BALANCE & the show cat
By Betty White
Perhaps the most compelling imperative in discussing anything is to agree on a definition. To define "balance," a word that we all presume to know, is to examine first our understanding of it beyond the world of cats. We think of an equilibrium between opposing forces, i.e., "Balance of Power;" there is the gymnast who "balances" on a beam; we hear of the need to "balance" our lives; we all have heard, ad infinitum, of "trade imbalances." To bring this comprehension of balance to the cat fancy, we must ultimately refine the term further into a meaningful description of one of the major attributes of an excellent show cat.
Although the rather narrow definition of balance as equipoise applies in some breeds, a more subtle definition is required in others. Balance is, therefore, more easily understood with intimate breed knowledge, and a clear understanding of what the various standards are trying to convey.
Beginning with our most popular longhair, we quickly comprehend that the balanced Persian is a study of short and round, with heavy bones, where any variation of this will mar the whole effect. A short body is necessary for the overall perception of roundness, just as the round, broad skull and short, massive neck in proportion to that body, call for the equipoise of a short tail.
Moving in the opposite direction where length is all, the Oriental must convey this length with fine bones covered by firm muscles to appear lithe. A long head will echo a long body and legs, with a long neck to balance the long tail at the other end. It is this structural balance that the Oriental Standard calls for in describing this svelte cat. Here we have, in rather straightforward fashion, the classic meaning of "balance," whether applied to cats or the distribution of weight on a see saw. In breeds where descriptions mirror absolutes, whether short or long, balance is more readily apparent and often, less easily achieved (when an Exotic litter is born, the kitten with the best head has a long body - the one with the cobby body has a long nose; the Siamese baby with the wonderful tail has no neck to speak of, while the one with the great head and neck also has a world-class Burmese tail!).
A balanced Abyssinian is really the frame, upon which an outstanding cat can be dressed. All is to be moderate in this breed, according to our understanding of the term in the fancy. The standard tells us that all elements of the cat are to be in proportion, that this is a cat of gentle contours and is temperamentally and physically well balanced. Here is a breed where extremes are to be resisted and where your socks are to be knocked off by 45 points of coat and color on a symmetrically balanced feline! Instead of worrying about getting all features to match an extreme, either short or long, one has to strive for a harmonious middle ground that suggests perfect form. Rather than certain features balancing others, all features of an Abyssinian (and Somali) are balanced equally with one another.
It is important to recognize that in all of the extreme breeds (i.e., breeds where emphasis on all features is either all or a preponderance of short or long) and in the intermediate Abyssinian and Somali, it is the total symmetry that is emphasized. The outstanding examples of these breeds are totally balanced with respect to their various parts. An outstanding Persian or Exotic is structurally short everywhere; an outstanding Siamese, Balinese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Javanese and Oriental are structurally long everywhere. The outstanding Aby or Somali is structurally intermediate everywhere (the best of them are also refined, as is true of the best of all our breeds, but that is another storyM Balance in other breeds, while less clear-cut, still deals with proportion. Heads need to be in proportion to bodies, which | takes on added meaning when considering Manx and Scottish Folds. The depth of flank called for in Manx, along with the broad chest, demands a head in proper proportion - a head to "balance" this body. In the absence of a tail, the strong back legs are longer than the front, which, along with the rounded ramp, visually emphasizes the tailless attribute and balances і head, broad chest and very short, wideset front legs. Visual balance in a Manx is certainly more complicated than simple equipoise but no less valid. It is a balance that we can term asymmetrical in] nature; one that satisfies our sense ofl balance without absolute equality of I parts.
The Scottish Fold body is meant to] be medium, rounded, well-padded and standing on medium legs. While the body is allotted only 10 points, we quickly understand j that the head (55) and tail (20) of this breed are extremely important in terms of balance. Ten points or not, it is this body that dictates the overall size of the head and prescribes the length of tail, if the cat is to be balanced (obviously, the tail length desired in a healthy Scottish Fold makes a short body anathema). The necessity for body and tail in proportion demands a head of sufficient size to balance them.
This is quite different from the Devon Rex. Right up front, we understand that we are dealing with out-of-proportion features, to produce an "elfin" look. Balance is to mean something a bit different - or is it? How do you balance out-of-control features on a head (huge ears and large eyes) with the rest of the cat? First, you broaden the chest on a slender, medium body and then lengthen the legs. A long neck is then balanced by a long tail and voila, the Devon is a visually balanced animal (lengthen the body so that the legs are more proportionate, and the Devon head suddenly becomes too heavy for its body). Balance, again, is paramount and is entirely asymmetrical in nature.
How about the Devon's Cornish cousin? If an Aby is totally balanced under a magnificently colored and textured coat, a Cornish Rex has deviously achieved balance under an exotic and improbable coat. The Cornish Rex is described as unique by its coat and racy type, and that is it. A relatively small, narrow, egg-shaped head is balanced by a long, slender body that naturally arches. This constriction of visual image causes the legs to appear even longer than they are, puts the head in proportion and gives an illusion to the rather heavy, well-muscled hips. High set ears further the vertical image of this breed making it appear forever on tip-toes. More than any other breed, the best Cornish Rex really does appear as light as a feather when, indeed, it is not. The "tuck-up," where the lower" line of the body approaches the upper curve, completes the impression of the Cornish Rex being barely in contact with the surface on which it stands. True structural balance in this breed mimics life about as much as a mermaid does - and is every bit as captivating.
The Japanese Bobtail is a further variation on this theme of "trompe l'oeil," for indeed, the eye is truly deceived. The lean, muscular body is long, not cobby, and general balance is emphasized. There is a clear attempt to model life after art and the standard breathes refinement; but first, balance. The head is triangular, cheekbones high and the lines of the nose parallel. The tail is surely distinctive and is wonderfully counter-pointed by long, deeply angulated hind legs. Balance in the Bobtail is most enhanced by boning and condition. Even where proportion is proper, all is lost by too much weight and heavy boning. One can have balance in some breeds without refinement, and all is not completely lost; balance without refinement in a Japanese Bobtail is fatal.
Balance on the "round brown" breed (to coin an ancient appellation now not exactly correct) is readily apparent. The Burmese is a medium cat with compact body, rounded chest and legs to complement this structure. A round head on a well-developed neck, balances a medium tail. No surprises here in our
GC, BW, NW Cabincoon Dakota, a red tabby and white Maine Coon male. Br: Gigi Haag. Ou>: Gigi and Gene Haag. "balancing act." The Bombay, while we are in the neighborhood, is also a rounded breed with balance achieved through the linchpin of its body description: "neither compact nor rangy." Proportion is stressed and we are presented a picture of moderate balance - in the classic sense.
We have many other breeds in CFA, all of which achieve balance in the ways just mentioned; however, it seems inappropriate to leave the subject without a reference to that which allows us to consider it in the first place.
We talk about its various properties because balance is a basic part of our culture. We don't just talk about balance, we visualize it; some would say we feel it. Balance is that which is "right," neither too much nor too little. The notion of "being on an even keel" is our way of defining a normal, balanced mental state. Equilibrium is part and parcel of the Greek "Golden Mean," hence as integral a part of what Western civilization perceives as balance.
We therefore see that "balance" in the context of pedigreed cats, is our notion of physical appearance where the resulting cat is structurally perfect in our eyes. The thing that strikes us about such a cat, then, is8 no one feature; what impresses us is the total harmony in our vision.
Now we face the challenge of covering and coloring it properly, and finally, refining it into a creature of ultimate beauty
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