Corps de Ballet: the case of the injured ballet dancer


Address for correspondence: Bryan S. Turner, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ. e-mail:


Abstract This paper contributes to debate on social constructionism in the sociology of health and illness through a study of injury among ballet dancers. In this empirical study of classical ballet dancers, we outline a phenomenology of the injured and ageing body in terms of a critical commentary on constructionism. We explore dancers’ experiences of embodiment to illustrate our critique of recent interpretations of dance as a textual practice. Those forms of social constructionism that define the body as a text provide a forceful attack on discourses of authority and legitimation, but we argue that they are problematic as epistemologies and ontologies of embodiment. Through a phenomenological understanding of the experiences of embodiment, we observe how injury and ageing disrupt the practical accomplishments that underpin the ballet habitus and the dancer's identity. Although ballet injuries can terminate a dancing career, they are accepted as an inevitable part of the vocation of ballet.

 Our aim is to understand the interaction between injuries, dancers’ experiences of discomfort and the social support that emerges from the ballet dancers as a social group. We draw on the concepts of social solidarity and collective consciousness in Emile Durkheim to show that injury is mediated through the social bonding of dancers into a professional ballet company, where injury is accepted as a sign of vocational commitment, and suggest that this ‘collective effervescence’ gives a novel meaning to the idea of a corps de ballet.