If there is one thing the pandemic was helpful for, it was the fact that it allowed me to think. Like A LOT. One of the topics on the forefront of my mind has been life choices, both those that I made and those that were made for me. One choice that was made for me was the decision made to put me in dance classes at the age of two and a half. Little did I know at the time this decision would be detrimental to my mental health and my body image.
The first dance memory I can recall is when I was five. I was in a ballet class and the recital that year was Cinderella. My role was to play one of the mice. I vividly remember the costume. It was an ugly gray leotard with a tail sewed into the back. All the other girls in the class got to wear pretty soft pink leotards and I was devastated. The dance teacher sat me down and explained to me that there wasn’t a size that fit me to match the others. This would not be the last time I got this talk.
At the age of 10, in a Scooby-Doo themed dance I had to play Shaggy with a baggy men’s Halloween costume on, because none of the vendors carried sizes big enough for me. At the age of 14, I was in a hip-hop class that did a belly dancing piece. The costume was a crop top and beautiful flowing pants with gold coins sewn in. Like usual, my teacher ordered the largest size, and it didn’t fit. So, I had to wear two super tight sports bras to fit into the top and spandex to fit in the bottoms. Everything was so tight that I could barely breathe. During the recital my pants ripped right in two. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my entire life. That night I cried for hours, I desperately wanted to be skinny.
It became evident that people with my body type were not welcome in the dance world. The fact that a child had to suck in and hide parts of their body to participate in something they loved to do should not have been a thing. Yet, it still is.
This culture is not healthy for anyone. Dancers of all ages and sizes have had to deal with the consequences of a culture that idealizes a thin physique. This often leads to people having disorders such as anorexia nervosa. While I never suffered from anorexia, my dance experience did make me hate the skin I was in. I quit dance in 2013 and I’m still relearning to love myself.
Dance culture needs to change so that future generations don’t have this experience. Expanding the range of costume sizes would be a nice start. Figuring out how to make the dance world as a whole more accepting to different body types is the end goal. In sharing my story, my hope is that I contribute to a conversation that needs to be had. That slowly, but surely minds and hearts are changed. There’s a lot of work to be done.