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Arts & Culture

The Dancer Who Broke Ballet's Height Ceiling

Eastern Connecticut Ballet
Gloria Govrin speaks with choreographer George Balanchine.

In the dance world, the body is the instrument. For decades, the ideal height for an aspiring female dancer was about five feet, five inches tall -- notably shorter than all the male dancers onstage. But today, more dance companies are breaking with that tradition, and Gloria Govrin is one of the reasons why. 

Govrin, currently the artistic director of Eastern Connecticut Ballet, stands at five feet, ten inches. Though choreographer George Balanchine initially discouraged her from trying to become a professional dancer, he changed direction, and hired her for the New York City Ballet.

She became a soloist, and upended the longstanding idea of what a female ballet dancer should look like.

"For him, his dancers were inspiration and he once told me that he never saw anybody my size move the way I moved, and he was intrigued," Govrin recently said on WNPR's Where We Live.

"I had a different kind of career. It wasn't the kind of career where you did the ballerina pas de deux kind of -- there weren’t many tall boys in the company so it was difficult," she said. "So what he did, was he created solos for me."

Years later, she heard from young ballet students.

"I used to have girls come up to me who were tall who were so grateful, because I broke the mold," she said. "You know, it was, like, the glass ceiling of ballet. When you see dancers of today, there are lot of tall girls, and some of them taller than I am."

And as a teacher, Gavrin encourages students to find ways to make the choreography their own.

Eastern Connecticut Ballet performs at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut on Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7.

Arts & Culture historydanceThe Daily
Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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