Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > Experiences

Growing up in Ballet: My Thoughts on George Balanchine

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

I have a lot to say about this man

Up until college, the only life I knew was one taken over by ballet. I started dancing when I was four years old and fell in love with it almost immediately. As I got older, I began to notice my teachers’ infatuation with a certain, as they would often say, “creative genius,” by the name of George Balanchine. 

George Balanchine was a ballet teacher and choreographer who came to New York City from the Soviet Union in the 1930s and started what is now The School of American Ballet. He is known for his unique ballets that pushed the physical limits of the art form more than ever before. He discovered new ways to move the human body and created beautiful art. His choreography is still performed all over the world. 

So it makes sense that my teachers admired this man, right? Well, not really.

While Balanchine was a brilliant choreographer, he also promoted eating disorders, extreme favoritism and inhumane treatment of ballet dancers. He is known for telling dancers that he wants to “see the bones” and manipulating them until they say yes to anything he asks, whether it’s related to ballet, sex or even marriage. Yes, he married four of his students. All of this sounds incredibly disturbing and unacceptable, yet somehow he is considered one of the most influential figures in all of ballet. 

The director of my ballet school was one of Balanchine’s original students, so though I grew up hearing stories about the man and seeing photos of him on the walls of the school, I knew nothing of his negative impacts on ballet. My teachers always made it a priority to assert their dominance and instill in us a belief that we must always do as they say. And for many years, I just assumed that this was a normal thing to do in a ballet class. This is not to say that my school treated us exactly as badly as Balanchine treated his students, but many aspects of his so-called “legacy” were definitely present. This is the case for many ballet schools around the world, especially ones with teachers who have direct connections to George Balanchine. 

I eventually learned of his behavior and immediately connected the ballet world’s seemingly strange infatuation with Balanchine to cults. The man literally created a cult. Balanchine made himself such a high power that he had complete control over his dancers. Even after his death, they are all still wrapped around his finger. They live their lives to please him.

Separating Balanchine’s genius choreography with the cult culture that he introduced to the ballet world is crucial in making ballet more healthy and inclusive. The cult he created has been even more apparent to me since I stopped dancing, and I am hoping that my generation can recognize the extreme mental setbacks that Balanchine put into ballet. Despite all of this, I still love ballet and I am certain that students can become amazing professional dancers without the inhumane treatment that Balanchine promoted. 

Allison Yusim

Wisconsin '26

Hi! I'm Allison! I am a Freshman at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Mathematics! In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with friends, reading, and exploring Madison. I am so excited to be a part of Her Campus!