'Sugar Plump' Fairy crack stirs weighty debate
Revenge can be sweet, especially when you’re the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The dancer playing the headlining role in this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” defended herself on national television Monday after a newspaper critic knocked her for looking like she’d “eaten one sugar plum too many.”
Jenifer Ringer, 37, declared “I am not overweight” on the “Today” show in the aftermath of the snarky remark Nov. 29 by New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay. The ruckus has prompted dancers and nondancers alike to weigh in on the impact of body image in an industry – and society – that idealizes thin bodies.
Despite the ballet brouhaha, attitudes appear to be changing about body weight, said Wendy Perron, editor in chief of Dance Magazine, which has featured Ringer on its cover four times.
“All dancers try to be their quote dancer weight. But I think it is becoming more acceptable in having healthier-looking dancers,” Perron said. “Some artistic directors are accepting of slightly different body types.”
Ringer had struggled with anorexia early in her career, Perron said, adding that her magazine regularly carries articles about how to spot an eating disorder.
Ringer on the “Today” show acknowledged that the critic’s comment was hurtful, but she added she does work in a business that spotlights her physique.
That was the same point Macaulay made in a follow-up column Dec. 4, responding to angry critics of his own. (Macaulay had also said that a male dancer in the production seemed “to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.”)
“If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career,” Macaulay advised. The New York City Ballet nor Macaulay responded to inquiries Monday.
Patricia Williams, who retired as a professional ballet dancer 27 years ago and has taken classes with Ringer, said Macaulay’s original comment came off as “nasty.”
“Looking at her, she’s a shapely woman. It’s not that she’s overweight,” said Williams, who is now a chef at the Smoke Jazz and Supper-Club Lounge on the Upper West Side.
Other New Yorkers said it should be about the performance, not whether a dancer’s tutu is getting too tight.
“She’s in the show for a reason – she must be talented,” said Gisela Diaz, 36, of Corona.
(With Heidi Lee)
Are ballet dancers these days too skinny?