In today’s day and age, tattoos are almost as common as having pierced ears or wearing jewelry.
But in a world of bare legs, unitards, and tutus, are tattoos a realistic possibility for dancers in professional companies?
The fear of having tattoos as a dancer is common, especially when many of us have experienced the culture of extreme obedience and discipline in the ballet world. Even the thought of a short haircut or dyeing our hair can be a huge decision when we consider how we might be perceived by directors, choreographers, or repetiteurs. The desire and pressure to always strive for perfection and please the person at the front of the room has been ingrained in the minds of most dancers from a young age, so the idea of having a tattoo often leads to the never-ending spiral of thoughts like, “Will they hire me? Will I still get the same roles? Will I become type-casted? Can I show my individuality and still fit in with the corps?”
So what does this mean for a dancer who struggles between wanting to get inked and still dancing in a ballet company?
For dancer Isaac Aoki, the decision to get his first tattoo was a bit of a mental hurdle and an act of rebellion. It took letting go of his childhood submissive ballet persona to trust that his dancing would speak for itself to get cast in the same roles, regardless of whether or not he had a tattoo. Slowly, as he became less and less fearful of directors and choreographers judging him, he shed the initial fears he once had and now fully embraces his individuality and encourages others to do the same if they so choose. (Also… Kinesiotape comes in many colors, and if you have to, tattoos can be easily covered for performances!)
Photo by Sacha Grootjans
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to hide your individuality instead of embracing it to fit into a dance company, especially if it’s a classical ballet company. But, hopefully, as we progress as a culture and society and begin to have a broader acceptance of appearance, the stigma of tattoos will lessen, and we can move on to more important issues rather than focusing on the flowers on someone’s forearm.