A Dancer On The Darker Side of Dance Life
There’s a lot that can be said about dance. I just recently talked about it in a humorous light as I discussed the now trending “left shark” moment of the SuperBowl. I could also analyze a ballet class’s structure down to the very specifics of articulating each metatarsal, and I could try and explain how some pieces of choreography have brought me to tears. Dance is a beautiful art form that has consumed my life for as long as I can remember, I have grown in so many ways because of it. Unfortunately, there are many negatives that come with dance.
It’s pretty common to associate being thin with being a dancer because, for the most part, we all are. There is a huge amount of pressure to maintain your weight not only because you’re staring at yourself in a mirror with a leotard and tights on all day, but also because being thin aids in partnering and line formation.
No matter what you say about body type and weight prejudice, when it comes to dance, it’s an obvious fact that lifting a lighter person is easier than lifting a larger one. Maneuvering more weight in space takes more effort, can feel uncomfortable, and larger limbs can make legs look shorter and positions look less than ideal. That’s the harsh reality of the profession, and we can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. Choosing to be a dancer is not the same as just picking up a hobby. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a mindset.
Now because of this pressure to “look a certain way,” our perceptions of what we see in the mirror and what goes on our plate can become distorted, ESPECIALLY at a young age. Dancers are one of the top sufferers of disordered eating, and until someone finds a way to implement regular diet education into our training or shift our thought processing into thinking our “big thighs” actually look good in pink tights, it’ll pervade the dance world.
Girl’s analyze their figures, become self-conscious and critical about how they look, and about their weight all before they hit puberty. Once that happens, things can start to get really bad. By the time dancers get to the age of 18, there seem to be two fates: continuing on or burning out. I, personally, stopped completely and believed that removing myself from the pressures of staying thin for my craft would help me regain some of my self-confidence and remove all my fucked-up perceptions on diet and body image.
Turns out, that stuff is still in my head. I still have urges to skip meals to “save calories” even though I’m in a major that proves WITH SCIENCE that you need to eat. I still have voices in my head that tell me to go do an extra hour of cardio after my day is over even though I know it’ll be of no benefit to me.
I myself was never a sufferer of an eating disorder, nor was I exercise bulimic, but over the years of being out of dance, I’ve noticed that the dark side of dance has stuck with me unwillingly. I always knew that it’d leave a mark on me, but I never knew that this destructive way of thinking would still be present in my life today, that I’d still continue to have moments of hating my body even though I don’t have to step into a leotard each and every day.
There’s something that dance does to people that I believe goes unnoticed until after you’ve left the dance world. I had always thought that I escaped the unfavorable conditions and mental breakdowns that resulted from always being told to stay in shape (even though we were already dancing everyday).
As you leave the dance world, you expect for your priorities to instantly change and for your perceptions to shift about everything. This doesn’t seem to happen. Rather, you start to become more aware of what you left behind: the mental tricks you used on yourself, and how skewed your ways of perceiving diet and exercise were, and how harsh you were/are on your body.
When stepping out into the world and excluding dance, that dancer mindset just becomes more apparent, and even harder to let go of. I’m around “normal” people every day that continuously say how little I eat; yet I still feel like I’m eating too much. Admirers compliment me on my body when I’m still totally unsatisfied with my figure. It’s torturous to be trapped in that way of thinking.
Making Matters Worse
Others come down on you for being so hard on yourself. You are told how wrong you are for feeling so down about your body and that your point of view shouldn’t be so critical.
It isn’t that simple. A dancer’s (and former dancer’s) insecurities don’t stem from normal causes, we’re artists for crying out loud. Our bodies are our canvas, our paintbrushes, and our masterpiece. The critical outlook we have stems from the pressures of fitting into a mold to get a job. It stems from being in a studio all day long surrounded by mirrors. A dancer’s life is so focused on appearance because it has to be. It’s all about the image seen by the choreographer, by the teacher, by the judge, and by the audience.
Even when you leave dance and aren’t in that environment, you still maintain that way of thinking. And being that you come from a world unlike the one you’re now submerged in, you can be made to feel misunderstood and ultimately isolated.
Dance Is A Monster
It can be a rewarding outlet while also being a toxic drug to one’s mind. I’d never tell someone to give it up because of what it can do, but I’d definitely stress the likelihood of being subject to a life of mental games. Dancers are surrounded by the pressures to diet, to want to be skinnier because the art demands it of us.
Even when we step away from the studio, the thoughts and critical perspective we lived with for so long are not easily abandoned. Dance is rewarding in so many ways, but has the potential to be just as harmful as it is good.