The Effect of Ballet Dance Attire on Body and Self-Perceptions of Female Dancers

By Price, Brena R.; Pettijohn, Terry F., II | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, September 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Ballet Dance Attire on Body and Self-Perceptions of Female Dancers


Price, Brena R., Pettijohn, Terry F., II, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Body and self-perceptions of female ballet dancers (N = 38) were assessed in a repeated measures design experiment investigating the effects of dance attire. Participants were randomly assigned to complete a ballet class dressed in a black leotard with pink tights or dressed in their choice of loose-fitting clothing referred to by dancers as "junk." The next day, participants completed a ballet class in the other clothing condition. After completing the ballet class each day, dancers completed surveys regarding self-perceived body image and performance level. Results revealed that participants reported significantly lower self- and body-perception ratings in the leotard with tights attire condition compared to the loose-fitting clothing condition. These results have implications for the effects of required dance attire on female dancer perceptions.

Keywords: body image, dance, self-objectification theory, eating disorders, dress

Just as musicians have their instruments, dancers have their bodies. Because of the constant focus on the body, body concerns are extremely common among ballet dancers (Tiggemann & Slater, 2001). For nondancers, body image problems may not be as severe because they are not required to wear skin-tight leotards and tights everyday and to stare at their bodies in the mirror for extended periods of time. Many companies or schools of dance require their students to participate in mandatory weigh-ins, although researchers find this practice creates problems that may contribute to eating disorders (i.e., Hamilton, 2002). Several studies delineate the differences in body image concerns comparing dancers to nondancers and draw attention to this important issue in relation to other mental health risks such as depression and eating disorders (Dotti et al., 2002). By understanding the causes of increased body image concern, researchers can help dancers reduce body image dissatisfaction and minimize health risks.

Bettle, Bettle, Neumärker, and Neumärker (2001) found that adolescent ballet dancers view themselves as less desirable, less attractive, less confident, less lovable, and more sensitive than age-matched nondancers. Tiggemann and Slater (2001) found that former ballet dancers reported higher self-surveillance and disordered eating than the same age group of nondancers. Pierce and Daleng (1998) discovered high levels of distorted body images among professional female dancers, using measures to compare current body image to ideal body image. These differences between dancers and nondancers are concerning, but how can these variations be explained?

Body image concerns in dancers may be partially explained by the presence and use of mirrors in the dance environment. Radell, Adame, and Cole (2002) assessed the effect of mirrors in dance instruction on body image of female beginning ballet dancers. Body-areas Satisfaction, Appearance Orientation, and Externality increased in the class taught without mirrors and Body-areas Satisfaction decreased in the class taught with mirrors. There was also a decline in physical weight for the mirror group dancers, which indicates a strong level of dissatisfaction with physical appearance. Radell, Adame, and Cole (2003) conducted another study to assess the performance of dancers who were taught with, and without, mirrors. Dancers were videotaped while performing the same adagio and grand allegro phase in the middle and at the end of the term and their performances were coded for skill. Dancers taught without mirrors showed a significant increase in adagio scores, but dancers taught with mirrors did not show significant increases in adagio and allegro scores. Besides negatively impacting body image, the presence of mirrors in a ballet classroom may also hinder dance skill acquisition.

Another possible influence on body and self-perceptions of dancers is their dance outfits. Wearing tight-fitting clothing that accentuates body features may be partially responsible for increased body concerns. …

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