The top ballerinas always appear on stage as slender and graceful figures, so much so that they have become synonymous with elegance. This is because their weight, height, diet, and physical training regime are carefully monitored to give them the most “perfect” proportions possible.
So, how tall are ballerinas? Specifically, how tall do they need to be considered professional?
This article can tell you all about that and more.
Table of Contents
- Do Ballet Dancers Need To Be Tall?
- How Tall Are Ballerinas Supposed To Be?
- Ballerina Height Requirement Varies By Company
- Body Proportion Is More Important Than Height
- Famous Female Ballet Dancer’s Height
- Final Words
Do Ballet Dancers Need To Be Tall?
Taller dancers typically have longer limbs and a larger range of motion. This means their movements can appear much smoother and more graceful than a ballerina with a shorter stature.
A taller form may also allow them to achieve certain positions and movements more easily.
But height isn’t a deciding factor in ballet dancers’ careers (typically). Ballerinas with the right height simply have a better advantage in the dance world.
Many successful ballet dancers are not particularly tall. Whether a ballerina is successful or not only boils down to their dedication to the art, hard work, and talent.
How Tall Are Ballerinas Supposed To Be?
According to most sources, the average height of a ballerina is around 5’4” to 5’5” (around 167 centimeters). Most people won’t consider this as tall.
This has more or less debunked the myth that ballerinas have to be tall. This myth came to being mostly because ballerinas’ costumes are designed to accentuate their legs.
The puffy skirt exposed most of the ballerina’s legs, and the ballet tights made them stand out even more. The result is that the audience is made to think ballerinas are taller than they are!
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Short Ballerinas
Many people seem to think having a short stature for a ballerina is career-breaking. Not quite!
Shorter ballerinas often possess a unique advantage in ballet over taller dancers. They tend to be more agile and lighter on their feet thanks to having a lower center of gravity.
This means they can execute certain moves better than their taller counterparts!
Their smaller frame can also help them in jumps and turns, as they require less force to propel their bodies into the air and rotate.
We must also consider the aesthetical effect of having a shorter-taller pair in partnered performances. Ballerinas that are shorter than their male partners can give the performance a more pleasant visual effect.
But that doesn’t mean shorter ballerinas aren’t challenged.
They may struggle to achieve certain positions or movements that require a longer reach or larger range of motion. Certain roles or productions that require a taller dancer may skip over them during casting.
Dancers with shorter stature who pursue a professional career in dancing may experience pressure to maintain a lower body weight. It’s because their smaller frame can make even small weight fluctuations more noticeable.
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Tall Ballerinas
Taller ballerinas are a bit more favored. Their longer limbs give them a much wider range of motion, so movements can appear more graceful and fluid with less effort.
During partnered dances, taller and larger ballerinas can work better with male dancers as they have more surface area for their partners to hold onto.
There are still some challenges of being taller than average that ballerinas have to deal with, though.
For example, movements requiring a lower center of gravity or a smaller frame, such as certain jumps or turns, can be difficult to get right.
Taller dancers may also be more susceptible to injuries or strain on their joints, particularly in their ankles and knees.
Ballerina Height Requirement Varies By Company
In America, the average height for a female is around 5 feet 4 inches. Most ballet companies in the country also put the requirement for their ballerinas around this limit (about 167 centimeters, or 5 feet 4 inches).
But when you go to Europe and look at the height requirements there, some companies will demand their ballerinas to be as tall as 173 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches!)
So, the height requirements will be massively different depending on the country and the company that you’re looking at.
Let’s take a few examples.
The New York City Ballet’s height requirement is that female dancers need to be between 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 10 inches to qualify as a candidate for one of the roles.
In Europe, most ballet companies, such as the UK’s Royal Ballet, require their female dancers to be at least 5 feet 4 inches tall.
If the student and dancer are any shorter, they must acquire an exemption from their ballet school or prove themselves in other ways (such as by excelling in their auditions) to be accepted.
Check more: Leotard Vs Unitard Differences
Body Proportion Is More Important Than Height
While height can be a factor in ballet, many dancers and instructors agree that body proportion is actually more important than height alone.
Particularly, a ballerina must have a long neck, short to medium-length torso, and long legs with complementary long arms, and high insteps
People graced with such nice physiques will stand out better among others due to their proportions alone if we look at it from an artistic and aesthetic angle.
But many studies have shown that a well-proportioned body can help a dancer endure the incredible stresses and strains of a professional ballet routine better.
Thanks to their balanced physique, they can move more efficiently and can stretch themselves farther without injuring themselves.
But it’s hard to find ballerinas that can perfectly meet these “golden ratios”.
In the past, studios have pushed their ballerinas (many to their breaking points) to slim down and control their weights to achieve the perfect body proportion. Needless to say, it’s incredibly damaging to these ballerinas’ health.
That’s why, in recent years, there has been a movement among studios to accept ballet dancers with a more diverse range of body physiques. If you look at audition notes, you’ll find many more companies are looking for “Diverse” body types now.
That doesn’t mean they’ll accept just about anyone. There will still be a scale that they’d use to decide who’s the best person for each role.
But the rules have become more relaxed these days (which is a net improvement for the industry as a whole!).
Famous Female Ballet Dancer’s Height
So, how tall are some of the industry’s most famous female ballet dancers? Here’s our top-ten run down.
Natalia Makarova (5’)
Natalia Makarova was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1940 and trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. In 1956, she joined the Kirov Ballet, now known as the Mariinsky Ballet.
She quickly rose through the ranks to become a principal dancer and later defected to the West in 1970.
In America, Natalia became hugely popular among Western audiences, having top-rated shows as a principal dancer with both the American Ballet Theatre in New York and the Royal Ballet in the UK.
Today, she’s an incredibly sought-after choreographer and served as the artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 2002 to 2007.
Natalia’s described as a very small woman who’s “barely 5 feet tall”.
Anna Pavlova (5’)
Generally regarded as one of the most iconic ballerinas in history, Anna Pavlova was born in 1881 in St. Petersburg.
From a very young age, she was trained at the Imperial Ballet School. By the time she turned 18, she had already joined the storied Mariinsky Ballet. Anna later joined the Ballets Russes.
She became known for her signature role in “The Dying Swan”, a solo developed by Mikhail Fokine to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux.
And like the titular character, Anna’s height of just around 5 feet (1.52 meters) gives her the slender, graceful look of a swan.
Although she died fairly young in 1931 at the age of 49, her legacy in the world of dance lives on.
Gelsey Kirkland (5’1”)
Gelsey Kirkland was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1952. Her first forays into the world of professional ballet dancing were through the New York City Ballet from 1968 to 1974.
She performed as a soloist in many productions, such as The Nutcracker and Dances at a Gathering. She later became a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.
She starred in numerous iconic ballets and created roles in works by choreographers like George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
Kirkland battled drug addiction and injury throughout her career but ultimately triumphed. Today, she is considered a living legend of American ballet.
She’s around 5 feet 1 inch tall (1.55 meters.)
Misty Copeland (5’2”)
Misty Copeland, an icon in the American ballet industry for being the first African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, is 1.57 meters (about 5 feet 2 inches) tall.
This is a lot shorter than the ideal ballerina height in America.
In fact, it’s even shorter than the minimum height requirement at many ballet schools! But her height didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most famous ballerinas in the world right now.
She was born in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1982, Copeland began ballet training at a local community center at age 13, and within a few years, she was dancing professionally.
Misty has won many awards and accolades for her performances and has become a cultural icon for breaking down barriers in ballet.
Margot Fonteyn (5’4”)
In the UK, Margot Fonteyn is a name that’s known and loved by ballet enthusiasts. Many widely regarded her as one of the best ballet dancers of the 20th century.
Born in 1919 in Reigate, Surrey, Fonteyn trained at the Royal Ballet School and joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1934.
She quickly rose to prominence as a principal dancer and became known for her refined technique and expressive artistry. Eventually, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet turned into the Royal Ballet, and Fonteyn was appointed the prima ballerina assoluta by Queen Elizabeth II herself.
One of the highlights of her career must be her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev, with whom she performed in numerous productions and helped popularize ballet worldwide.
She retired from the stage in 1979 and passed away in 1991, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the world of dance.
At the height of her career, Margot was estimated to be around 5 feet 4 inches tall (162.5 centimeters).
Alicia Alonso (5’4”)
In Cuba, Alicia Alonso is a name that will forever be synonymous with ballet.
She’s one of the founding members of the Cuban National Ballet and served as its director for many years. Here, she developed for her home country a unique dance style that blended elements of classical ballet with Cuban culture and folklore
Alicia was born in Havana in 1920, Alonso began her ballet training at a young age and went on to become a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
She made her debut when she was just nine years old in a production of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.
Using her experience, she later returned to Cuba to revitalize ballet in the country.
Alonso received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to dance, including the Gold Medal of the Gran Teatro by Premio Gran Teatro de La Habana in 1985 and the Prix Benois de la Danse in 2000.
Alicia passed away in 2019 at the age of 98.
She’s estimated to be about average in height (5 feet 4 to 5 feet 5), however, the exact figures aren’t known.
Maya Plisetskaya (5’6”)
Maya Plisetskaya was born in Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1925.
Like most Russian ballerinas of the time, Plisetskaya trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School from a very young age and eventually became a member of the Bolshoi Ballet Company in 1943.
She quickly became known for her technical prowess and dramatic range and was praised for her performances in iconic ballets like “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet”.
Maya passed away in 2015 at the age of 89 in Munich, Germany.
During her active years, she’s been estimated to be around 1.67 meters tall (5 feet 6 inches).
Svetlana Zakharova (5’6”)
Svetlana Zakharova was born in Lutsk, Ukraine, in 1979. She was sent to Kyiv Choreographic School at a young age, where she excelled.
Later, her studies were shifted to the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. With her exceptional talent and artistry, she easily snatched a coveted spot in the Bolshoi Ballet in 1996.
Around 7 years later, in 2003, Svetlana rose to the rank of principal dancer. At the Bolshoi Ballet, she starred in numerous iconic roles and garnered critical acclaim for her raw elegance and technical control.
She’s 5 feet 6 inches tall (1.68 meters.)
Darcey Bussell (5’7”)
Darcey Bussell was born in London in 1969.
Her early dance education was at the Royal Ballet School, after which she auditioned for and joined the Royal Ballet in 1988. She quickly rose through the ranks to become a principal dancer.
Bussell retired from the Royal Ballet in 2007 but has remained active in the dance world, serving as a judge on the popular TV show Strictly Come Dancing and founding the dance education initiative DDMIX.
Estimates put her at 5 feet 7 inches tall (1.7 meters).
Maria Tallchief (5’7”)
Maria Tallchief was widely considered to be America’s first prima ballerina.
Additionally, she’s also the first Native American individual ever to hold the rank and has been said to be one of the revolutionizing forces of early American ballet.
She was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, in 1925, and began her ballet training at a young age.
At age 17, she moved to NYC and joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. It’s here that she met George Balanchine – the legendary choreographer. When Balanchine established the New York City Ballet in 1946, Tallchief became its first star.
Tallchief retired from the stage in 1966 but continued to be an influential figure in the dance world. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 88.
She’s estimated to be around 5 feet 7 inches tall (1.76 meters), making her one of the tallest female ballerinas.
So, how tall should a ballerina be? Anything over 5 feet, it seems, will do the trick.
Keep in mind that while height is definitely a factor in ballet, as you can see above, it’s not a deciding factor in your success as a professional ballet dancer.
Many famous ballerinas, such as Natalia Makarova, had found great success and garnered critical acclaim while being “barely 5 feet tall”.
So, what’s really going to count toward your success is whether you possess the right proportions (which can be trained) and technical skills (you may master with practice and persistence) or not.
In other words, your success will boil down to your passion for ballet and perseverance!