A ballerina who overcame anorexia doesn’t need or want an apology from the New York Times critic who made a crack about her weight in a review of “The Nutcracker,” saying the comment hurt initially but is just part of being a professional in a field that demands perfection from those who work in it.
“As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form,” Jenifer Ringer, 37, told TODAY’s Ann Curry during an interview Monday. “At the same time, I am not overweight.”
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‘One sugar plum too many’
Ringer and a male dancer were singled out by critic Alastair Macaulay after he attended a Nov. 28 performance of the holiday classic by the New York City Ballet.
“Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many,” Macaulay wrote in a review published in The Times three days later.
The comment sparked online fury against the critic by ballet enthusiasts who were familiar with Ringer’s struggles with her body image as a younger dancer.
“Not cool, man,” celebrity blogger Perez Hilton wrote on his website.Video: Obesity blog post sparks outrage (on this page)
Other bloggers were less gentle, prompting Macaulay to write a second column about Ringer’s weight, his own weight loss, his childhood asthma, a condensed history of weight and ballet as an art form, and more.
“Some correspondents have argued that the body in ballet is ‘irrelevant.’ Sorry, but the opposite is true. If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career,” Macaulay wrote in a piece published Dec. 3.
“The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so,” Macaulay continued.
Getting over it
The controversy stung Ringer initially, she acknowledged to Curry on Monday. But in the ensuing days, she drew strength from the support she received from the general public and the dance community.
“It made me feel bad. It is embarrassing to see something bad written about yourself in print. I had to tell myself that was one person’s opinion out of 2,000 people who were there,” Ringer said. “The outpouring of people who leapt to my defense was wonderful.”
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Ringer said that she was forced to deal with eating issues as a teenage dancer. Entering a physically demanding profession at a young age was difficult, she said, and she turned to food for comfort.
“It is a field where our bodies are important. As dancers, we are taught to try to be perfect in every way. I was 16 when I became a professional,” she said. “I don’t think I was prepared to cope with being in an adult performing world. I think my coping mechanisms turned into eating disorders and body-image issues.”Video: ‘Fat’ ballerina: ‘I’m not overweight’ (on this page)
Over time, Ringer dealt with the pressures that contributed to her eating issues. She realized that in order to be a great dancer, she had to be healthy, not just thin.
“If you’re too thin, you really can’t do the job. You’re weak ... and you can’t perform well,” she said.
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As for the Times critic, Ringer said she is much more concerned about what the thousands of people who saw “The Nutcracker” thought of the performance than one man sitting in the audience taking notes.
“It is his opinion. He is a critic, and he’s paid to put his opinion in the paper. I know as a dancer that I am going to be criticized,” Ringer said.Video: Readers offended by ‘fatties’ blog post (on this page)
“I know there were 2,000 people probably out there. He got to put his opinion in the paper, but everybody else had a different opinion.”
Contacted by a TODAY producer, a spokesperson for the New York Times said its critics’ reviews speak for themselves.
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