I still distinctly remember trying on my very first recital costume when I was 5. I went crying to my mother because my thighs didn’t fit in the legs of the leotard and they were being squashed by the elastic.
Little did I know that this would be the first of many experiences I would have with my body being ‘wrong’ for dance.
I have spent my whole life in front of the mirror.
I started dancing when I was 4 years old and I absolutely fell in love with being in the studio and learning how to perform on stage.
However, there was a time when the mirror was the enemy and I could only see what I wanted to change — my big thighs, my lack of 6 pack abs, an extension that wasn’t high enough or leaps that weren’t light enough.
I have always had a muscular body build. I do not fit into the lythe and lanky stereotypical body build of a ballet dancer. I have big quads, broad shoulders, and overdeveloped calves. I struggled with this for a long time. My thighs never fit into jeans and my calves are too big for knee high boots. Shopping for clothes was a nightmare. Put all of this together with a life in a leotard in front of the mirror, and I became hyper critical of my body.
Looking for body friendly work
I was lucky enough to work for companies that saw my technique and ability, rather than my waist size. Through this experience, I found some comfort in my body, but it was short lived.
A few years ago, I started teaching dance full time in the studio setting. It had been a while since I was in front of a mirror for twenty-something hours a week.
I found myself staring at my body and finding imperfections. I had a difficult time seeing my body and not comparing it to the ‘perfect’ image in my head.
One day as I was demonstrating, I realized that everyone was staring at my body. I became self conscious thinking they were focused on whether or not I was skinny. That they were analyzing the size of my thighs or lack of six pack abs.
In reality, they were looking at my alignment, the shapes I was showing and the movement I was teaching. I had to tell myself this repeatedly.
I reminded myself that it was my job to show my body to my students as a teaching tool, not for criticism about my weight.
Getting past my body criticism
This is when I began to reframe the way that I saw myself in the mirror.
I started to see my body as a finely tuned instrument that has the ability to move with grace, agility, prowess, power, and passion. By noting my strengths I was able to move away from some of my inner critic’s negative thoughts.
I started telling myself one thing I found beautiful every day. Sometimes it was small, like the arches in my feet and other days it was big, like the strength that my ‘big’ (i.e. muscular) thighs possess.
Over the years I have become more empowered to embrace my body for its unique abilities and individual look. I was never a dancer that fit into the mold of tall and slim. I have always been muscular and liked weighted movement.
But the past still comes back
I still have my bad days where I think my body is wrong, my dancing is lacking, and I spend class bashing myself.
These days are tough, but I also realize that they will pass. They are now the rare day rather than the norm and I think that is pretty incredible.
Sometimes you’re haunted by the comments in your past: I will never forget the day my teacher told us we were leaping like elephants or when I was asked not to eat my whole apple.
Fall in love with your body
I will always have days when I don’t love my body, but I am strong enough now that I know my body is amazing.
My body allows me to express myself in a million different ways. If I had a different body, I wouldn’t move like me. I wouldn’t have my own unique qualities. So despite the fact that I am nowhere near ‘perfect’ I am perfectly myself and completely at home in all of the beautiful ways in which my body moves and provides for me daily.
My body is my instrument. It allows me to leap, roll, run, hike, slide, pirouette, kick, walk, and mostly, it allows me to live. The least I can do is love it in return.