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Dainty Little Ballet Dancers

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Two Dancers on a Stage, Edgar Degas (1874)
See the dance they do, all the little ballerinas...

They're ballet dancers. They're participants in a traditionally feminine activity. So they've got to be delicate, almost ethereal fairy-like creatures, right?

Simply put, this is when ballet dancers are portrayed as delicate little flowers of femininity, even though in Real Life ballet is by its very nature as physically taxing as most contact sports, if not more than the lightest ones (the most famous example is Jean-Claude Van Damme, who took up both ballet and Karate while growing up and is usually fast to point out the former as the hardest). Long-time injuries in legs and toes are a perennial bane of ballet dancers after relatively short careers, with complications and pain common even after retirement.

Even though ballerinas are the most usual example, male dancers get this just as often, despite the fact that they need to be strong enough to so much as lift their partners overhead with the maximum level of gracefulness possible (compare this with Professional Wrestling, in which doing exactly the same is relegated to the physically strongest workers in the ring!). Ballerinas are usually just as strong themselves muscle-wise in their lower bodies, as they need it to leap very high and land harmoniously without the natural, crouchy moves that make it easier for the rest of us mere mortals. In addition, they need to have the foot strength and balance necessary to spend a great deal of time on literal tip-toes without falling over, sometimes as the starting or ending point of said high leaps.

This trope is full of Unfortunate Implications, both because it underplays the physical aspect of ballet and because it reinforces old, sexist ideas of manhood, making any man who does ballet a "sissy".

See also Ballet and Real Men Wear Pink. Contrast Creepy Ballet.


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  • Subverted in an ad for Under Armour sportwear featuring prima ballerina Misty Copeland, which focuses heavily on her athletic physique and the physical requirements of ballet as she practices her dance while reading a rejection letter from a ballet academy.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Princess Tutu.
    • Gender Inverted with Mytho. He's extremely vulnerable in particular; he keeps letting himself be injured unintentionally and reacting passively to everything. This is actually a plot element and he winds up getting stronger later and doing things like sword fighting monsters, but not until going through an emotional roller-coaster of crying and freaking out and so forth. Basically everyone in his life wants to shelter and protect him in some way. His character design is also very dainty and frail-looking, with pale skin, girly pale hair, and big eyes.
    • Averted with Fakir. Even though he has the same build as Mytho, he is consistently portrayed as a strong presence and his dancing is noticeably more aggressive.
  • Averted in chapter 307 of Urusei Yatsura. Hoshikuzu's (admittedly unconventional) ballet teacher, Ryuunosuke, is no delicate flower, and Hoshikuzu's tryout at the end of the chapter has her make a landing that breaks the floor underneath her.

    Comic Books 
  • In an Archie Comics story, Archie and Reggie make fun of Veronica's "sissy" ballet instructor, until he uses dance moves to beat up some thugs threatening them. The two of them then take ballet lessons with him themselves.
  • There's a Dennis The Menace comic book story, "Ballet is Okay", where Dennis attends Margaret's ballet school (his parents think it'll influence him to take an interest in culture). Instead, he learns some "new fighting tricks" from a fellow student who takes a grand jete out of the way when Dennis tries to hit him.

    Film - Animation 
  • Despicable Me: Gru's three adorable little daughters are all tough in different ways. But they all take their ballet seriously enough to tell Gru flat out that his plans don't trump their ballet classes. They wear white tutus for Swan Lake, and their pink tutus and shoes for the Dance Party Ending of the movie.
    • Margo is tough because she's the oldest and had to grow up quickest to look after her two younger sisters.
    • Edith is tough in the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter in training sort of way.
    • Agnes is a fighter in the tiny toddler tornado way: threaten something she loves (like her unicorn) and she turns into a whirlwind of deadly screaming tantrum.
  • An example of this trope being inverted for humorous value is in Disney's Fantasia, which depicts hippos in tutus dancing to Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours."

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Nina Sayers in Black Swan is a professional Ballet dancer who possesses an incredibly low self-esteem who suffers pressure from her overbearing mother, her critical, sexually-harassing boss, her manipulative frenemy Lily and bulimia brought on by a need to be perfect. The pressure leads to her slow, methodical mental breakdown across the film, including hallucinations, mood-swings and eventual Uncertain Doom via suicide.
  • Inverted in The Cutting Edge. Kate Moseley is a talented figure skater, but difficult to work with. Her coach's search for a new partner leads her to none other than Doug Dorsey, a hockey player - and built like one.
  • In Fighting with My Family Saraya initially looks down on her fellow female trainees who had dancing and cheerleading backgrounds. It's subverted when they're shown to be in better physical condition than her.
  • Outrageous Fortune: Lauren's ballet classes come in handy when the bad guy is chasing her across the buttes of the Southwest. She is able to make incredible leaps across from one separate plateau to the other because of the leaps she learned, that the bad guy has trouble matching — until he misses altogether and falls to his death.
  • In Titanic (1997), Rose uses her ballet lessons to show up a bunch of "real tough men" by standing on her toes for several excruciating seconds.

  • Angelina Ballerina has, in the first book, the dancing mouse girls described as practicing curtsies and pliés, skipping and twirling, and running around "like fairies". Most of their ballet performances involve fairies, princesses, or flowers.
  • Ivy Carson in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Changeling looks like this, and even believes she might be an actual fairy changeling. She is also quite sure she was a dancer in several reincarnations and wants to return to ballet in this life. Occasionally she is able to take classes with an elderly retired dancer from the Bolshoi, whom we can assume fills her in on what is physically required.
  • Averted in Dave Barry Does Japan where Dave recalls a ballet performance on an outdoor scene.
    In the climactic scene, the lead ballerina got picked up by one of the male dancers, who was apparently supposed to waft her effortlessly offstage, but he had trouble keeping her aloft, plus her tutu blocked his vision, so he lunged forward, building up a head of steam, and rammed her headfirst smack into the hedge. Then he backed up, changed course slightly and ran her into the hedge again, before he managed to stagger offstage, shrubbery clinging to both their costumes. I was moved to tears.
  • In the first Diana Tregarde novel, Diana mentions that while she studied ballet in her youth, she gave up her dreams of doing it professionally after reading the autobiography of a former dancer and finding a chapter about how to bandage one's feet so that when the blisters on your toes burst, they won't stain your pointe shoes. Not if, when.
  • Averted in Going Postal, where a discussion about whether the Post Office chandelier that was stolen by the Assassins Guild or the one that was stolen by the Opera House would be safer to retrieve concludes "Some of those ballerinas can kick like a mule."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted on RuPaul's Drag Race in Season 5's ballet challenge. As the contestants were all men and/or trans women, even the shorter queens were anything but dainty. However, the winner of that challenge, Alyssa Edwards, is a professional choreographer in her day job and was naturally flawless in her performance. Season 11 finalist (and future host of Canada's Drag Race), Brooke Lynne Heights, is also a seasoned ballet performer, having mastered both the male and female dance forms. She even shows off her skills by doing a runway walk en pointe.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • A frequent comment by commentators is "this isn't ballet" to emphasise how rough and extreme wrestling is, which shows a huge misunderstanding that ballet is arguably more intense than wrestling - where people can still keep going into their forties and fifties and can begin training much later in life. The women themselves get in on it occasionally; Nikki Bella in her shoot interview used an analogy of a ballerina trying to play soccer, again trying to reference the image of ballet dancers as dainty.
  • In WWE Tough Enough, Ivelisse Vélez took a couple of shots at fellow contestant Christina Crawford, mockingly calling her "Christina ballerina" after a miscommunication led to her getting injured. Ivelisse did express regret over some of her statements months after being eliminated from the competition. The trainers however subverted the trope, saying that Christina's dance background helped her in terms of grace and athleticism (she was one of the only female contestants able to do a drill involving jumping over the ropes repeatedly).
  • Subverted by Ricki Starr, who was a successful ballet dancer before he was in wrestling. He incorporated his dance training into plenty of Waif-Fu moves in the ring.
  • Stacy Keibler previously did ballet, and was portrayed as a feminine Ms. Fanservice who barely got in the ring.

  • Lampshaded in the A Chorus Line song "At the Ballet".
    But everything was beautiful at the ballet
    Graceful men with lovely girls in white
  • In On the Town, the "Miss Turnstiles" ballet has Ivy Smith assuming an improbably wide range of personalities. Ivy and her Leitmotif are presented at first in a delicate "Allegretto di 'Ballet Class'" (which is in 5/4 time), though the ensuing variations on her theme culminate by showing off her athletic side.

    Video Games 
  • In Overwatch, Widowmaker was a ballet dancer before her Face–Monster Turn into one of the world's most feared assassins. The trope is played with, since In-Universe she was treated as a harmless civilian (and her original persona is contrasted with her current one), but it also meant she was physically fit enough that she was a threat after becoming Brainwashed and Crazy.

    Western Animation 
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Alvin expects this to be the case when he and the Sevilles agree to host a ballet dancer in "The Bully Ballet." Rather than a ballerina though, he ends up meeting a ballerino named Michael, who proves anything but dainty.
  • A singalong segment of The Beatles has John ask Ringo for something to fit a romantic ballad. He emerges in a male ballet suit and slippers, and with fluttering eyelashes, says "I'm a ballad dancer!"
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, Gazoo teaches Fred some rudimentary ballet to improve his bowling skills. They try to do it in secret, but Fred's friends find out anyway and have a good laugh. Ultimately, the poise and precision Fred acquired while learning ballet made him an excellent bowler.
  • Played for Laughs in one episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. Billy wants to be a ballet dancer, his father, won't allow it because "dancing is for weaklings". As it turns out, the only reason he thinks this is because his own father used that logic to dash HIS dream to become one. In the end, he rejects that ideology and performs the Maboohai Shuffle to defeat Pollywinkle and save Billy.
  • Deconstructed in Recess when Spinelli is initially forced to take ballet lessons by her mother - who wants her to be more feminine. Spinelli is repulsed by the Girl Posse who fit the stereotype, but then discovers her friend Mikey does it and agrees to be his partner. While she gets cold feet at the idea of performing in front of her school (fearing for her tomboy reputation), she goes ahead with the performance and impresses everyone with the choreography.
  • Pearl's appearance, fighting style and low self-esteem in Steven Universe emulate this trope, basing her on the traditional ballet dancer. Averted, as while her lanky appearance makes her seem delicate, she is much stronger than any human, and is able to hold her own against monsters and other gems.
  • Nikolai Volkov, in one episode of Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, visits his ballerina sister and finds she has injured herself. His line is Played for Laughs, but it could be seen as the slow-witted Big Guy inverting the trope knowingly.
    Next time, you listen to your big brother, Natasha! Ballet is too dangerous! You should do something safer, like [professional] wrestling!

  • Another humorous inversion in the form of numerous images of gorillas, bears, and other scary animals wearing tutus all over the Internet.

    Real Life 
  • Averted to a degree within football circles: a number of coaches and players are aware of the strength ballet requires, and take it as a way to develop their muscles.
  • After a lousy Philadelphia Eagles game, a Facebook commenter snidely declared "The Eagles played like they were wearing tutus." Incensed, a dancer for the Pennsylvania Ballet wrote a blistering editorial describing how incredibly difficult the life of a ballerina was, capping it off by declaring, "No, the Eagles did not play like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be head coach and we'd all be looking forward to the playoffs."