The Little Dancer

three little dancers

Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you?

Just for a change of pace, I thought I’d write on a prompt.

Now if you know a lot about art, this is not the post for you. I’m no expert, even though I spent thirteen years as a docent at the local art museum. (If you’re new to art, a docent is someone who “teaches” about art. In actual terms, I gave tours and talks and slide shows.)

Every Friday, for thirteen years I attended a lecture on art. And I can tell you, I know very little. The more you learn about art, the more you realize how little you know. But I digress….

I was able to go to Paris with the docents and that is where I saw the sculpture that spoke to me. It was The Little Dancer by Edgar Degas. (The above image shows three different views of the sculpture.)

I was riding pretty high during this time in my life. I had three kids, but they were very young. My mother-in-law was around a lot and she would watch them so I could go to the art museum and get out. It worked well.

So I get to Paris. And we went to the Louvre and many other “artistic” sites. But my favorite museum was the Musee’ D’Orsay. That was where I saw my first close up of The Little Dancer.

I do NOT mean to talk down to anyone about art, but some explanation is maybe necessary here. Degas made a LOT of sculptures. And these were cast over and over. So you will see and hear of “Little Dancers” in several different museums. Of course, Degas did paintings too and I’ll show you my favorite a bit below.

The Little Dancer was fourteen when she modeled for this sculpture. I don’t know how you looked at fourteen but I was a little scary. I had buck teeth with a big gap between them. I had size 10 feet. (Still do). I had no chest. So I get the idea that some people did not like this sculpture. It was too realistic for them.

Degas made this piece out of yellow wax. His eyesight was failing and he preferred the soft wax to ceramic or bronze at this time in his life. She dates between 1879-1881 and was first exhibited in 1881 at an exposition. She was not well received. People didn’t like the fact that she had “real” fabric clothing on her. She was too skinny, had a protruding belly, and showed too much jaw. Some said she looked like a monkey or an Aztec.

The French ballet was sort of an all-time low during this period. From what I’ve read, the dancers had “patrons” who supported them. I think these were patrons with benefits. Of course, this model would have been young for that sort of thing, but you get the idea.


Here is a Degas painting called The Dance Class. You can see the difference between the beautiful ballerinas here and the lowly sculpture above. This is the sort of thing people enjoyed and were used to.

So why am I drawn to the sculpture? It reminds me of my status in life at about fourteen. I was living with an abusive stepfather and had nowhere to go. I wasn’t one of those perfect girls at high school. I wanted desperately to fit in.

I’m not going to tell you my life in high school was hell. Actually, school was a welcome respite from life. I was bright and got a lot of attention for that. I was on the pom line and to some I am sure, that seemed a bit glamorous. But I was so terribly insecure. And those were the years I started alternating mania with bouts of depression. Lonely…I was lonely.

Does the sculpture look happy? Not really. She looks very sad and resigned to me. As if she is waiting for her ballet instruction to start…but her heart isn’t in it. And her clothes…they are the minimal needed for her lesson. Nothing beautiful.

I wonder how she came to be a ballerina with all of her flaws. By fourteen, I would think she’d have a better figure. (Ballerinas in those days were not stick thin.) She certainly shouldn’t have a belly that sticks out. And yet she does. She’s dressed up, ready to go, and will probably give it her all at the hands of some taskmaster.

I think ballerinas and dancers have to have a bit of mania. They have to get “up” for performances. But they also get down. That’s me.

So there you have it. My piece of art that speaks to me. Anything out there that speaks to you?


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