By the conclusion of the 1950s the ballerina in the United States represented two opposing images of femininity. Pin-up artists such as George Petty and Alberto Varga provided men’s magazines such as Esquire and Playboy with titillating images of ballerinas dressed in sexy black tights and wearing tutus that lacked straps and barely covered buxom breasts. Pin-up ballerinas drew from a long tradition extending from the nineteenth century of associating ballerinas with the stage and commercial sex. Sexy, salacious, and erotic, Petty’s ballerinas straddled powertools that resembled phalluses, simulated sexual acts, and posed provocatively. At the same time, Audrey Hepburn and professional ballet dancers also popularized an image of the ballerina as austere, elegant, and refined. With their tiny bodies, small breasts, narrow hips, and long lithe limbs, professional ballerinas appeared frozen in adolescence – images of stunted sexual development. Thus, the ballerina had come to envisage both the sexual underside of the 1950s, the culture that valorized Elvis Presley, the Blond Bombshell, and sex kittens, as well as the Cold War inspired trend towards favoring sexual containment.
This paper seeks to understand the multifaceted meaning of the image of the ballerina in the 1950s.
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