Dancers of all disciplines struggle with body image. It is a reality that is sometimes exploited or aggrandized in the media yet ignored or aggravated by those that have a direct impact in the lives of dancers. Elena Ciccotelli is a new blogger but long-time dancer. In addition to her experience as a personal trainer and desire to encourage cross-training in dance, she has a passion for facilitating discussion about the role that body image plays in dance. She recently wrote Getting Past the Mirror: Body Image and Dance, and received numerous emails from young dancers, expressing gratitude for her willingness to approach this issue. In her guest post for today, she includes and addresses some of these responses, and speaks about her own experiences which have helped her to reduce negative self-talk.
Body Image and Dance: Part Deux
Since posting my last blog entry “Getting Past the Mirror: Body Image and Dance,” I have received numerous emails from young dancers who expressed an overwhelming gratefulness for the content of this entry. Here is one dancer’s response:
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this blog!!!!!!!!!
I know many dancers who possess unimaginable strength but do not have the “ballerina body” -even though I think that they are some of the most beautiful girls that I know. This is the one thing about ballet that angers me – all of the unfairness. I know what it’s like to constantly think one’s body is inadequate – it is the worst feeling in the world. Last year, I felt invisible like I blended into the wall, and I thought that losing weight would change that….
…Even though I lost all that weight, I still felt invisible, which goes to show that being emaciated will never get one anything in the long run, except a ton of health problems and a really hard time trying to get healthy again. I wish so much that I can accept myself as I am – which is something (despite my inability to do so) that every ballerina needs to do.
Thanks for being so uplifting and inspiring…keep doing what you are doing.”
Another email that I received was also very poignant because it targeted some common fears that every dancer faces. Here is an excerpt from the email as well as the advice I suggested:
…I think it is very important to feel good about your body and how you look. But lately, I have actually been feeling a little uncomfortable about how I look. I’m trying not to worry about it, but I still do sometimes. I think it is because I am comparing myself to everyone else in my dance classes….I really want to feel good about how I look, but it’s hard. And one of my friends is always saying that it is good for dancers to be small and she is glad she’s so small because it will make it easier for her to be a professional dancer someday. I try not to believe her but she sometimes makes me feel bad about how I look. Can you help me at all? I want to feel comfortable when I dance and not worry about how I look.”
First, I just want to say, you are not alone! Please do not think that you are the only dancer who faces this! Body image, especially among dancers is probably the least talked about issue, but it affects us all in so many ways. For years, I have struggled with body image because I was constantly comparing myself to others and I always felt that my body was inadequate. Of course it doesn’t help when all you see publicized in the dance community is emaciated girls leaping through the air and a lack of advocates for a healthy body image. Sadly, this “body ideal” just perpetuates body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem from generation to generation. But, why do we allow this to continue? Perhaps it is because we are all naturally demanding of ourselves and just accept that this “body ideal” is just the nature of dance. Or, is it an unspoken rule that directors, instructors, casting agents, and choreographers enforce but are afraid to admit due to political incorrectness? All of these questions come to mind when you voiced your concern and that is why I thought it was appropriate to post a blog based on this issue.
In terms of dealing with body image, there are so many ways we can become derailed in our quest to be happy with our bodies. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what steps you need to take. However, I can tell you what has helped me a great deal. As I mentioned in my previous blog, seeking an alternative training method in addition to dance, like strength and cardiovascular training, has allowed me to discover another way to take control of my body. Believe it or not, I realized that I was less obsessed with “what I looked like” when I trained and I found this to be extremely liberating. Training helped me to take away the constant critique and judgment I placed upon myself whenever I took class. For me the goal of training was more about achieving overall well-being, which diverted the focus from an appearance oriented mindset to a healthier one. Plus, training simply made me feel good about myself because I was challenging the way I was used to working my body. In turn, this actually helped change the perceptions I had about myself.
A simple technique you can try is to pick at least one physical attribute that you think is special and unique. The next time you take class, think about this attribute and how it contributes to your individuality when you dance. Do not dwell on the negatives! We can all generate a laundry list of defects that we see in our bodies without much hesitation. This is counter-productive! I know it may sound redundant, but a little positive thinking can really go a long way.
One final thought, when it comes down to it, dance is really all about what you can bring to the table. Do not let body image stop you from becoming the best dancer YOU can be….no one else, just you. By developing your own personal sense of artistry, people will notice. Do not be discouraged and think positive!
Visit www.trainerdiva.com to read more on body image and cross training for dancers by Elena Ciccotelli