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ISSUE 117 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/3/2003

Plight of the ballerina

By Brittany Larson
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 3, 2003

While it is not the biggest news story of recent days, the sorry tale of Anastasia Volochkova certainly passes for thought-provoking. Volochkova, one of the world's most celebrated ballerinas, was fired two weeks ago by Moscow's eminent 227-year-old Bolshoi Theater for not renewing her shortened contract.

The theater claims Volochkova's male dance partners found her too heavy to lift, so they cut her contract time in half. It seems that her weight has skyrocketed to somewhere in the range of 106 to 110 pounds, and as a result, none of the males will agree to dance with her.

However, recent reports reveal that the Boshoi has been ordered by the Russian Labor Ministry to rehire Volochkova and reimburse her for lost pay during her absence.

Although it is true that her last partner strained his back while dancing with her, he has repeatedly refused to attribute the injury to Volochkova. "I danced with her for five years and nothing ever interfered with that," he said.

Volochkova also dismisses the allegation. "It's a myth that partners refuse to dance with me," she said. "In fact, the managers are trying to discourage them from dancing with me." Volochkova refers to the firing as "an organized attempt to remove [her]."

Although the Boshoi has attempted to shade the facts, it appears that her weight was clearly a significant factor in their decision to terminate the relationship. The implications of their decision are, no pun intended, heavy.

While the prevailing thought has been that young women who are obsessed with their weight are displaying irrational behavior, maybe these girls feel they are rationally responding to the perverse incentives offered by institutions such as the Bolshoi.

It seems intuitive that it is good to maintain a healthy body weight. We know that the majority of Americans have had great difficulty in achieving this goal. In the United States, an overwhelming 60 percent of the population qualifies as either overweight or obese, according to recent research.

But on the other end of the spectrum are the people who have become obsessed with controlling their weight to the point of damaging their health. The difficulty here is determining what standard a person adopts to calculate their ideal weight.

The Bolshoi's standard, in light of Volochkova’s dismissal, is clear: ignore medical considerations and the weights medical experts cite as guidelines for good health. The Bolshoi demands that dancers maintain a weight that is substantially less than what the medical community prescribes. In Volochkova’s case, the Bolshoi expects its dancers to maintain a weight that is clearly detrimental to one's health.

But is this just the Bolshoi that is speaking? Is it possible that our anorexic friends have detected that the real message from society at large is much the same?

When questioned, does society give the rational and socially responsible advice that people should maintain a weight that is consistent with promoting good health? Or does society in fact send its real message subliminally, through choice of fashion models, sex symbols and ballet dancers? Is society’s message "Thin is beautiful," or is it, "You can't be too thin?"

Staff Writer Brittany Larson is sophomore from Thief River Falls, Minn. She majors in history with a concentration in media studies.

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