are so yuck making the intro a mixed bag for me. For its middle section, which I assume is where the film's classic status derives, the movie does little cul-de-sacs in creepy/garish atmospherics punctuated by two perversely inventive murders. But then, oops, time is up. For its last trick, Suspiria speeds through a dud finale with mood-killing exposition (how was Udo Kier ever this young!?) and badly dated visual effects. By the time the credits appear, it's lost pretty much all of its intermittent unnerving power. For me at least; I understand others really do dig it.

After Suspiria ended, my mind wandered to a more general cinematic question: Are there any silver screen ballerinas that are happy?

See, it seems like screen ballerinas are always batshit crazy whether they're...


...possessed by the occult


The Red Shoes

...dancing feverishly as if possessed by toe shoes


Black Swan

...having psychotic feathered breaks


The Turning Point

...or engaging in neurotic Oscarbait-offs. 


Can you think of any well adjusted ballerinas in fiction?
And if you can't whose your favorite nutjob ballerina?

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Reader Comments (21)

Is The Turning Point any good? I've never seen it and always wondered if I should make the effort -- it was famously nominated for a gazillion Oscars and won none, right?

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

yes, sanfran. it's tied for most noms without a win with The Color Purple!... damn those girlie movies. ;)

i dont actually remember if its good or not

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

The Turning Point is not...good, per se. It's fun to watch in a lot of ways because of all of the Acting (capital A) that everyone gets to do, but "good" feels like entirely the wrong word to describe that movie today. It might be on Lifetime if it came out today.

My favorite ballerina scenes are in the original Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. There is one tutu clad darling that finishes every few steps with a full turn. They're like a flock of demented geese.

I remember loving Turning Point when I saw it years ago, but don't really remember anything now except the drunk swan scene and the fight the still above is from and how odd it felt that Bancroft played the pro dancer and MacLaine the retired teacher.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I am a HUGE dance movie afficionado, and there are some screen ballerinas who aren't crazy, believe it or not, but they do usually have some all-caps ISSUES. Amanda Schull's character in Center Stage has that weird relationship with her choreographer, for example. And Jenna Dewan(-Tatum) has the typical teen craziness in Step Up. And let's not forget the dancers in Fame. But my favorite is Neve Campbell's Ry in Robert Altman's The Company. "My Funny Valentine" is one of my favorite dances in all film.

And yeah, "good" is not really the right word for The Turning Point, but it's absolutely worth a watch.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, like I should be crouching behind a chair, but I really enjoy The Turning Point. Mostly because it's so creaky and sentimental. It reminds me of all those "women's films" in the 40s. Both women are terrific in it, but Anne is especially good and has some really beautiful moments, both fiery and wistful. It's old-fashioned and soapy as hell, but worth checking out if you've never seen it, mostly for Bancroft. The third-act face-off is a lot of fun.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Personally one of my favorite films about ballet dancers is Robert Altman's "Company". I guess you can't say that Neve Campbell is completely put together in the film. But if you look at her by comparison? Not too bad. And I kind of love that film just to see Neve engage in some en pointe realness.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZacary

Nat did you know that today is the 65th anniversary of the release of The Red Shoes?

I'm so happy you finally saw Suspiria! Even if you didn't love it. The set design and the coloring and the lighting though - my god, right?

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

I love love love Suspiria, and I'm always confused when people are put off by the goriness of it. It seems to me that the first kill, which is the craziest one, is SO ridiculously, hilariously over the top that it should take you out of it enough to handle it, or something.
And the ending really works for me for the same reason. This movie is just too much from start to finish, and I love it for that.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I was going to mention Neve Campbell as well, but others beat me to it. Pretty level headed in the movie, and let's face it, pretty darn boring because of it.

And don't believe what others are saying The Turning Point is beyond good. As in it doesn't really matter if it's "good," what matters is that it's terrifically involving. Great hammy-ish acting and some of the best visual shots of ballet on film. There's a reason that Baryshnikov and Lesley Brown were nominated for Oscars and it wasn't because of their wierd Esperanto & Valium line deliveries.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I always think of Cate Blanchett's Daisy from Benjamin Button when I think of ballerinas, though maybe she was just a dancer...

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Hate Suspiria so much. It is my go to example of a horror film that has a pointless twist ending that undoes all the good will built up to that point. A horror film that good looking with such an amazing score has to crash and burn pretty spectacularly in the last 10 minutes for me to loathe it this much.

As for ballerinas, Audition has my favorite onscreen dancer. You never see her dance, but you learn how much she appreciated all of her years of dance training. So, you know, crazy people be crazy.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I LOVE Suspiria! I'm so glad to see it talked about here, even if it wasn't necessarily well received. For me, it's easily one of my favorite horror movies (and actually one of my favorite overall films). I just watched it last night and I'm giving a presentation on it for a film class this Thursday, which just gives me an excuse to re-watch it several more times...

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKeelay!

robert g -- OMG. Audition. that just further proves the point. (as for suspiria, if you listen to the podcast i discuss suspiria in more detail and why i'm not into it)

denny -- oooh. i LOVE that scene but i always forget about that movie (The Company) even though it made my top ten list in its year!

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

In fiction, yes, but check out Tous Pres des Etoiles and Wiseman's La Danse to see the real dancers of the Paris Opera ballet. You can see why all that strenuous work would make them a great subject for passionate frenzied anything.

"Julian...take off the red shoes."

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Center Stage is one of my guiltiest pleasures. I know it's probably not a good movie, but I absolutely love it. Plus it's the film debute of Zoë Saldana and perhaps the most complex character Hollywood has allowed her to portray.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonn

Robert G. lost me on Suspiria and won me back with his Audition comment. Whenever I think of that movie my joints tense about because all I can see are piano strings. Oy.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

There was the Rich Girl in "Fame" who tries to be a ballerina. It almost doesn't end well.

October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Emily Blunt played a cold-normal ballerina in "The Adjustment Bureau".

October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Tom Skerritt. Mmm.

That's all I have to say about The Turning Point this morning.

October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

by Dane Youssef

To all of those out of there, those elite goddesses in the field of ballet... who give themselves wholly to the craft. All for ballet

Ladies, I have to bow my head and kneel in respect to you all, whoever you may be.

The demands to reach excellence in ballet are infinite, aren't they? Up with the sun, strenuous workout from the dawn 'til the dusk, pushing every part of the body to do the impossible. then after, the impossible is reached, it must be continuously worked on, every moment of every day.

Because it's not like any simple talent, it's physical ability. The moment you stop working on it, it all goes away.

Yes, those ladies are not merely professionals. They are soldiers. Their lives of one are endless access.

I can see you bear the war wounds of a professional. Crooked hammer toes, slight blisters, athlete's foot--even blooming under the nails like a lush garden. As we all know, folks--ballet is never merely a hobby. Especially if you want to be particularly good at it.

There are women all over the ballet world who do this. Who must. Many talk of "perfect feet." The ideal feet for ballet, to truly possess feet for professional ballet-- for the ladies in this field, are notoriously deformed---calluses, blisters, boils, warts, damaged nails, athlete's foot, bunions, and on and on and on.

And until those feet are good and strong enough, the pointe shoe must remain just out of reach. An ideal peak goal to be achieved. Like a big juicy carrot a few inches in front of a donkey's face.

It's a rite of passage. Not just to take a big milestone in her life in ballet, but new shoes. Special shoes. Powerful shoes. Every woman love shoes so. And ballerinas dream of the day they get to do those toe shoes.

But beware, those shoes come at a hefty price. And no, I do not mean the pricey cost.

The shoes can cause blisters, bunions, warts, calluses, broken toenails, athlete's foot, splints, arthritis, crooked toes – and that's just the headline.

Still, that's a necessary price one must pay to be part of such a craft. Ballet is sacrifice itself. And the reward is you become more than mortal. Do and feel more in a few weeks than most do in a lifetime.

It is a part of immortal history that Margot Fonteyn was not only a prima ballerina, but was named “prima ballerina absolutta” by the British Empire as well as given the rank of Dame. History looks at her as one of the finest there ever was in the sport despite her notorious “bad feet.”

Yes, that she had “bad ballet feet” is also a part of history–but this is only known to die-hard fanatical balletomanes. You know, people actually in the professional dance industry.

But unless you’re really savvy about the craft, you must ask, “what are ballet feet? What are bad feet for ballet?”

The kind of feet that are best equipped for ballet–high arches, high insteps that will suit jumps, pointe, pirouette, tendus and what-have-you. From being able to arch your foot and being able to balance on the metatarsal.

What this refers to is the fact that her feet had low arches, like “sticks of butter” and her legs were quite short for a ballerina. On a ballerina, long legs and arms are a must. Absolutely necessary as being able to stand up and walk. And Fonteyn’s were considerably short, and yes–flat feet.

Look, I myself have been praised by ballet pros for my very own feet–made for ballet, which I’ve been taking for nine whole years. Take it from someone who’s done the craft and played the sport himself for almost a decade: You don’t just have to be born with it.

If you want the glorified curve in your foot, for it to stand tall and prominent, you’ll just have to work at it. Doing pointe exercise with an elastic band until those arches come up. Mold your feet into the proper shape like they’re made of clay.

Yet this little woman, one Margaret Fonteyn was given the title of “prima ballerina absolutta,” an honor given to the precious ballerinas who seem to be heaven-sent in the profession. Madams Anna Pavolva, Natalia Makarova, and of course, Fonteyn.

Ballet master and innovator himself George Balanchine critiqued the first lady of Royal Ballet herself Margot as, “Hands like spoons, bad feet, can’t dance at all.” But he also attacked Rudi as, “a passable dancer whose problem is he always tries to be the prince.” Mr. Balanchine wanted the only star of his ballets to be his own choreography. Any dancer who’s career and reputation outshone his own made him feel threatened.

He founded a school and company where he was God. That’s why he called his students/employees “dear.” He liked to think of them as his own children. One of those true artistes who was all ego.

Look, kids: Technique is one thing. But Margot had a way of onstage, a charisma and persona that isn’t really taught. Makarova’s technique was flawless. She was born for technique. But technique can be taught. Margot had a way that transcended mere skill or exact body type.

Fonteyn was an icon in her field, regardless of how “proper” her feet (or her short legs) might have been. There is more to the ballet than mere physical dance. She was a ballerina.

So take this to heart, dear friends and readers, scholars of the ballet: the exact body type, feet, etc. is not written in stone or law. While the conventional way increase the odds of you getting classical roles and employment sooner–perhaps–remember, the ones that break the mold are the ones people remember. The ones who are granted Damehood. Absolute Prime Ballerina. Like the gifted lady in this picture.

Remember, dance is an art form. A form of self-expression. And when you are not true to yourself or don’t have the faith, there’s just nothing there at all. No art. No dance. No beauty. No truth.


Still, judging from what I see. It all for good reason. To all those who put themselves through the endless ordeal, this life of nothing but sacrifice and constant testing of medal--yes, you are a ballerina. Those battered, beaten, bleeding feet speak deafening volumes.

--Your Brother in Arms and Tights, Dane Youssef

November 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDane Youssef

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