Editors' pick

Jane Comfort and Company


Editorial Review

Dancer Barbie! She’s no ideal in Jane Comfort work

By Lisa Traiger
Friday, Sept. 30, 2011

If Barbie were a real woman, at 5 foot 9 she would have a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist, 33-inch hips and - wait for it - a size 3 shoe.

"I've been feeling for years that culturally the media has pushed us toward this Barbie aesthetic as the norm. The Barbie world, which is white, thin and blond, is considered normal, and anything that is not that is considered exotic or other," says choreographer Jane Comfort, whose latest work, "Beauty," takes the $50-billion-a-year beauty industry to task through the lens of the forever-young plastic icon.

The New York-based dancemaker has long made works that challenge social, political, cultural and personal beliefs. She never had a Barbie growing up but became fascinated with Barbie's influence on generations of women.

Comfort's company performs "Beauty" and another work, "Underground River," this weekend at Rockville's American Dance Institute. In "Beauty," Comfort skewers our obsession with the Western definition of female beauty. The dancers wear wigs, shiny skin-tone spandex tights and push-up bras to attain the Barbie look. Their stiff-legged, tiptoed walks and elbows bent just so complete the picture.

At one point, the audience is asked to weigh in on a Barbie beauty contest, while at another, Barbie and her longtime paramour, Ken, enjoy a romantic if awkward tete-a-tete. It took much trial and error for the dancers to learn how to move like a doll whose torso and elbows don't bend and whose hips don't swivel, Comfort acknowledges.

Throughout the 45-minute piece, a dancer engages in a regimen familiar to many women: She gives herself a manicure and pedicure, applies full makeup from foundation to mascara and squeezes herself into a Spanx body shaper. Comfort says she has seen men in the audience shake their heads in disbelief that it can take that long for a woman to get ready.

"It's a closed capitalistic system that convinces us to buy all these procedures and products to become beautiful," Comfort says. "Today women have to work hard to make a living. I don't know where they have the time and money to do it."

Yet, Comfort isn't immune herself. She admits: "I'm just like any other woman. I wear makeup. . . . In fact, I don't go out of the house without it."