What ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ got right about ballet—and what it got wrong

Published on December 17, 2020

Tiny Pretty Things is the latest teen drama to hit Netflix, and it’s like Riverdale meets Pretty Little Liars with a ballerina spin. I was a ballerina for most of my young life, from age 2 to 17. Mostly, I danced at a small dance studio in my small Bay Area town, but I also took classes around the Bay Area and even at the Manhattan Youth Ballet for a few months.

I never went to ballet boarding school, as the Tiny Pretty Things characters do, but I spent up to 6 days a week for much of my formative years doing ballet so I think I have a pretty good grip on how things work in the world of ballet. Tiny Pretty Things is, at its core, a teen drama, so some liberties are to be expected. Teen dramas never seem to quite live in the world of reality. This show, however, does better than most, at least when it comes to the ballet related parts of the story. Here’s what the show got right about ballet, and where they stretched the truth for the sake of a good story.

*mild spoilers for season one ahead*

What It Got Right

It might look strange to someone unfamiliar with ballet, but dancers really do beat the ever loving hell out of their pointe shoes like that. Pointe shoes are incredibly stiff, and they take serious time and effort to break in. When Neveah is hitting her shoes against the floor like that, it’s something everyone does. It’s actually pretty tame compared to some breaking-in methods. I’ve heard of some dancers putting their shoes in laundry bags and running them over with a car.

Also in the beginning, the voiceover mentions that dancers must always smile on stage, and if you make a mistake make sure you distract them with something else. A lot of the advice and musings on dancing that come from the voiceover are quite accurate. They capture the spirit and soul of what it’s like to be a ballet dancer.

Everyone has a favorite place at the barre during practice. It’s a thing. Some classes are more territorial than others, but even in the most laid-back of classes, dancers gravitate towards their usual places.

Some teachers—mine included—do not want you wearing extra clothes over your leotard and tights because it obstructs the instructor’s view of the muscles and lines. In this show, the ballet master calls it “junk”, but regardless of terminology, overclothes are unacceptable in a lot of serious classes. I constantly got in trouble for showing up to class with extra clothes on.

This show displays a lot of jealousy and competition—but at the end of the day there is a certain bond with your fellow dancers, even if the envy is overwhelming sometimes. Frenemies are a part of the ballet world, for good or bad, there’s no two ways about it.

In the first few episodes, Neveah adapts to her new classes, and her instructor is constantly correcting her form incessantly. When she gets down on herself over this, her roommate points out to her that it’s a good thing, and she’s totally right. The teachers are usually hardest on those that they see the most potential in. It can be frustrating and disheartening but the corrections are indeed a good sign. Why bother spending time correcting a dancer who’s never going to have a solo?

Instructors really do give life advice vaguely masked as ballet instruction. There is a moving scene where the head of school finds June as she’s practicing after a harrowing experience at her waitressing job. She corrects her form, but in her corrections is a much deeper meaning about life. My ballet teacher used to do this all the time with us, as the good instructors do. Although later in the show it turns out that scene has a much darker meaning, it still rang true, however fleetingly.

Bette’s injury is a huge storyline throughout the first season, and I can say injuries like that are super common and just as difficult to deal with. It’s incredibly easy to get hurt dancing. I’ve had more sprained ankles than I care to count, and I’ve seen some very gnarly pointe related injuries in other girls. Ballet is not for the faint of heart.

Eating disorders abound in the world of ballet, both in the show and outside of it. Ballerinas are traditionally tall and very thin. To stay very thin, ballerinas exercise constantly and some eat very little. Tiny Pretty Things depicts eating disorders as a side plot, but the reference is still obviously there. This is unfortunately quite prevalent in the dance world.

What it Got Wrong

There are some immediate flaws in the opening scene that immediately made me skeptical. No one ever does ballet with their hair down like that, even if it’s just practice. Cassie does it in the opening scene. Later in the series Bette practices with the choreographer with her long hair all over the place. Dancing with hair down is distracting and difficult and not as beautiful as it looks on screen. In reality, that kind of dancing just equals hair all over the place.

I know ballet masters are technically a thing, but I’ve never known anyone who referred to their instructors like that. We usually just called them Miss so-and-so. Ballet is a formal endeavor, but not that formal. Especially not after hours upon hours and years upon years of working with the same instructor.

There is not a single ballet instructor that I know who would allow their young female students to dance in a “Jack the Ripper” themed ballet. Although, the head administrator at this fiction school is a real piece of work. I can practically hear my ballet teacher shouting about how inappropriate this is right now. The kids eventually rally against it, to a certain extent. However, it’s unrealistic that the school administrators and parents all went along with the gruesome murder ballet.

Dancers can’t really fight as they do in that one scene in the alley. That is unless they have separate training to teach them how. The skills from ballet don’t necessarily translate to street fighting. Dancers are, however, deceptively strong. Ballet is insanely hard on the body and while dancers make it look easy, it’s really, really not.

The choreographer in this show has a ton of tattoos. I’ve never seen a single person in the ballet world with visible ink. It’s just not done. I get that he’s supposed to be the bad boy of the ballet, but as they point out in the show, very little has changed about ballet since the 1800s. Tattoos have to be tiny and well-hidden if they exist at all.

All of this roof dancing that takes place in the show seems really unrealistic. Especially in Chicago, and after one of their peers already plummeted to her death while dancing on the roof. I have never done roof ballet, but maybe that’s just me and a healthy fear of heights. This might be a thing other people do, but I don’t know, it seems off.

Surprisingly, this show got more right than it did wrong when it comes to the lives of the dancers. It’s a trashy teen show at its core, but it’s a trashy teen show that lives firmly in the world it claims to. I’m fairly certain that most of the young actors they hired for this show were not, in fact, actors, but ballerinas. This casting choice adds beautiful ballet and an air of authenticity to the whole scandalous adventure.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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