I Feel Pretty

Cosmetic surgery options and preparations for dancers

A new nose changed dancer Maina Gielgud's life. "I desperately wanted to perform the romantic roles, such as Giselle, Odette/Odile. But I was usually cast for the Myrtha types, the mean girls," says Gielgud, who danced with Maurice Béjart's 20th Century Ballet and as a principal with London Festival Ballet. Her nose wasn't huge—it just had a knob on it from a childhood accident—but it was large enough to keep her from traditional heroine roles. After rhinoplasty in the 1970s came the roles. "First Giselle, then Odette/Odile—the dream roles basically—even Juliet," she says.

Whether it's a small frame and delicate face for ballet or a muscular body and striking features for commercial roles, appearances count in dance. Though parts of the field, especially modern dance and tap, enjoy a growing diversity of body types, having the ideal look can sometimes take you farther. Still, all surgery presents a risk, and the choice needs to be well-thought-out, including rigorous investigation, with all the variables considered.  

Costs and Risks

Risk is always present with surgery, and it differs depending on the type and length of surgery, the type of anesthesia used and the medical history of the patient. "Dancers are generally in very good physical health, are not overweight and are nonsmokers," says Dr. Adam Schaffner, clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and director of JUVA Plastic Surgery. "Assuming no other health problems are present—like anorexia nervosa or bulimia—they are generally good surgical candidates."

Those heading into a cosmetic surgery procedure should be in good mental and physical health. The main concern is that if the patient has an underlying eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), she will not be satisfied with cosmetic surgery, since the problem is more mental than physical. BDD is much more serious than the body dissatisfaction that is often experienced by dancers—it is a distorted perception of a physical defect when there isn't one.

Cost is another consideration and varies according to the kind of surgery, length of time in the hospital and anesthesia, and it can easily add up to several thousand dollars. Only in rare cases are these procedures covered by insurance (breast reductions may be, with a well-documented history of back pain). It's important to seriously assess the career gains vs. costs before handing over your credit card.

Making the Decision and Finding a Doctor

Rachel Winer, clinical psychologist in Houston, TX, and adjunct faculty at Rice University’s department of psychology, suggests doing prep work before even visiting a doctor. The internet is a place to start. "I would recommend against only looking online, though," says Winer. "Use it to come up with a list of questions for surgeons ahead of a consultation. Ask about outcomes—risks, benefits, any unwanted side effects and what to expect in general. Gather as much information related to the procedure as possible, including nonsurgical alternatives." Also, consider getting the full report from other dancers who have gone through a procedure.

Find a board-certified plastic surgeon or facial plastic surgeon (ear, nose and throat), rather than a physician with another specialty who also does cosmetic surgery. Look for doctors with academic affiliations and hospital privileges. Once you narrow down a few selections, it's perfectly fine to request to speak to other patients.

"Plastic surgery can make a difference," says Schaffner. "I have seen my patients' careers take off." For Gielgud, the new nose came with some welcome perks. "I didn't have to spend quite as much time with makeup and hairdos before performance to be attractive and camouflage my profile," she says. "It's not necessary to be picture-perfect, and expressive eyes can make the most uninteresting face fascinating. In my case, I remain delighted that I did it." DT

 

Nancy Wozny is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher based in Houston, TX.

 

Surgery Specifics

Liposuction

Liposuction is the most common cosmetic surgery. “You can be thin everywhere else but still unable to address a pocket of fat on the outer thigh,” says Dr. Richard Baxter, surgeon at Baxter Plastic Surgery in Seattle, WA. Certain areas of your body may simply be resistant to exercise—leading to intense frustration. In these cases, liposuction may be a good solution.

Since dancers are relatively thin, there’s not a lot of fat to be removed and liposuction recovery is usually fairly quick. Expect to be back teaching and dancing in approximately two to three weeks, says Dr. Adam Schaffner, clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and director of JUVA Plastic Surgery. “But it depends on swelling and bruising, and every patient is different.”

 

The Face

While the body is your instrument in dance, the face is what conveys all emotion onstage, and pleasing proportions can't hurt, especially when doing work on camera. Plus, the older you get, the more concerned you may be with how your looks are changing. If this is the case, you don't necessarily have to face the knife. Botox can address those pesky forehead lines and the parallel trenches between the eyes. Depending on what the patient wants to change, Schaffner uses a combination of injectable filler materials along with Botox. With a skilled practitioner, you will still be able to be your expressive self. Baxter agrees. “Botox is magic,” he says. “It's very safe and effective.”

Breast Surgery

Breast augmentation and reduction in dancers is rare, but it does happen. “Sometimes dancers want small breast implants, to be a little more feminine,” says Schaffner. And while large-breasted women are not generally inclined to pursue dance careers, breast reductions are an option for those who do and have trouble fitting into restrictive costumes or have any related back pain. “Reduction is a more involved surgery, and the recovery could be several weeks more than augmentation,” says Baxter. Those who have a breast augmentation should wait about six weeks before pursuing any unrestricted physical activity.

 

Additional Resources

American Society of Plastic Surgery: www.plasticsurgery.org

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: www.surgery.org

American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org

MedLine Plus: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/plasticandcosmeticsurgery.html

 

Photo: ©iStockphoto.com

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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