Implicit consent to be touched

S Aufrecht

The night I broke my back in a ballet rehearsal was not the first time my own body betrayed me, but it was the first time I realized how I had been complicit in its sacrifice.

In January, the New York City Ballet lost its longtime director, Peter Martins, who stepped down following allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct, which he denies … NYCB has been in the news again since a former ballerina, Alexandra Waterbury, sued the company after three male dancers shared sexually explicit photographs of her without her consent; one of the three men named in the lawsuit resigned in August, and the other two were fired this month. According to Waterbury’s lawsuit, the company made it possible for its male dancers to “degrade, demean, dehumanize and sexually abuse women.”

Hope Fisher was a dance major at the University of California, Irvine, when something happened to her during a ballet class that she now feels crossed a line. “A male teacher put his hand on my hip in order to keep it down,” she wrote in an email, “then put my leg on his shoulder in à la seconde [leg to the side] and proceeded to walk closer to me in order for my hip to stay down and leg to go higher. At the end of that adjustment we were practically hip to crotch as I was nearly in a split with my foot on his shoulder.” She said it didn’t register at the time as anything other than a necessary adjustment, because of “the notion that [her] body is not [her] own in that space.” She added, “As a dancer I am always asking, ‘What do you want? What do you want me to do? How do you want me to do it?’ Almost never do I ask myself what feels good to me.”

At no point in any ballet class I ever took was there a chance to revoke or rethink our implicit consent to teachers, choreographers, and partners who must, for the aesthetics of ballet, touch women’s bodies to perfect positions or movement — either directly or, as in my experience, through encouraging us to dance even when our bodies felt very, very wrong.

“We strongly believe that a culture of equal respect for all can exist in our industry,” said Teresa Reichlen, one of NYCB’s principal dancers, while reading a statement written on behalf of the company at the ballet’s fall gala. “We will not put art before common decency, or allow talent to sway our moral compass.”

—Ellen O’Connell Whittet, BuzzFeedNews1


  1. Whittet, Ellen O’Connell. (2018-Oct-11). Is There Such A Thing As Ballet That Doesn’t Hurt Women? BuzzFeedNews. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ellenoconnellwhittet/ballet-me-too-nycb-women-gender-injuries-sexism