Los Angeles

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Camp Ballet- The Dancer's Body

 I debated whether or not I should do a Camp Ballet post about body issues, as it can be a sore subject for a lot of people (including myself) but it's been on my mind lately and I felt like it was time to write something about it.  

I often joke that I quit ballet because I was hungry.  Usually (depending on my audience and my delivery) I get a laugh from this comment, but in all seriousness that statement is basically true.  I have a strong and muscular body, I'm fairly short, and I have a wide rib cage.  While I have never been fat or overweight, I don't have an ideal ballet body type--I was told this when I was 10 years old.  Ballerinas are supposed to be thin, tall, long and lean and (you may hate me for saying this) but there's a reason for that.  

More than any other form of dance, ballet has tradition.  There is a tradition in the stories, in the costumes, in the way we take class and the lines we are expected to achieve with our bodies.   Certain lines and particular positions look better on certain body types and I think that's just a fact.  So I understand why certain choreographers and artistic directors want dancers that look a certain way.  It's a visual art form, so it makes sense for there to be a standard for how it should look and that a lot of that depends on how the dancers look.  So I understand all that.  

But that doesn't mean I agree with it.  Because I didn't have the right "look,"  I spent a lot of time making up for that in technique.  I thought that if I could dance better than the skinny and tall dancers, my short stature and muscular legs would be forgiven.  I worked extra hard to be able to jump higher, turn more and dance more gracefully than the next girl.  I also made up for my body type with stage presence and strong acting chops.  I think I got most of my jobs based on my ability to win the audience over with my stage presence.  And I tried to do this all while dieting and limiting my calorie intake to about 1200 a day.  

But still, I'd see less able dancers (who were skinnier) getting cast in parts over me.  I'd see them struggle with the turns and steps that I could do so easily and I would feel so frustrated.  No matter how good a dancer I was, I couldn't ultimately change the way I looked.  By the time I was 20 I was exhausted.  I had spent a decade worrying about my body.  Hating my ribs for being so wide.  Pinching my skin and wishing it would just dissolve away.  That's when I stopped.  And it was the right thing for me to do.  

As soon as I took a step away from the dance world, I got a new perspective.  I had an amazing body in the real world.  In the real world people would ask me how I got such toned and muscular legs.  In the real world I was told I looked too skinny and need to go to In & Out.  In the real world I could eat!  In the real world I could be happy about my body and feel proud to be healthy.  I started to feel happier and I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to look a certain way, and you know what?  As soon as I did that I lost weight!  It was like my metabolism changed and everything balanced out.  I felt happier, healthier and I think I looked better than I ever had before!

So what's the moral of all this?  Why did you just read 5 paragraphs about my body issues?  Well, I suppose that I wanted to share with you how I was able to overcome my feelings of dissatisfaction with my body-type.  The ballet world will always supply some pressure for ballerinas to look a certain way.  I think it's getting better than it was, but it will always be there.  There will always be a pressure on dancers to be thin.  And that's just part of the gig, to a degree.  But I hope that none of you allow it it affect you the way it did me.  Regardless of the crap you may be getting about your body, there is no reason to cultivate self-loathing over the way you are shaped.  You really are beautiful!  And remember it's all relative.  What is too heavy in the ballet world may be super thin in the real world!  You just need to remember the bigger picture.

Since going back to dance, I have never been told I need to lose weight and I think it is mainly because I look the way I should and I am dancing for myself.  I don't allow the pressure of how someone thinks I should look dictate my life.  I've found a balance in eating healthy and exercising, while still taking pleasure in eating and accepting the way I look.  Every now and then I find myself looking in the mirror and starting to pick out the flaws just like I used to...when that happens I stop myself, take a breath and go have something to eat!  ;)     


  1. I'm glad you wrote this. This is such a hard subject and I'm saying a prayer for you! I went through a lot of this while I was a dancer.

  2. I quit dance (though never professionally) for more or less the same reasons. A 5'0" dancer who is top heavy never seemed to be the ideal. I totally get the aesthetic of ballet, but I must say, it's rather discouraging when your skill is prime but what's holding you back isn't something you can change.

    Now I'm dancing more for "fun" and have found that balance where I'm totally happy with who I am :) Great post!

  3. I am not a dancer nor will I ever be shaped like one, or even close to it. Your post speaks volumes though. If I had a penny for every negative thought I had about my body everyday, I wouldn't have to worry about finding a job after college! Thanks for posting this.

  4. Well done you for addressing this tough issue Heather. You're a brave, tough little cookie! (I intended the food reference btw)

  5. I love this post! Not everyone is willing to admit this ugly truth about dance. Body issues were of the main reasons I quit. Now having come back, obviously not the long and lean type, I still struggle with feeling ugly. I have to remind myself to forget about that and just enjoy the movement!


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