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How tall is too tall for a ballerina? Sara Michelle Murawski, a Principal Dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia, was told at the end of last year while performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, that her one-year contract was not being renewed for the 2017–18 season. The reason, apparently, was that she was too tall.
Sara Michelle Murawski as the Sugar Plum Fairy, photo © Alexander Iziliaev
The 25-year dancer, who is contracted until May, suggested in a Facebook post that she was being let go because at 5’11”, before going en pointe, her height was an issue.
“Did they only just notice that she’s 5’11”? Did they audition her sitting down?” asked Slipped Disc.
Artistic Director Angel Corella was out of the country and could not be reached for comment, but the Ballet told the Philadelphia Inquirer that letting Murawski go was about ensuring the right fit for the dancers who make up the Company.
In a statement, the Company’s Executive Director David Gray said: “Building a world class ballet company is similar to building a world class sports team. Just as there are excellent athletes whose careers are better fulfilled at one team than another, there are excellent dancers who will better fulfill their potential at different companies. Just as a coach must make difficult decisions that they feel are in the best interests of the team, so does an Artistic Director.”
Marawski told Jenice Armstrong in the Philly Daily News that she was devastated. “Just to be told that it’s your height, that’s disheartening. They said it’s a budget problem and they can’t get a tall male [as her dance partner]."
“I always have to be so much better in order to be accepted,” she added. “In Russia they love it….They think this is ideal for a ballerina, that you have long limbs on the stage. In America, it’s different.”
Murawski, who trained for several years in Philadelphia, joined the Company in September, leaving Slovakia, where she was a soloist with the Slovak National Ballet, to take up the position. She began her career at the Semperoper Ballet in Germany when she found it hard to get work in the US because of her height.
In a Facebook post Murawski said: “I came here with my deepest fear being that I wouldn’t be wanted here or be rejected here in the states….and of course my height, which I have always been self conscious about…..this is the hardest thing in my life because I wanted to dance at home for so long.”
In response to the post, one commenter wrote: “If Sara is too tall for the company men then hire taller men. Of course it is the woman who is deemed inadequate and fired.”
A friend of the dancer’s has set up a GoFundMe account to try and raise $100,000 to enable the Company to hire a taller male dancer to partner her and keep her in Philadelphia.