10 reasons ballet dancers hate Black Swan

Interested in my ballet fiction? Check out the Ballet Theatre Chronicles (Off Balance, Outside the Limelight, Ballet Orphans) and the curiously connected A Dancer’s Guide to Africa. Just click on their titles!


I hated Black Swan. Successful film that it was, I hated many things about it, mostly the way it depicted ballet dancers in a way real enough to convince the mainstream population they were seeing the real deal, behind the heavy velvet curtains. But, oh, come on.

I wasn’t blogging when it came out in 2011. Everyone else wanting to rant has had their rant. Now I get mine.

Everyone knows what the movie’s about, right? You’re not going to make me suffer through writing a synopsis, are you? The heroine, for lack of a better term, is ballet professional Nina, talented but wimpy, over-connected to mommy, who commences a descent into madness while grappling with both her need for perfection and her inability to master both the White Swan and Black Swan for the company’s upcoming performance of Swan Lake. Oh, and toss into the equation rival Lily. Who’s far more intriguing than whiny Nina from the get-go.

Lame synopsis, I know. But so’s the movie. No, correction. It’s an award winning film, a great horror flick and psychological thriller. It’s just not a great ballet flick. I don’t know any ballet dancer who enjoyed the film. Why, you ask? Ooh, thank you!

Ten reasons we ballet dancers hate Black Swan


1) Nina is a wimp. She’s timid. She spends most of her day with a panic-stricken expression. Zero confidence on her face, in her body language. She doesn’t pour her pathos into her dancing (maybe because the actress isn’t a real dancer and doesn’t understand how). Great acting, for the talented, lovely Portman. Except that, um, ballet dancers just aren’t that way.

2) In the morning, when the women arrive for company class and a day of rehearsing, apparently they flock to the dressing room and pile in there (one room), and carefully apply makeup, the full works. Um? That’s what you do 60 minutes before curtain for a performance. WTF, is company class a glamour show? You enjoy that mask-like full makeup feeling at 10am?

3) In company class, during barre, artistic directors don’t walk in and commence a digression, a motivational speech, while the dancers are immersed in their exercise. Barre is for doing barre. Announcements come afterward.

4) The artistic director is grossly over-sharing. “Sex – do you enjoy it?” he asks Nina. “I mean, come on. We need to be able to talk about this. [..] I don’t want there to be boundaries between us.” Well, now. That’s got the making of a functional, professional relationship. Um, best not to let the AGMA rep hear about this. Or the labor board. Or the BBB. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse… “I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home, and touch yourself.” Ewww.


5) In the movie, there is one lone principal. There is, at some point, the announcement of a new lone principal. There is a suicide of aforementioned lone principal when she becomes a “former.” (Oops, should I have said “spoiler alert?” Nah…) Oh, wrong in so many ways. Companies have a handful of soloists and principals. (See rant #9.) Not one lone star. And suicide over the loss? People. Career dancers go on to have other lives, even as they might struggle with the transition. Suicidal depression and ballet meet far less than you’d think, watching Hollywood’s rendition (as do psychosis and ballet). Ballet dancers are warriors. From an early age, they’re well trained to cope with tremendous pain and disappointment. To rise to the top of the top, you understand that pain and disappointment are part of the package. The eventual pain and insecurity of pondering “what comes next?” are, as well. You deal. You are a survivor.

6)   Mommy is Nina’s roommate. Mommy helps undress her. Mommy helps her sew her pointe shoe ribbons. Mommy clips her nails too. Just in case you don’t get how wrong this is, let me elaborate: the average professional ballet dancer, particularly one in a top tier company, has quite possibly been living on her own, fending for herself, since age 14. If you live in a ballet city, that’s way cool. But ever so many young dancers whose talent will take them to the rank of principal, will head off to New York, San Francisco, Paris, Moscow, London, Amsterdam, etc, on their own. Live in a dorm. The Vaganova Academy takes kids at age ten. If you’re good, bound for the high echelons, you learn at a very early age how to be self-sufficient. Further, real dance moms are such unsung heroes, such diligent, solid supporters of their daughter’s careers, it burns me to see a dance mom portrayed in such an icky fashion. Creepy, creepy. Okay, successful psychological thriller flick fodder. Just not how it is in the dance world.

7)  Lily, Nina’s nemesis, dancing in rehearsal, laughing and relaxed, has her hair down, swinging all over the place. We are made to believe that she is somehow upstaging the uptight Nina, the ultimate bunhead. Okay. The tucked-away hair thing—we dancers like the feeling. As a lifelong exerciser, I want my hair to be out of my face while moving. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. It looks stupid and distracting, all that loose hair. It gets in your mouth. It clings to your sweaty parts. It does not feel liberating. It’s claustrophobia-producing. A woman doing ballet with long hair down (unless it’s a contemporary ballet performance and thus intentional) doesn’t look free and relaxed, she looks like someone who isn’t a ballet dancer and who has no sense of the dance etiquette.

8) Sarah Lane didn’t get the recognition she deserved.


Don’t believe the Fox Searchlight/Portman camp propaganda. Natalie Portman didn’t do 90 percent of the dancing. There’s all sorts of neat editing you can do with one person’s moving body and another person’s head superimposed. Great job there! There was a lot of hype, just before the Academy Awards, at how neat it was that Natalie could dance like a professional after only two years of training. That would certainly be a neat trick. But we can tell, we ballet dancers, when we’re seeing the real deal. Hint: the tight neck and expressions were Natalie’s. Hint: the ungainly hands were hers, as were the stiff port de bras movements. On the other hand, the tight fifth positions, the bourrées, the turns, the elegant lines, were Sarah Lane’s. Yes, you can “learn” ballet in two years. But you will look like someone who learned ballet in two years. Someone who has been at it since childhood, who spends six hours a day at the craft, will have a finesse, an authenticity, an innate sense of grace that you simply can’t learn quickly.

9) Lily, the newcomer, has been made Nina’s alternate for Odette/Odile (AKA the white/black swan). Well, gosh, that’s fine thinking on the artistic director’s part to have more than one dancer learning the lead role. Positively inspired. He’s really thinking outside the box there. This is sarcasm. I’ll stop now, in order to inform you that there are usually multiple casts when a ballet company performs Swan Lake. It’s not a cheap production to put on; companies that can afford to produce it will have the means and funds for multiple casts. And a smart artistic director knows to share the wealth and not piss off talented dancers who are at the same level. Early in the movie, it looked like there were five or six talented soloists vying for the role. Poof, they disappeared, it seems. Too bad, so sad.


10) Most of all, we ballet dancers hate how our beautiful ballet world and craft have been distorted, made tawdry and sort of unclean. This pure art of ours that’s so much about beauty and grace and, okay, yes, the pursuit of perfection and its impossibility to arrive there, and yes, that is neurotic to strive so passionately, ignoring physical pain and the low odds of success. But it’s the good kind of neurotic. Say, the obsession of someone training for the Olympics. In fact, consider this: what if they did a similar movie on the Olympics, the dirt behind the scenes? Not the administrators, but the athletes? Their training, their grueling struggle to achieve the highest echelons. Feels kinda wrong to propose it, huh? I don’t know about you, but in my mind, we need our purer endeavors, vocations, to make up for the cluttered nature of the commercial world.

Okay, so maybe I’ve gotten a little sanctimonious here. Preachy about tainting high art with commercialism. I have a sense of sport, a sense of humor, honest. Even about ballet. Which is why I’m offering a bonus reason here, in the opposite direction. Here’s the number one best thing about seeing Black Swan: I can really, really enjoy the SNL spoof of it, with Jim Carrey as the ultimate black swan. Oh, too much fun. Readers, enjoy. And don’t go saying The Classical Girl doesn’t have a sense of humor about Really Bad Ballet.

76 thoughts on “10 reasons ballet dancers hate Black Swan”

  1. Good to know that Hollywood doesn’t balk at creating a story that will sell big, without the accountability of accuracy. Because I am not “in the know”, this was mostly new information for me. And then I think about all the movies and books that have informed my view of the world, history, etc. Kind of frightening really. In fact, most of what is true and real is much less interesting. But then again, why would I want to spend money to live in a borrowed fantasy for a couple of hours if it didn’t entertain? In today’s world it takes a lot to capture people’s imaginations—no surprise that they invent a story that couldn’t possible be true.

      • Classical Girl, thank you for an excellent post. You express so well why many movies about dance are hard to watch. Enough with the negative stereotypes.

        It’s such a great weakness of dance movies that the protagonist, who is meant to be a great dancer, often can’t dance. Why does Hollywood keep doing that? Dancers are a significant portion of the audience for dance movies, and dancers know when an actress or actor can’t dance.

        If the movie makers don’t think they can find an experienced dancer for the main role, the next best choice is to use a body double. That way, we can still enjoy the dancing, and it makes the suspension of belief easier. The problem with the Black Swan was not that Sarah Lane danced as Portman’s double, but that they tried to minimize or even hide her role in the movie. It would have cost them nothing to acknowledge and would have brought in appreciation from the dance community, a significant portion of their audience.

        Portman would most likely have still won the Oscar had they acknowledged the truth of her double earlier on. Natalie Portman is a brilliant actor and deserves kudos for that movie. But her win will always be tainted by the controversy surrounding the way they dealt with her having a double.

        If Portman had shared the credit with the dancer who served as her double, she would have received appreciation. Many dancers would have been far more willing to laud Portman’s hard work to master as much of ballet as she could in two years if the movie makers had been open about her double. I don’t know if anyone has stressed this enough. The hard work Portman did for that movie in ballet will always be overshadowed by the appearance of claims she achieved something she clearly hadn’t achieved.

        If Portman had openly acknowledged her double from the start, I would have admired her for all her work. I would have appreciated that she acknowledged just how difficult it is to become a dancer of the caliber they wanted to portray in the movie. Instead of posts like this, dancers would have made posts lauding Portman for her dedication to the art and her potential as a dancer.

        My guess that those who weren’t bothered by the difference in the ability of the dancers in the movie would have appreciated Portman for her generosity and humbleness in acknowledging the work of Sarah Lane. In the end, everyone would have come off looking a lot better.

        And when is Hollywood going to dispense with this stage mother bunk? The truth for most of us who were dancers is that Mom was our safety net, the person we could turn to for help, our cheerleader when we felt bad about ourselves as dancers. If anything, I used to wish my mom would be more involved, like some of the other mothers. Yes, sure, there is always a parent who pushes too hard. But that is true in any path in life. It isn’t any more true for ballet than anything else.

        Your comments about boundaries also hit home. I’m tired of seeing movies where people in a position of power are shown sexually harassing or abusing the people who work under them, and this being portrayed as if it’s okay. It’s not.

        Thank you for expressing so well why a movie like the Black Swan was a disappointment. It could have been so much better.

        Some dance movies I’ve enjoyed: The Turning Point, Center Stage (the first one), Billy Elliot, Honey, and more recently High Strung.

        • Elegantly and eloquently put, Catherine! Am nodding through every point you made. Great fun to have you and your thoughts on “my side” of the argument — thanks so much for posting!

        • The movie was stupid. I was highly let down it barely captured my attention if that and the travesty of justice of all is that it won some award?? I don’t dance I don’t do any of that is simply watch movies. And this one was A big waste of time. There’s two hours I’ll never get back.

          • It’s definitely proving to be a “love it or hate it” film, Kristin! Thanks for posting your comments. I love the wide range of opinions this post has collected. I say, there’s room for all!

      • This is nothing to do with the movie. The movie isn’t a documentary about the real life specifics of being a ballet dancer. This movie is about a woman haunted by her own performance and how anyone who plays the black swan gets possessed by the “black Swan” which is a supernatural entity, who also haunted the previous primary. It’s a story not reality.. they’re not going to be like ‘oops the BBB is investigating sexual harassment now guys’ thats just and overload of plot points and detail that isn’t needed

        • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Chelsea. I always appreciate comments. Yours are interesting; in all honesty, I’m not sure I’m following the middle stuff about how anyone who plays the black swan gets possessed by a supernatural entity, who also haunted the previous primary. (I’m haunted about primaries, but those are the political ones and I don’t think that’s where you were going with this.) But I agree with your statement that the movie isn’t a documentary about the real life of a dancer, and that it’s a story, not reality. Created to entertain.

          And you get that this is a blog, right? Not a piece of serious, investigative journalism. A blog created to entertain.

          Tell you what, I’m finding LOTS of entertainment in it all. It’s the blog that keeps giving.

  2. As a fellow dancer, this “review” actually bothers me, a lot. The movie at no point said “this is the life of all ballet dancers” however, in your “review” you group every single ballet dancer ever into specific stereotypes . And you really want to tell me that EVERY dance mom is a diligent unsung hero? HA. Bull shit. You’re an idiot. Glad that you were born sucking on a silver spoon and had everything handed to you by your amazing mommy, but not everyone is quite so lucky. Your “review” is so self-important and ignorant it’s ridiculous. It was a MOVIE. Get over yourself dumbass.

    • Whoa. Someone’s a crabby little dancer.

      I’m not sure whether you’re a troll (and/or a teen), or just an angry person to have left this vitriol-infused response. Rather than mark it as spam or censor offensive/inappropriate wordage, I decided to leave it as is. It’s good to have a variety of opinions presented in the discussion section, and besides, there’s always something comical about a person whose anger prompts them to say stupid, ill-informed things. (Dumb-ass? ((Chuckles)) I know for a fact that my ass is very smart, because all my life I’ve been told to stop being such a smart-ass. So there.)

    • Even though the movie may not have said at any point that it was representative of all dance companies and ballet dancers, there is a certain percentage of people that will still project the movie’s representation onto what happens in real life. When people don’t know the dance world, they might think that this is the norm, which it isn’t.
      A critique I COULD render to make would be to comment that this movie was more about psychology than ballet. Calling an author ugly names doesn’t help anyone, especially since you took the time to read the review. It’s a review. One person’s opinions. The number of Buzzfeed and Huffpost reviews and lists similar to this one that are out there is pretty huge. They’re fun and yes, not always representative of everyone’s opinion that falls under the category (like how this one is about ballet dancers thoughts). I don’t know if anyone could manage to write a list like this with the intention of covering EVERYONE’S actual thoughts on the matter.
      It’s just a review, so Miss Kayt, I’d say you should get over YOURSELF.

  3. I found this review quite appropriate. Though I’ve never been a ballet dancer or a dancer of any kind (except the “shake your booty” kind), and I haven’t seen Black Swan, I remember very distinctly when the previews were shone I thought to myself there is no way I would want to see that movie. I felt Natalie Portman was some weird, stiff alien. I have been around ballet and marveled at it for years (be still my heart Misha and wow, wow, wow Michaela DePrince)! But there was nothing about this movie’s preview that made me ever say “oh yay! finally a movie about the craft that I dream of and love and wish I were a part of”! And now after this review, I can honestly say, I’m so glad I didn’t waste my time with it. Thanks for keeping it real!

  4. You so nailed it. Especially No. 8. Even my non-dancer husband could tell who was dancing. “Whether a long shot or closeup, if the dancing looks good and the upper back looks strong and lifted, it’s Sarah. If it’s a scrawny-necked closeup, it’s Portman.”

  5. Well said all around my smartass sis. I for one can confirm you were indeed not born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and that you are a survivor. That whole mommy thing was predictably creepy – a dysfunctional dynamic that could certainly drive Nina mad.

    Love from your rebel child sis.

    • Annette, thanks for commenting! Did you just laugh your ass off [except not really] on the line about the silver spoon and amazing mommy? Not that I want to knock our mom. Twelve pregnancies, nine live births, one dead infant, eight kids on a tight budget, a nervous breakdown – she did the best she could. We all did. I remember the ballet class I finally was allowed to take was chosen because it was walking distance to/from the house and didn’t have to further inconvenience Mom. Hey. When you’re born to dance, you’ll take what you can get. Am remembering, as well, that the piano lessons you, Maureen and Laura took were chosen for the same reason: you could walk to/from the lesson. That’s what kids from families of ten do.

      But I digress. And yes, we can all agree that Black Swan did a great job for a thriller/horror flick of making Mommy pretty creepy. Barbara Hershey did a great job on the role. Very convincing.

  6. Terez – I did in fact laugh my ass off. It’s still sitting there on the floor and, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to get it back on. Plus, what with my buxom Mertes bosom, I can’t even stand up straight anymore; I keep falling forward. So now I just crawl. One final thought… I hated those piano lessons and I kept asking if I could take dance lessons instead but the answer was no no no. Sigh… Eventually got over it, though every time I attend a dance performance I want to get up and join in right then and there. Thankfully for others I don’t.

    • I’m having a very good time visualizing your response, Annette. ; )

      And OMG, I didn’t know you’d asked to switch piano lessons with dance. Dang. Then again, you had/have a real talent on the piano, so your loss is the world’s gain.

  7. The vast majority of your points are extremely weak and can be defeated easily. Sorry, but they wreak of self importance. Ballet dancers are warriors? So they would never be wimps or commit suicide?? Get real. Last time I checked ballet dancers are human beings and I can give you several examples in the news of some that have killed themselves when their dream career was over. I happened to know a couple of dancers who others would call ‘wimps’. Dancers are human and they do come with all sorts of personalities, not just one. And it seemed to totally go over your head that Mommy was her roommate that took care of everything because she suffered from Schizophrenia and her mother knew she wasn’t well. Like most parents of schizophrenics she kept her as close as possible and kept sharp objects away- including sharp fingernails. Schizophrenics are fearful people in general and stress often unleashes hallucinations and fits. (I happen to have two of them in my family. One of them is a male in his 40’s and his mom – my grandma- keeps an even tighter leash on him than most moms have on their 12 year olds).

    I can poke a big fat hole in just about every point you made. The only valid points I see there are the one about putting on makeup for rehearsal and The lack of clarity involving the alternates. And yes- the point about portman not dancing like a top dancer makes sense also, but the main job of a film is to tell a story and if the director was able to do it by using the stand in dancer as often as possible while leaving portman in when he had to, then that is the absolute best that one could hope for. So in that case it’s just a matter of whether you’re willing to forgive the director for giving the ‘telling of the story’ priority over the dancing.

    • Olivia, I’ll just cut straight to the point. Your comments about schizophrenia actually went straight to my heart and rendered the rest of your comments more pale. So, I hope you’re okay that I don’t address the other stuff. Schizophrenia is heartbreaking and you’re right, that aspect of the story was brilliant and left the viewer wondering just what was schizophrenia and what was really happening. A writer friend of mine brought up this fascinating point that I’d never considered before. She said, “what if the mom never existed, and it was a product of her imagination?” Wow – not something I’d ever considered, and surely a source for a lot of vehement discussion. I love thinking about it, tho, just as the movie, A Beautiful Mind, really messed with my mind, but in a good way. Schizophrenia is ghastly, as is all mental illness, and, like you, I’m struggling with a form of the latter in my family. It’s brutal. It colors my world. I lash out at things that produce a trigger. So. Looking at the movie through your lens, I do indeed see a different story. And yes, in that context, of course I forgive the director for giving story-telling priority over dancing. If the movie had involved an ice skater, I likely would have been far more predisposed to it all. Well, maybe not. I hate horror films. This really was, a sort of elegant horror film.

    • I agree with everything you wrote. This wasn’t much of a ballet movie to me, rather a story about life, inner struggles, relationships – how those can influence and change us, striving for achievement etc. Ballet was as important as was ski jumping in the newly made “Eddie the Eagle”. With that being said, I was myself a professional classically trained violinist and I used to always judge and compare others, as did my peers and teachers (Vanessa Mae while making millions, was considered as horror by my school with her “poor technique” and “cheap flashiness”). It was exhausting! It took a while to see and not judge, envy or compare.. and it took one amazing teacher who wasn’t willing to brag about someone messing up, but rather always look for positive things, even if it was a movie with musicians motive that wasn’t quite true. And so I also love the admin’s response to your post. Perfection is important for our own work; understanding and kindness is far more important than perfection when it comes to the work of others.

      • Thank you for your contribution to this discussion thread, Oli. I’m enjoying all the spirited conversation taking place! There’s room for every opinion here.

  8. Terez – I especially enjoyed this post again just now. The day after I saw Swan Lake so beautifully performed last week by KC Ballet, I gave in to the urge to watch Black Swan, this time with a more critical eye. Like you say, a great thriller. Not being a ballet dancer, I was able to forgive the oobvious disparities and enjoy the movie. Even better, I enjoyed the SNL spoof. Jim Carey was superb! Keep up the good work. 🙋🏻

    • Oh, isn’t the SNL spoof HILARIOUS? I think I’ll go watch it right now… for the 20th time.

      San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake on Saturday night was INCREDIBLE. Wow, anyone in this area who hasn’t seen it before – it’s well worth the [hefty] price of a ticket. For the next time, that is; the program closed yesterday.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment again, Annette!

  9. Thanks so much for this post (okay, I know it was ages ago, but I only just found it ;)) I always wondered how close Black Swan was to a real ballet company.

    I feel your pain on the makeup. Though if it’s only 60 minutes before the performance starts, you ballet dancers have it easy in that respect =P When I have costume makeup applied for filming, it takes 2-3 hours to put on, around an hour to peel off again and we’re stuck in it all day 😉

  10. Thanks for this review, I’ve watched it twice and hated the storyline, but dammit I wanted to watch some dancing!

    I danced a bit when I was younger and recently got back into it along with my 3 youngest girls and youngest boy. We have 2 others daughters who Irish dance as well, and a total of 10 children. 🙂 No silver spoons here either. I really enjoy your writing, thank you for allowing us to enjoy it.

    • Yay, someone else who felt ambivalent about the movie but loves all things dance!! I agree, it’s worth watching the movie for its dance-ness.

      10 children — eeeee! You go, Mama! No silver spoons, no indeed. But a hell of a great in-house chorus line. : )

      Thanks for your comment, Paris. And keep dancing!

  11. Lily was boring. Not much to her except to be the antithesis to Nina, the “cool girl”, the Veronica to her Betty. Nina was the interesting one by far. A timid girl with an obsession with perfection that had a grip on her stronger than steel.

    And yes, I have to agree with the other poster about calling disabled people/emotionally manipulated people “wimpy”. This reeks of victim blaming and is just insensitive.

    • >…the “cool girl”, the Veronica to her Betty

      LOL, that’s great. : )

      As for the rest, okay, whatevs. We can agree to disagree there. But I do, nonetheless, appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment, Jo.

  12. I’m not a dancer. I’m an audience member. I will go see any movie with ballet sequences, because I love the beauty and the spectacle. More so, however, I love ballet because I have more respect and admiration for dancers than I have for any athletes. Professional dancers work so hard at their art, and they make so many sacrifices, that they have to be totally committed. I see stories about football, basketball, and baseball players tossing money about in bars, with gorgeous party girls hanging off their arms, but I never see the same thing with dancers (Of course, I doubt that many dancers get paid several million dollars per year, despite the fact that they deserve it).
    That said, “Black Swan” wasn’t about dance. It was about obsession. The movie could just as easily been about a symphony violinist or a runway model or an actress. The story was about the mother’s obsession with being the biggest star in the ballet firmament, which she would achieve vicariously through her daughter. The story was about the daughter of a hypercritical mother who’d never been allowed to dance for the sheer thrill of it; instead, she was pushed and pushed and pushed to be her mother’s dream. It was about how obsession killed a young woman’s ability to recognize friendship or kindness, because she was trained to see everyone as a rival in the narrow world her mother allowed her. It was about craving and needing parental love and approval, instead of learning that the only approval anyone really needs has to come from within.
    A lot of people say “The Red Shoes” is the greatest ballet movie ever made, and maybe it is. My favorite dance movie will always be “The Turning Point,” because Leslie Browne was absolutely beautiful, because Mikhail Barishnikov was amazing, because Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine were incredible. It was a movie that said it’s okay to devote oneself to something to the exclusion of everything else, but it’s also okay not to. It was about living in the moment. My favorite line in the movie was when Leslie Browne was asked what she wanted to do, where she wanted to go, and she replied, simply, “I want to dance.” She wanted to dance at that point in her life and wasn’t looking any further along. This is what I want to do now; I’ll worry about the future later. Very Zen. Live in the moment.

    • Ooh, I love your reference to, and comments about The Turning Point. I was crazy about that movie. Watching it changed my life (from then on, ballet mania). Thank you for all your thoughtful comments – they contribute nicely to the discussion! (And my humble apologies – your response got held up as spam – who knows why?? – and I’m only now seeing it, a week later. Reminder to self: always scroll through spam scrupulously for the gem reply that might have otherwise been tossed out. Yikes!

    • I’m thinking you put exclamation points where you wanted at least one question mark, Jen, unless you’re simply very excited about the fact that it’s a movie. Thank you, nonetheless, for posting a comment – I enjoy hearing others’ opinions on this lively topic.

  13. With all due respect, you seem to have missed the fact that this movie wasn’t really about dancing, it was a psychological thriller drama which happened to be centered around ballet. I do get your rightful indignation about the frenzied media hype that seemed to imply that anyone could turn into a ballerina with about 2 years worth of training. And the way they treated Sarah Lane was disgraceful, to say the least. You make some valid points but the rest of your words come across as childish and insensitive, do you really think people with schizophrenia, depression or anxiety disorders are ‘wimpy’? Portman’s mother in the movie lived with her because her condition meant she was incapable of looking after herself in most days. That scene where her mother forcibly clips her nails has to be one of the most haunting moments of the film, it’s strange to see that it could translate as unnecessary ‘mommying’ to someone. You probably know some incredibly strong dancers and their equally impressive mothers but to claim that everyone can be painted with the same brush is frankly, hilarious. Mental illness is not exclusive to dancers alone, but there’s no point in denying that a huge number of them suffer from it, like every other professional. And it’s a film, it’s supposed to be larger than life, how many people do you think would want to hear the story of a well adjusted person going about in their perfectly normal lives? The genre and the story might not be your cup of tea and you are allowed to have your own opinions and preferences, but to completely miss the point and not even try to acknowledge it is something else. It was a movie, based on fictional characters and events, nowhere did it claim to be an accurate representation of the lives of all ballet dancers. Natalie Portman was being judged as an actor, NOT as a ballet dancer.
    In all fairness, it has been a considerable number of years since you have written the original post.I came across this blog because I was curious as to what happened to Sarah Lane after all of that controversy.

    • Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Esmé. I welcome all comments, but I particularly prefer the ones that state an opposing point of view with eloquence and a rational nature such as you have. I appreciate the perspective you presented. And if I might add my own “with all due respect,” this blog and its stridency was written to entertain, all snarky and such. I had fun writing it. In some ways, blogs do precisely what movies, as you mentioned, strive to do. They take an angle and go with it. Not everyone is going to like that angle. Some will evade their point/message in their fervor to embrace a different point. My humor here has riled people. The movie there has riled people. There you go. We are all exchanging dialogue, and I think that’s great. Again, thank you for posting your thoughts.

  14. I do agree with what you wrote, most people who love ballet were annoyed by it. I think the main problem is that studio (and the media) for whatever reason refused to present it as what it was- a psychological thriller/ horror and insisted on presenting it as ballet movie.

    • Enjoyed your comment, Ivana. In my mind, those who presented it as such are high-fiving each other for producing a movie with such crossover appeal. Psychological thriller, horror, and contemporary culture — the interest people have in what goes on behind the scenes in the performing arts. The movie came out right as interest was growing about the ballet world ( ballet classes for adults started cropping up, as did interest for those aforementioned adults). It was good timing on their part. And, since bad press is better than no press, I’m sure they’ve profited nicely from any outrage from the ballet community, including whether Sarah Lane got the credit she deserved, for being Portman’s ballet-dancing double.

      It’s all a business. I will always respect them for producing a great film that got people talking.

  15. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! As someone from the Opera world, I know how frustrating it is when civilians get it wrong! (Think Charlotte Church, the child “opera singer” whose sweet voice nobody could actually hear over the “effects” but we, the trained, could hear loud and clear!)
    I love the Ballet and wish my parents would have let me continue past age ten, not that I would have never made it into a professional company. I simply enjoyed it! Black Swan is a fun movie. And I love the acting of both Portman and Kunis. However, I would have preferred to see the lead go to a real ballerina. It seems to me that they could have kept a bankable star in the supporting role to protect the profit margin but, alas, it is the movie “business” after all. The guys in the suits often don’t bother to think that way!
    I live in Louisiana and we actually have quite a good ballet school here! One good enough to have had Barishnikov’s daughter as a pupil in the late 1980’s. I will be taking “old-lady ballet” there soon!

    • Ooh, enjoy your “old-lady ballet” when you start taking there, Lori, and thanks so much for your intelligent contribution to the conversation!

  16. I finally watched the movie–well, 2/3rds of it, because I stopped watching it when Nina began her descent into madness, and once that outcome became unavoidable, I lost interest in watching any more. I truly wanted to like it, and there are certainly moments that I will remember, but . . . yuck.

    Thank you for your post: you’ve already expessed several of the points that I could make, so I will add a few:

    1) Nina, who (we’re supposed to believe) is getting close to the top of her profession, seems unaware of what the roles of Odette & Odile encompass. How would that even be possible for a rising young dancer? Every serious dancer knows that these are two of the pinnacle roles, deeply imbedded in ballet tradition. Yet Nina seems to wander around unaware of the demands of the roles that she is performing, apart from a dim notion that she must be “perfect.”

    2). On that note: the artistic director’s notion that a dancer must share similarities to the character that he/she is portraying is nonsense. (My opinion only; I understand others may disagree.) The belief in “inhabiting” a character is, of course, connected to method acting, and that approach has been more important to film than to ballet (at least I hope it has not become big in ballet), so perhaps that’s where Darren Aronovsky derived it from. At first, I figured that the artistic director was being a creepy jerk trying to seduce Nina, but as the film proceeded, I started to feel like the film was promoting the idea that a dancer needs to “act out” sexually in order to perform the role of Odile.

    3). From what I can see, Nina has no friends in the company, not even acquaintances with whom she can share a few pleasantries. I get that she is an introvert, but even so, it’s hard to believe that in the close environment of a ballet company, where she is spending much of her time, she doesn’t seem to know anyone.

    Thanks again: maybe the root of my problem with Black Swan is that I’m not a fan of thrillers and I don’t want to watch characters go crazy. I could recommend it to people who like thrillers but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who loves ballet.

    • Yes, yes and yes, Mary! And yes. And “yup.” And so on. I so enjoyed hearing your thoughts. As you can tell, I am in agreement. ; )

  17. Get over it. Its a movie. Do you think sports movies are accurate portratals or cop movies? Ballet is the scenery, not the story. It’s about the characters and their relationships to eachother and themselves. The bad guy didn’t get his hand slapped by the union rep.? Gee wiz, how fascinating a story twist that would have been! Who cares if you take offense at how Hollywood portrayed your profession?
    Get in line.

    • Sigh. Another shrieky response over my Black Swan opinion piece. Because, um, that’s what a blog is, and does? Offers my opinion, as the blogger? Are we now up to twenty posters who seem to think I should feel chastised for blogging in my blog about what is blog-worthy based upon my blog’s theme and where my blog readers’ interests lie? Sorry, crabby folks. I don’t buy that. I don’t have to “get over” anything. I can rant all I want here. It’s in my Classical Girl contract.

      And for all to note, I allow all these shrill tirades to be posted because I like to encourage a “real” conversation and not just cherry-pick the posts that align with my opinion. That’s called being open-minded and respectful. I must admit, too, that there’s considerable entertainment value in the strident ones (that invariably have the most typos, too). So, I will roll my eyes and thank you, Midas, for contributing your opinion to the conversation. And you asked who cares if I take offense at how Hollywood portrayed my profession? Um, clearly you do. Thank you for caring!

  18. I LOVED Turning Point and Black Swan. I think these movies are made for people like me… the mainstream movie-goer, i.e., non-dancer to 1) inspire 2) shine a light on another world and 3) bring appreciation to another art form. Check, Check & Check!!!

  19. Anne S – The Turning Point is my FAVORITE ballet movie ever! And the rest of your points are great. So glad it all brought you on board to ballet appreciation. That really is the end goal, isn’t it? And look at all these people, commenting on this blog. I may disagree with some of the opinions, but I’m very much enjoying the spirited dialogue.

  20. I’m just a moviegoer, not a dancer, and got here by googling “I hated Black Swan.”

    I must point out that, since this is an Aronofsky movie, the characters are obligated to make illogical choices that are shoehorned into the script to maximize DRAMA and ANGST and SHOCK VALUE. And oh, yeah, BUCKS.

    Similar thoughts about “Requiem for a Dream”: that movie actually works against itself. It can just as easily be used to make arguments for drug decriminalization as arguments against drug use. I’ve read people pointing out online, for example, that in real life a junkie wouldn’t keep shooting into the same wound over and over again until it became necrotic. But, again, ANGST.

  21. Love your comments and analysis, Red! Thanks for taking the time to share. (Especially enjoyed your thoughts on “Requiem for a Dream” – now I’m curious. Must Google.)

  22. I watched the movie again just to find out who the real dancer was. What angers me is that Sarah Lane was credited as a stunt person. Stunts?

  23. As a screenwriter, yes, the authenticity of the ballet world is not de facto required. One hundred percent authenticity means the story would be a docudrama. The writers wrote this as a thriller/drama. Thriller is very close to the horror genre, particularly when the writer writes in gore, supernatural elements, etc. That said, the MAJOR problem I had with this film was the lie that the marketing department was engaged in with Miss Portman. She gave interviews and obfuscated when she was complimented on her dancing ability and the fact that “wasn’t it incredible and didn’t it show so much dedication and commitment to pull off the dancer’s technique?” Um hmmm. She NEVER offered the truth. She NEVER said, “Hey, that really wasn’t me doing 32 foutte turns after 2 years of training. That takes years of sweat, dedication, technique, advanced ability. It was really a double and I want to give Sarah Lane credit…” But no. Miss Portman lied through omission. As a former dancer (10 years with the Balanchine feeding school for the NYCB), I knew things were “not right” when I saw this film. Before I even heard about the controversy, as a dancer, I knew this was moronic for an actress to achieve these heights. All the comments on this page are accurate. I can feel the resentment and feeling of betrayal with an audience that views a film where the actress is lying her butt off, whether it was by agreement with the directors or her own decision. “Doing the right thing” is always the way to go. The Hollywood crowd claimed to be ignorant or to have lacked knowledge about what a Black Swan dancer has to achieve for about ten years of sweat and tears and aches and pains to do this role. I would bet the actress spent many hours lobbying to her base, as they all do. The depiction of the ballet world, called the Story World in screenwriting, was fake. That also was disappointing. To make the perfectionist dancer into a wack job who cuts herself was the script writer’s fascination with the Horror/Thriller genres woven stupidly and dishonestly into this story line. It was a cheap way to deal with these genres plus the ballet world. A great story could have been crafted, Portman could have told the truth, the audience would have appreciated her honesty, Sarah Lane would have gotten honest billing, and the Portman would have won her award.

  24. I love your informed, intelligent comments, Flamenco! Thanks so much for sharing. I have to say, I was SO HAPPY when Sarah Lane got promoted to principal rank at ABT. She was being an unsung hero there, too, dancing like a principal without the credit. Now she’s got that. And she got a whole lot of PR from the whole “it was Natalie, not Sarah, doing most the dancing.” Like they say, there’s no such thing as bad press. I’m sure the Black Swan team were thrilled about the above arguing point. Here we are, years later, still talking about Black Swan and the dancing.

  25. When does Hollywood represent anything accurately? Unless the director is making a documentary, you can be sure there will be stereotypes and inaccuracies. I pretty sure most adults know a movie is movie. If they don’t, I would be more concerned with their sense of reality, than with the movie they watched. Pretty much everything gets stereotyped and there isn’t a way to make a movie entirely inoffensive. People are too sensitive now days. A movie is not a personal attack on anyone or anything.

    • D’oh!

      >”People are too sensitive nowadays.”

      I know, right, Homer? I had a ball writing this semi-satirical blog, and everyone is taking it so seriously! That said, I love the spirited dialogue it has spawned. Thanks for commenting!

  26. Honestly, I’m a ballet dancer and I don’t mind it. I loved the movie and the costumes, the plot, the yumikos, the acting… It’s a thriller and they put a lot of effort into researching the ballet background. Ballet movies inspire me and in my opinion, this was way better than Center Stage 😂

  27. Oh, thank you so much for this blog entry. I thought I would never find a person who criticised Black Swan.
    Almost every person who points out the ballet related flaws in this film gets attacked by someone saying “it’s fiction, not a documentary. Get over it. It’s not about details. It’s about the bigger picture.”
    Well, in my opinion great works of fiction, EVEN horror flicks/thrillers are more convincing and compelling when they resemble reality.

    I probably would have enjoyed this film had I known absolutely nothing about ballet, but alas, I took ballet as a child and teenager, and that’s all it takes to see the “weird” things:
    Big company only has one principal, girls wear jewellery in class (eeeek!), all members of the audience are dressed in black tie (this isn’t the 1950’s), etc etc etc!!!!

    I swear the screenwriter never even bothered to go to ballet himself/herself. Personally if I were a writer and was tasked with writing the next big blockbuster about boxing, a subject I’m completely ignorant about, I would go out and see hundreds of matches and visit every specialist gym, interview people there…etc., because, hey, only because my livelihood depends on it?
    I guess they thought they could get away with zero research for a ballet movie thinking not enough people know anything about it anyway, and I guess it worked. So much so that sensible ballet lovers pointing out factual errors get slammed by ignorant “real cinema” lovers online.

    Details do matter. Not ALL details, but some crucial ones do. If they get these details wrong the overall picture loses credibility. If you want me to take that film seriously I need to take Nina’s ballet company seriously. But I can’t, cos it’s only got one principal in it!

    Same with anything. Like historical fiction: it’s ok to add some creativity to it, but getting the timeline wrong in every possible way or messing up the ranks within the army etc. will drive history fans away. But it’s ok, there’ll be enough history drop-outs to love the film and persecute all the history buffs. Lol.

  28. “Sanctimonious” –yeah, that’s how this blog is coming across to me. Just watched it for the first time tonight and curious about what folks said about it. Too bad you watched it as a dancer which I guess is kind of like watching beloved books when they become a long awaited movie. They can’t be enjoyed for what they are because of all the distractions of what seems inaccurate, not matching the viewer’s imagination, etc. No judgement that you watched it as a dancer, just is what it is.

    This was someone’s art (many film-workers’ art actually) and IMO I think it absolutely deserves the praise it received. One never is quite sure, from the start and in every scene, what is actually real or not –an experience you can only have once with this type of movie. I was doubting that the mother was even real or was an old Nina–because the issue of age came up early in the story. So disorienting and great film making and a great achievement.

    Interesting that you’re still reading these posts after all these years rather than closing the topic–kinda like Star Wars fandom toxic trolls that can’t give it a rest. But if that’s what you like, then continue to enjoy.

    (ps. “blogging” is nothing like movie story-telling, just say’in. )

    • Now why would I want to consider closing this topic (and besides, that’s discussion boards and not blogs) and risk missing the entertainment of your reply?

      I’m not quite sure what the comment about Star Wars fandom toxic trolls alludes to — are you the troll who can’t give it a rest, or are you saying that, as the original blogger, I am? No matter. I enjoy reading others’ comments — there’s no “best by” date in the equation. If you just watched it for the first time, well, I welcome your fresh perspective on the film. I agree with you that it was an artful film and deserves the praise it received. One can admire a film and dislike it concurrently, which is the case with me. I suppose I have a bias, independent of the ballet angle, that I dislike the horror genre. (Or whatever category this falls into. Horror-meets-psychological thriller?)

      I found your comment interesting, about doubting that the mother was even real. Someone else had posed that thought to me, a few years back, and I have to say I’d never considered that, but I found it to be an intriguing take.

      My favorite disorienting, great-filmmaking and a great-achievement film is inception. Boy, did that make me think. Years later, I’m still utterly beguiled by the clever, original concept.

      (PS: your PS confuses me. Or maybe the statement is so obvious, I’m not sure why you wrote it. So… okay. Thank you for just sayin’.)

  29. You poor thing. This article is a mirror defending your own failed career. Most of us liked it. It’s just horror fiction. Stop taking things personally and go get a cartilage reconstruction.

  30. Julianna, I laughed out loud when I read your comment. I’m free, of course, to accept and reject comments as I please, but this kind of trolling is pure catnip to new readers, so thanks for giving the post a boost!

    I wasn’t so great at the sciences, or too-vague innuendo solving, so you’ll have to help me out on the cartilage reconstruction business. All I’m seeing is the cartilage in one’s nose that gets removed when the nose is too big, or a knee surgery when cartilage gets too damaged or eroded, but I can’t make those match up to any implied threat.

    No worries. It just makes this post all the more entertaining.

    Can anyone else help me out with how cartilage reconstruction might help me out? I’m all ears! I’d particularly like it if it helped me be a better writer. My nose is already the perfect size, BWT, and my knees are doing pretty good, as well.

  31. Here you go: rib cartilage ear construction. (I guess I can’t leave the URL)

    So, when you said you were “all ears,” I guess that gave it away. : )

    Sorry about your oversized ears and I wish you all the best in your rib cartilage ear construction.

  32. My initial reaction was to respectfully disagree because, as others have pointed out, it’s just a story. Not generally the most accurate depiction of ballet, but an interesting story nonetheless.

    Then I got to your comment section and oh my goodness it didn’t disappoint. Great job responding with class to extremely rude comments from people I can only assume have some super strong ties to this movie. Opinions are opinions, and this IS your blog for YOUR opinions lol. People are weird. You’re awesome!

    • What a great comment, Kristi! Thanks so much for chiming in.

      And yes, the comment section has morphed into its own Classical Girl experience. I love the wealth of opinions it now contains, and even the hostile and/or snarky ones have their place. It’s a democracy here at The Classical Girl and we are all better off listening to everyone’s thoughts, whether they align with ours or not. (And no matter how much I fume when I don’t like what I read.)

  33. Thanks for your insight. As a member of a monority, I can relate to tour feelings about how your group is represented. That said, a fiction movie is not a documentary. This one specifically, is not about vallet, but about a sycotic character who, boom, is a ballerina. Is it impossible for a dancer to have a mental disorder? About the actress, it is obvious that a movie needed an actress who can dance, and a stunt who really dance professionally.Not the opposite. And, in terms of the credit to the stunt dancer, I suppose she knew what she signed to in her contract. Sorry, but with your advice the movie should have been boring. And, anyway, ballet is beauriful and elegant in its own right, with or without this film. Outsiders like me do not think, “oh, that world is dirty”. LOL

    • Thank you for contributing to the conversation, Yuni Ler, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness of your reply.


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