Misa, or The Misty Redux?

You’ve probably seen this already… but if not, BB Principal dancer Misa Kuranaga has been made the face and voice of a new SK-II ad campaign:

Strikes me that SK-II is trying to ride Under Armour’s coattails after their wildly successful ad featuring Misty Copeland. The message is strikingly similar—a dancer with a “less than ideal” ballerina image can make it big with the right amount of dedication and devotion. A great message and — as one of the majority with a “less than ideal” ballet body — one I can certainly appreciate.

But I have to say… I was somewhat surprised to see Misa portrayed as anything less-than-ideal. If any of you have followed my blog, you know that she is probably my favorite BB female dancer, certainly my favorite among the principals. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought, my goodness she’s awfully short and narrow-hipped (I thought they were all narrow-hipped!?). I have, however, always noticed her gorgeous technique and the joy that she brings to her dancing. It probably helps that she’s generally partnered with Jeffrey Cirio (yes, my favorite BB guy), who is vertically-challenged himself (and by that I mean, well, he’s short… as for getting air, he’s got no vertical challenges there… that boy can FLY!!!).

But to me it’s always seemed that Misa has a perfect ballet physique, so it seemed funny to see her in an ad highlighting how she’s overcome her limitations.

I guess it just makes me wonder… does ANYONE have the ideal look? And does it even matter? To quote Kuranaga in a Huffington Post interview: “Sometimes, I see people performing on stage and even if shape-wise they are perfect, it doesn’t touch my heart.”

To which I say, YES!!! That is IT!!!

And I think there is a shift in the ballet world to recognize that technical and artistic brilliance can come in a variety of packages rather than seeking those qualities only from a subset of dancers that appear to have come off an assembly line. I witnessed this when I saw the BB Swan Lake rehearsals last fall. There are plenty of beanpoles, plenty of shorties, plenty of waifs, and plenty of athletic builds. But when they are on stage together it never seems to look odd or out of place because they are so together in their movement.

Yet, of course, the racial component is still there. As the ad notes, Misa was the first Asian dancer made a principal at BB (2009). Currently four of the 14 BB principals are of Asian descent and all levels have Asian representation, so that’s progress. But dancers with darker complexions are still scarce. And interestingly, while there are a few darker-skinned men there are no women in that category. I don’t know how representative BB is of other major companies, but I’m guessing you’d find similar cross-sections. I’ll let you ponder for yourself why that is, but I will say (as a preamble to my next post about “Apollo’s Angels”) that if ballet is to survive and grow in America it needs to get better at representing the faces of people in America.

So we’ve still got hurdles to get past. We always will, I suppose, but I hope that one day we can shift our focus to technique and artistry as opposed to appearances. To me a “dancer look” should be about one’s posture, carriage, and grace, and yes, maybe a certain je ne sais quoi. In my mind, Misa Kuranaga has all of that in spades and she remains my ideal!

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