THE BALLET DANCER: IN-DEPTH PSYCHOBIOGRAPHICAL CASE STUDIES
DILLER, VIVIAN FELICE
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The character of the ballet dancer was investigated using an in-depth psychobiographical case study approach. Ten male and ten female professional and semi-professional dancers between the ages of 16 and 24 were observed during a two-hour ballet class and were administered in-depth interviews, projective tests (Figure Drawings, Rorschach, and T.A.T.) and questionnaires. From this group, three females were studied and analyzed more intensively within a psychoanalytic phenomenological framework. Case study analyses focused upon discovering the dancers' recurring representational configurations, the developmental origins and functional significance of these representations. Particular emphasis was placed upon determining the multiple origins and functions of ballet dancing.;While each dancer showed unique characterological patterns, a major theme that dominated the representational worlds of these women and of many of the other dancers was narcissism; that is, much of their mental and behavioral activity was found to be organized around the primary function of maintaining the structural cohesiveness, temporal stability and positive affective coloring of their self-representations (Stolorow, 1975). Exhibitionism, self-preoccupation, perfectionism, beautification and control of the body, self-aggrandizement, and idealization of mirroring others emerged as recurring characterological themes. Using examples from the in-depth case studies and inferences from the larger sample, these themes were discussed as representations of the major pathways dancers followed in their attempts to sustain, restore, repair, and buttress aspects of their selves that had been rendered precarious by narcissistic injuries incurred in life.;Shared developmental origins of the dancers' major character themes, especially the origins of narcissistic vulnerabilities and the ways ballet dancing was commonly harnessed for the dancers' developmental needs and wishes, were examined in terms of the nature of their early family experiences, the quality of their object relations, and their interactions with their environment. Their life histories revealed that the very nature of the ballet profession and the life requirements necessary to become successful at it tended to foster already existing narcissistic tendencies to become prominent features of their characters. Inferences were made regarding how the dancers' present performance styles reflected these life historical origins and environmental influences.;It was generally concluded that deep devotion to ballet as a profession provided dancers not only with the fulfillment of their real talents, aspirations and wishes for success, but also with a solution to their conflicts and needs, especially in the narcissistic realm. The fragility of dance as a comprehensive life solution was explored in light of the commonly felt experiences of depletion, worthlessness, and, for some, self-fragmentation when confronted with physical injuries, criticism, and the inevitable loss of narcissistic sustenance that comes with forced early retirement.