I'm 5' 11". A répétiteur told me that I was too tall for the work she was setting because tall people can't move fast. This was before she had ever seen me attempt the movement. Why is that still an acceptable reason not to cast someone? —Deanna
Ballet has always been slow to move beyond old-school stereotypes. And, unfortunately, it's not uncommon for artists on both ends of the height spectrum to get typecast or feel stuck because a director, choreographer or stager has a rigid idea of what certain dancers are capable of. While shorter dancers may seem naturally suited for fast movement, I've seen many tall ones conquer the speedy choreography of George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck. I myself was a pretty fast dancer, and I'm 5' 8".
The stager may have preconceived notions based on her past experiences, or perhaps the costumes were created for a shorter cast. If she is in charge of casting—and the artistic staff isn't stepping in on your behalf—I'm not sure you have much control over the situation. But what you can do is assert yourself: Respectfully ask to learn the ballet, even if it's in the back of the room. Tell your director that you'd like to be considered for these types of roles in the future. Sometimes speaking up confidently and showing what you can do—and how much you want to do it—will make artistic staff take notice.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.