• ballet;
  • occupational culture;
  • absent body;
  • phenomenology;
  • agency


This article examines the occupational culture of ballet, specifically looking at body awareness and body experiences. Using a phenomenological approach, complemented by ethnographic interview data, the experiences of the ballet dancer’s body, in its daily training process, are described and analysed. Focusing on the dancer’s attitudes to and dealings with pain and injuries, but also looking at the issue of eating disorders, the implications of this analysis for theorizing the body as a material and only contingently elusive phenomenon are explicated. Drawing on contemporary body theory, the meaning of injuries and pain are analysed in the context of ballet culture. The concept of the phenomenologically ‘absent body’ is used to understand the temporary disappearance of the body from awareness, while the notion that pain and illness can be considered a form of communication offers an insight into the relationship between the individual body and the social and cultural worlds it is part of. The use of an ethnographic perspective ensures an attentiveness to the dancer’s agency, informing and enriching the analysis.