October 17, 2013 by Nicole
I’ve been really excited about sharing this post. When I tell my story about going back to dance, I often get complimented and encouraged. But then a funny thing happens when I respond with “you should come with me!”. I hear all kinds of resistance to beginning (or returning to) dance: I’m too old, I’m not coordinated enough, I’m too fill-in-the-blank, depending on your personal hesitation to start something new. One of the most common of these is “I’m too overweight to dance.”
I think the public perception of dance is centered around a couple of very specific body types – the ballerina body or the slim, athletic physique that shows up in music videos, on tour with pop artists and most frequently on shows like So You Think You Can Dance. It’s not hard to understand why differing body types would feel like there’s no place for someone who looks like them. I feel like the dance community in general, especially those with so much visibility, could do a better job of presenting and showcasing the body diversity within our art form.
Personally, I love the way Jennia Shanley put it: “You’re a person – you’re good enough to dance. The only requirement is that you show up.” That’s it.
There is definitely a place for all shapes, sizes and bodies in dance. Being overweight does not prevent you from taking part in dance. Weight is not tied to your ability to learn or execute movement or styles of dance. Your inner artist is not dictated by weight. How you feel about your weight has more bearing on whether or not it becomes an issue for your dance training than the weight itself. In fact, beginners of any/every shape will have more in common with each other than dancers of their same size.
I can speak from my personal experience that the Center for Contemporary Dance welcomes dancers of all shapes, sizes and body types. There is absolutely a place for plus sizes here. Every dancer is recognized for their own personal ability and potential. Every dancer receives personal attention and is pushed to achieve their best. They truly stand behind their mission statement that “Dance is for everyone.”
I also know that this isn’t always the case…other dance education facilities may have different priorities and it’s important (and absolutely possible!) to find one whose goals overlap with yours.
I would hate for someone’s weight to deter them from trying dance. Aside from the physical activity it provides – and everyone knows I prefer ballet to the treadmill! – there are so many aspects of dance training you’d miss out on. Learning to dance forges a mind-body connection. It’s about finding and then exceeding your physical limits and capabilities. It’s mind training – tying memorization with muscle memory and musicality. It’s expressing your emotional self through your physical one. And it’s time you take just for yourself – when you’re dancing or taking class, you’re honoring yourself by dedicating time to something that’s important to you. And that’s a worthy use of time and energy.
As a plus-size person pursuing dance, are you going to have long-term career opportunities? I think a candid answer is, that depends. Long-term prospects for a performance career can be affected by your ability to find employers who are looking for someone like you. A career as a dancer is often dependent on being cast & sometimes, you’re just not what they’re looking for, physically. In the same way that not every female is born tall enough to be a Rockette or short enough to be easily partnered in a traditional ballet pas de deux, there could be a specific physique required for a job. And there are alternatives – either by creating opportunities for yourself, perhaps by starting your own company or creating works on/for yourself or by finding non-performance opportunities that keep you within the dance world. In other words, if dance is something you want to pursue throughout your life, there are many ways to do so, regardless of your size.
In short, I think this is an area where we, as the larger dance community, have much room for improvement. But I’m very proud to be part of an organization that values body diversity and I’m happy to add my voice into this conversation. I hope it continues.
What’s your perspective on plus-sizes in dance? Has your weight kept you from participating in dance?