In An Industry Built On Body Shaming, There’s A Revolution Afoot

In An Industry Built On Body Shaming,

There’s A Revolution Afoot

For most of us, our dance life begins around three years olds; tiptoeing in tutus and tights. We are not self-conscious, in fact, we are totally uninhibited. We do not notice the size or shape of our bodies, we just merely enjoy the way it can move to the music and perform. Our pink, whimsical attire is quite gratifying to look at in the mirror. We are perfection and we know it.

Preserving the sweet feelings of how we perceive our bodies can easily change as we grow and develop. It’s so easy to begin poking and prodding in front of the mirror. Noticing the way our leotard fits and our tights grab our waistline and ultimately that it may not pull or grab at your classmates the same way. The fixation eventually takes precedence over why we are wearing form-fitting attire and why we are here; to dance.

"We must continue to nurture and build our dancers up to acknowledge the wonders of our bodies; not just how they look in the mirror."

To combat the judgement of society, peers and body pressure we place on ourselves; we must stay focused on the mind/body connection that is instilled in dancers from their days of creative movement.

We must continue to nurture and build our dancers up to acknowledge the wonders of our bodies; not just how they look in the mirror. Sometimes I will tell my younger dancers to talk on their feet or legs to make sure they behave; feet pointing, legs pulled up and knees tracking over toes in a plié. As they grow, we focus on feeling pride as their legs work to straighten in a tendu rather than disappointment because they’re not completely straight. What we are able to do with our bodies as dancers is quite spectacular and for me, a critical part of my teaching from the very start is making sure my students celebrate that. Dance workshop teaches a diverse group of dancers who approach dance with varying aspirations. Some of our students pursue a formal, pre-professional path while others simply come for recreation and physical activity. Yet despite their purpose, there is a level of competitiveness that will always exist as with any sport.

Many times, this competitive spirit extends beyond skill and includes physical comparisons as well.  We’ve learned over the years this has to be addressed as early as possible – we do believe skill is within your control but physical differences may not be and in most cases, should not. It’s important to us that this message resonates with young dancers growing up in a studio environment and it’s a pillar our practice is based on. It doesn’t have to be said but rather shown by treating all dancers impartially. Regardless of your shape and size the expectations for you are the same. If you’ve come to dance, you will do just that. Achievement is acknowledged in skill and dedication.

This approach empowers our young dancers and alters their focus to what should matter in their practice. It garners immediate love and awe for the physical body.  While no two bodies are the same they are equally wonderful and strong.

Approaching our bodies with admiration for how high they can jump, deep they can stretch, quick they can pirouette builds tremendous confidence. Our bodies work so hard for us and will push as far as our minds can go.

Instilling this mindset as early as possible is the best preparation for the teenage years when the pressures and insecurities creep up on almost everyone. Appreciating your body for its strength and all of the things it can achieve on the dance floor is always on full display. How it can balance your entire body weight on one foot in pointe shoes is still astounding to me no matter how many times I’ve seen it. What about watching a dancer execute several pirouettes or fly overhead to jete´? And our students know their practice isn’t limited to the studio and the hours they spend with us each week. Providing their bodies with the proper nutrition is essential. If you want peak performance you must feed your body what it needs. It’s what fuels, heals and strengthens.

"Our students know their practice isn’t limited to the studio and the hours they spend with us each week."
"It is truly incredible to watch a group of dancers of all shapes and sizes visually blend together through their execution of steps."

There is certainly a shift in the professional dance community and an increasing emphasis on positive body image. It is truly incredible to watch a group of dancers of all shapes and sizes visually blend together through their execution of steps. Although physically they look nothing alike, through technique, performance quality and passion they are able to become one. The movement unifies the dancers and reminds the viewer what can be achieved through discipline and the belief that your body and mind are boundless.

The dance community’s view of what a dancer looks like is evolving.

Once a business known for hiring specific body types, talent and individuality is becoming the prerequisite these days. And talent comes in all shapes and sizes. Dancers are being hired for their uniqueness more than ever. Technique, personal style, hair, skin, personality, and fierceness all play into the equation at an audition.

Having “a dancer’s body” is no longer required for entry. If dancers are confident in how they look, feel and dance they will project it to casting agents, choreographers, and the world.  If the dancer can move his or her body with grace and poise at any shape, weight or height they are successfully dancing. There are no preconceived notions about dancers anymore. Judgment may only be based on what happens in the movement, not simply by how they look in stillness.

We have all experienced moments of insecurity, times where we compare ourselves to others and feel discouraged. Combatting this, I really believe is a work in progress for everyone. But in my world, the more we reinforce what dance is truly about, the way our bodies can move, lengthen and strengthen through hard work and practice, the more overall pride we will feel in ourselves and can tackle negative feelings. I have it on good authority!

PEACE, LOVE, and DANCE.

Nanci Grasso

Nanci Grasso is the Founder and Director of Dance Workshop New York which is the spin-off to her family-owned business operating on Long Island since 1978. Nanci runs the business alongside her mother, MaryAnn Grasso, the originator of Dance Workshop.

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