*This blog post discusses body image. If this may be triggering for you please read with caution.
I want you to close your eyes and imagine your ‘ideal’ ballerina.
Did you imagine male or female? Hair slicked into a ponytail or bun? Wearing pink or black?
So many different variations yet I can bet the majority of you pictured a ballerina who is skinny, pretty with tall legs.
Why is this so? Is it because society has shaped our idea that in order to be the ‘perfect’ dancer, we also must have the perfect figure to go with it? Possibly.
This idea is so 20th century, I mean, c’mon people… it’s 2021 for crying out loud!
Going to a studio that’s accepting of every BODY is ideal. Looking back on my dance journey, I have a lot of negative experiences surrounding my weight. As a young girl, I was happy, kind and helpful to everyone. I was the type of student that you just want to pack up, take home and protect from the (sometimes) mean world. However, I was quite overweight for my age yet was very active playing other sports such as netball and basketball (go figure). Mind you, a lot of this was just baby fat and now that I am older I am fit, healthy and lean. Sadly, my dance teachers weren’t foreign to shaming me about my weight every week and this was an ongoing issue from 6-13 years of age. Phrases like ‘No one wants to see what you had for breakfast’ or ‘Suck your belly’s in!’ had a significant impact on my perspective of my body from a young age and caused negative thoughts of my own self.
We have heard so many stories in our time of being teachers of this issue being a continuous cycle. Our very own Miss Maddi Price experienced certain negative sport experiences in her childhood, but one she won’t forget was when she was told she was ‘too heavy and fat’ to be a flyer in cheer by one of her older teammates, yet she was the fittest and most flexible she had ever been. We have also had others reach out to us when we shed light to this issue on our social media. One horrific story we came across was other dance studios enforcing a nutrition plan for those who were ‘too fat and weighing the team down’ and they continuously singled out overweight and unhealthy kids in class.
We put a poll up on our Instagram referring to a number of issues relating to dance and body image. We found that 67% of people felt judged by others for their weight in their sport and 57% noticed that their weight or body image may have been a contributing set back to them in their dance career. Why should we allow weight define us? Why do we allow others to judge our talent based purely on our size and figure? Why allow those, especially authority figures associated with marketing and judgement such as dance adjudicators, audition agencies and general digital marketers/journalists, put us in societal categories and stereotypes?! This stigma goes beyond our abilities, it affects our mental, emotional, physical and social capabilities and we as a society allow this to define US.
Our bodies are unique in their own beautiful way
In light of all this, there are positives to be seen within the dancing world that surrounds our bodies and physical abilities. Dance is such an articulate sport and one we are very lucky to coach and guide students to be the best dancer they can be! Our sport requires a lot of strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and rhythm! Our bodies are capable of so much and being a dancer isn’t easy. It requires so much determination and physical fitness that sometimes others aren’t aware of and these skills vary depending on the genre. For example, in ballet you need lots of muscle endurance, strength and balance all while being graceful, whereas in tap, having rhythm, coordination and being able to loosen your ankles while keeping your body strong is most important!
Our studio (@uniteddance) is a major advocate for welcoming any and every BODY into our studio with open arms regardless of size, shape, colour, race, socio-economic status and so on. We too have experienced the harsh societal stereotypes and negative experiences that came with our own dance journey as children, so we are able to understand and empathise with these students a bit easier. However, as a dance teacher and dance studio, we think it’s important to enforce positive body image and a healthy and active lifestyle upon our students and remind them that they are beautifully unique! This stigma can be overcome by society as a whole. There is no one ‘normal’ body type, every single body is unique in its own way and our bodies are capable of achieving whatever you put your mind to whether it’s a physical goal or a mental goal.
We love following @milibelledance on Instagram with her positive and inspiring posts! Dance choreographer/teacher and founder of Milibelle, Sophie Mckie stated in one of her posts surrounding this issue,
Our bodies will change, it’s natural! What we need to learn to do is love ourselves in whatever state we are in. This love transforms our art, our energy and inspires those around us to do the same. – @milibelledance
A dancers weight should not define their talent! Weight, shape and body image should not EVEN be a contributing factor in the dance industry. Instead, let’s EMBRACE ourselves, LOVE ourselves and accept all shapes and sizes in the dance community, while acknowledging and embracing that our students are keeping active and exercising while doing something they love!
Remember… Stretch marks are NORMAL. Skin rolls are NORMAL. Cellulite is NORMAL, and ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL!
Let’s love ourselves more, and let’s do better and be better, not only for ourselves but also our students and the younger generations.
If you would love to start a dance journey that is POSITIVE and INCLUSIVE, contact us today!
Written and Published by Madeline O’Connor- United Dance Teacher