Adaptive Preferences and Ballet

D. Bruckner was not wrong when he stated, “[t]hese [adaptive] preferences belong to those who hold them.”[1] To begin with, Bruckner states that “adaptive preference change occurs when an agent’s preference changes as a result of a change in the agent’s feasible set.”[2] I have recently finished auditioning to professional ballet companies. It would obviously be ideal to get into a company with a fully-paid high-level position, and until now that would have been my preference. However, I have gotten rejections from most of the companies I have auditioned for, and only as of today got a traineeship offer from a company that has no money to pay any additional dancers on top of the dancers already re-contracting for this next season. In light of (a) the rejections I have received from the other companies (which is not uncommon, most people audition for many companies without getting in anywhere at all), and (b) the fact that any company gave me an offer at all, I realized over the course of the evening that my preference to dance with a company that only offered me a full company position changed and altered to a preference to dance anywhere that gave me the opportunity to be dancing full-time at all.

Another element of Bruckner’s paper that made me instantly think of Ballet culture was his discussion of social policy driving individual adaptive preferences.[3] In much of the ballet world, although thankfully this is changing, the ideal dancer is willow-thin as an aesthetic ideal. As such, many companies will only hire dancers with such a body type because of this social, cultural “policy”. Such an outlook by companies, which are the forces behind whether or not dancers get jobs and are employable, tends to push dancers to diet and exercise and, in some cases, develop unhealthy eating disorders simply to fit the mold. This is an excellent example of social policy driving what can become a generally unhealthy lifestyle. Fortunately, many companies are realizing that they are driving forces in dancers’ adaptive preferences for degrees of thinness and are changing to become more inclusive of other body types. Luckily, the dance world is discovering for itself its ability to socially inform adaptive preferences.

It’s interesting to look at theoretical frameworks as such frameworks overlay with real-life examples. It’s even more interesting when the opportunity to see a theoretical framework in action arises right at the moments of big, important events and decisions in your life.

[1] Donald W. Bruckner, In Defense of Adaptive Preferences, 142 Philosophical Studies 307, 317 (2009).

[2] Id. at 308.

[3] Id. at 311.