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How high can classical dancers leap?

Dear Cecil:

How high do classical dance performers jump? When I saw Baryshnikov dance in "The Turning Point," it seemed like he got pretty far off the ground. Also, do men jump higher than women (that is, ballet dancers)? Or are they just given more chances to show off their jumping abilities?

Willa C., Dallas

Cecil replies:

Dear Willa:

Your average male dancer is expected to be able to leap somewhere between four and five feet off the ground. Baryshnikov, though, is an exception: on a good day, with a good wind, he can reach six feet. Not bad for a little fella (he stands 5’8″ in his leotard feet), especially considering the world’s record for the high jump, which was in the neighborhood of eight feet last time we looked.

Male dancers do leap higher than their female counterparts, but while this has something to do with the advantages of height and muscular development, it’s also a consequence of the prejudices built into classical choreography and training. A leap has long been considered a more “masculine” movement (for reasons which elude this casual observer), and training, consequently, has tended to emphasize the development of this ability in the male. So next time you start disparaging some danseur’s manliness, make sure you’re out of range.

Cecil Adams

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