Rewriting rhetorical perfection: claiming agency and enacting embodiment within ballet’s culture of perfection

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Shana Scudder (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Risa Applegarth

Abstract: This project argues that the rhetoric of perfection is a form of authoritative discourse that has its roots not only in the formation of ballet, but also the formation of culture as a whole where its hold extends particularly to women. Ballet’s rhetoric of perfection is thus a microcosm of a rhetoric of perfection that functions in and is perpetuated by society at large. This project will first describe ballet’s culture of perfection and its dominant rhetoric of perfection. Then, I explain how the rhetoric of perfection operates in both body and language and how this rhetoric is enforced through surveillance and rendering the dancer docile. I will then demonstrate that perfection is impossible at the level of materiality and the places that the rhetoric of perfection begins to obviously break down. From here, I will introduce the concept of a rhetoric of performance that exists within ballet’s culture of perfection as an alternative to the rhetoric of perfection. I will establish, through analysis of dancers’ autobiographies, that the rhetoric of performance may also strive for an ideal that is unreachable, but it only asks the dancer to continue to explore her inner depths for a deeper connection to this rhetoric, rather than seeking external approval.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Anorexia, Ballet, Conformity, Docility, Perfection, Rhetoric
Ballet $x Social aspects
Body image in the performing arts
Perfection $x Psychological aspects
Eating disorders $x Psychological aspects

Email this document to