Ballet Stars
Students from Walnut Hill School for the Arts perform Gerald Arpino's Birthday Variations during the school's anniversary gala at The Joyce Theater. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

If you could ask a professional dancer's advice for starting a ballet career, what would you want to know?

Earlier this month, Walnut Hill School for the Arts celebrated its 125th anniversary with a gala performance of students and alumni at New York City's Joyce Theater. And with graduation on the horizon, we thought it would be fun to arrange a Q&A session between upper level ballet students and the visiting graduates of Walnut Hill School for the Arts, among them San Francisco Ballet principal Joseph Walsh '06, Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters '10, Ballet Arizona dancer Alison Remmers '12 and former Sacramento Ballet/Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges '98.

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Charlie Hodges as Oberon in "A MidSummer Night's Dream" at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts Senior Showcase. Photo Courtesy Charlie Hodges.

Conversations about body image in dance typically revolve around female dancers. For an obvious reason: It's usually women who are driven to dangerous means to reach the ideal "ballet body."

But they're not alone in the struggle. Former Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges recently told his own story during a TED Talk at California's ArtCenter College of Design.

He Experienced Shaming Almost As Soon As He Started Dance

Hodges began dancing at age 10. Shortly after, a teacher who noticed his talent told him that if he were serious, he'd need to lose weight. By age 12, Hodges started winning awards on the competition circuit—where one director told him, "You'll be unstoppable just as soon as you lose your baby fat."

Losing self-esteem, he went on a diet and lost 14 pounds. To this day, Hodges thinks that weight loss might have stunted his growth.

As a Professional, He Couldn't Escape His Body

At 18, Hodges won second place at the prestigious National YoungArts Week. But when he auditioned for 14 ballet companies that year, all 14 said no. One letter read, "We regret to inform you that we have absolutely no use for a body like yours in our company."

He eventually got a job at Sacramento Ballet, but continued to face challenges. When he was cast as the lead in Theme and Variations, the company needed to get special permission from the Balanchine Trust because he was so short. Critics consistently called him a fireplug and pointed out his unorthodox body.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

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