The “Uneconomics” of Ballet,

Sejal Shah


Haskell (1977) described the life of a ballet dancer as: “She lives definitely for her art, and not for what it can bring. Its rewards are painfully meagre; many years of over work at a bare living wage, a very generous share of applause from a small public, a few press cuttings with her name misspelt, bouquets, photographs, with the end almost inevitably a school, and the grind all over again, this time vicariously.” Despite the “meagre rewards”, millions of people around the world, given half the chance, are enrolled in ballet classes, many aspiring toward a career in dance almost from the first lesson. My personal interest in this topic began with my own foray into beginner’s ballet several months ago. After personally experiencing the rigors of ballet – the intense physical and emotional demands, and willingly bearing the tremendous cost in lesson fees and appropriate gear (despite knowing that my own career as a ballerina is virtually nonexistent), the economist in me was motivated to discover the intrinsic desire fuelling ballet dancers to pursue their ambition - behaviour that could be considered economically irrational but which makes sense within the cultural context (Plattner 1998).

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