Breaking down the pressures of body image within Dance

As a society we are very good at comparing our body sizes to those who seem fitter than us. Sometimes this can help if we know we need to improve our fitness however, this becomes are hindrance if we begin comparing or restricting our diet too much to become a certain way.

The dance industry is the worst for this. A few years ago if you were anything more than a size 10 you were unlikely to be successful in auditions. Research shows that dancers are about three times as likely to experience an eating disorder compared to the general public.

I know from my own experiences with my ballet teacher commenting as soon as any of us put weight on or lost it! Now she is from a generation that had rations and didn’t eat a lot of the sugary foods that we now have, I have seen girls in the class be truly embarrassed when she commented on their weight!

I’ve also got a couple of friends who did suffer with anorexia due to the comparing of how they looked to how others look. There’s people within my friendship circle who always say that they wish they had my figure yet for me, I’m not as in shape as I’d like to be.

I take it as a compliment but also see it as a potential pressure that as a dance teacher I ‘should’ look a certain way!

Whilst I was subjected to comments when I’d put on weight or lost it, I had a knack of being able to lose weight over Christmas! I also had the ability to let the comments slide and not restrict my eating at any point. Even now when I don’t feel happy with how I look, I’m not cutting foods out my diet, I’m learning to portion control and not eat a whole chocolate bar in 1 sitting for example.

As a dance teacher it’s my responsibility in part to educate my students and their parents on healthy eating and using positive terminology.

Eg when they do jumps, if they’re landing heavy, instead of saying ‘you sound like a heard of elephants’, reminding them to use their plie to soften their landing.

Wording is everything and if I can aim to use positive language and also show them how I’m staying healthy without restricting my diet then there will be hopefully be less eating disorders within young people and dance.

The industry is slowly changing and you’re seeing more variety of body shapes in shows etc. There’s still a way to go and the media certainly has a big part to play.