Armstrong: Sugar Plum Fairy too tall? I take that personally

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Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Michelle Murawski as the Sugar Plum Fairy in "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker." She has been cut from the company's roster for the upcoming season because she's too tall.

For us tall women, the struggle is real. Clothes don't fit right. Strangers on the street say the most idiotic things to you, every single day. You're expected to sit in the back.

So I'm not completely surprised that a principal dancer for the Pennsylvania Ballet was fired because of her height.

Sara Michelle Murawski, most recently the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, has been cut from the company's roster for the upcoming season because she's too tall.

Yes, you read that correctly.

And at 6-foot-2, I'm taking it personally.

She's only 5-11 — a bit taller when she's standing en pointe — but still, Murawski's beautiful limbs were considered too elongated. Her one-year contract will not be renewed.

That stinks, because Murawski left a job she loved as a soloist at the Slovak National Ballet to come all the way to Philadelphia to perform. Needless to say, she's devastated.

"It should be about the dance. That's what I was always told," Murawski said sadly Wednesday evening when I reached her by telephone. "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, she added.

She'd just performed the starring role in The Nutcracker the previous night, when she wascalled aside and told the devastating news — less than an hour before she was scheduled to perform again. She broke down in tears, but had to pull herself together.

"It came absolutely out of nowhere," said Michelene Murawski of Philadelphia, Sara's mother, so stressed by the firing that she's become ill.

Her daughter's biological father is 6-feet-4-inches tall, and Michelene knew early on that Sara would be tall. She tried getting her daughter into basketball, but Sara fell madly in love with dance. She was doing ballet in her sleep.

In the dance world, Murawski is what they call a "bunhead." (I heard her refer to herself that way, so I'm not out of line.) She knew early on that it would be harder for her than for other dancers, so she poured all of her energy into being the best.

"I always have to be so much better in order to be accepted," she told me. "In Russia, they love it. ... They think this is the ideal for a ballerina, that you have long limbs on the stage. In America, it's very different."

Murawski's dancing abilities don't appear to be in question. So if ballet officials had an issue with a tall dancer, why woo her here? Now that she's finally here and performing beautifully, she gets a hard toe shoe up her backside, because they apparently don't like the idea of a tall female looming over shorter male dancers.

When Americans go to the ballet or to any other artistic performance, we expect to see this great nation reflected on the stage. That means performers of all sizes, races, ages. The only criterion should be whether they can perform. Yo, it's 2017. I shouldn't have to point this out.

David Gray, the Ballet's executive director, tried to defend the company's action in a statement: "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."

But coaches judge players on athletic ability. Not on appearance.

The company should get taller male dancers if officials are hung up on the outdated notion that a man is supposed to be taller than his female partner. How many celebrity examples have we seen lately in which the female is considerably taller? Comedian Kevin Hart and his gorgeous bride Eniko come to mind. First Lady Michelle Obama stands eye-to-eye with President Obama when she's in heels.

The way Murawski is being treated reminds me of African American ballerinas historically denied opportunities because of their skin color or the size of their posteriors.

"Dancers of color have gone through that and are still going through that every single day," said Kim Bears-Bailey, assistant artistic director of Philadanco, founded in 1970 to create opportunities for black dancers. "Sara will get another job. ... But what about the women of color who don't even get in the room?"

A friend of Murawski's put together a GoFundMe account [https://www.gofundme.com/season-pay-for-philly-ballet-couple] to raise $100,000 to keep her in Philadelphia and to help the company hire a tall male dancer to partner with her.

Please be generous. Talent knows no shape, size, or hue.

@JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

armstrj@phillynews.com