A ballerina or not?

Ballerina [bahl-lay-REE-rlah (Italian)]
A principal female dancer in a ballet company. In the days of the Russian Imperial Theatres the title was given to the outstanding soloists who danced the chief classical roles. 

(American Ballet Theatre Ballet Dictionary)

Some ballet students recently got pretty upset when a younger girl referred to herself as a "ballerina" and felt the need to correct her. One student even went so far as to compare calling herself a ballerina to masquerading as a health professional. Guess who was called in to settle the matter? (And who happy to shed a little light on things, of course!)

My first thought was that making a correlation between calling oneself a ballerina and pretending to be a doctor was definitely on the extreme side. Dancers study ballet a long time but that would be where I'll end the comparison to being a doctor. With the exception of personal injuries/sports injuries (and a certain incident in Russia recently) being a ballet dancer doesn't generally entail anything that could cause any real harm to anyone else. The worst an inexperienced dancer could do is put the audience to sleep or make them demand their money back, right?

So, what's the big deal? Personally, I don't see one in this case.

The term "ballerina" is just a part of our cultural vernacular to describe a girl who studies ballet. (Heck, even I'm guilty as charged when it comes to calling preschool ballet students "ballerinas" on more than one occasion while teaching class.) In this simplest form, just about everyone understands what it means without getting into the hierarchy of an actual ballet company. I don't really expect everyone to understand specific titles and they don't expect me to understand football or mechanical engineering... it's pretty fair that way.

If the use of the term was deliberately deceptive, the likelihood of anyone mistaking a ballet student for a professional and asking her to teach classes or open a studio with fake credentials is pretty slim to none. The same could be said if she was knocking on the door of a major company preparing to perform a ballet version of Catch Me If You Can. They'd instantly know something was wrong. And the fact of the matter is that most "real" ballerinas don't generally use the term themselves (see the above definition).  I (for example) am a former ballet dancer, not a ballerina because I never ascended to that title. More often that not, the term "ballet dancer" tends to be the most widely used among the professional dance community regardless of whether you're at the top of the company.

Here's my answer, ladies: It's OK to let this one slide and leave the corrections in and out of the studio to the instructors. I have a feeling that term will drop off as she becomes more serious in her training. If you (and I mean you, personally) wish to use a more accurate term, stick with "ballet student" or "aspiring ballet dancer."

Thanks for the interesting question!

What do you think, readers? Is there harm in a ballet student referring to herself as a ballerina?



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