29 Jun Perpetuating weight stigma in dance
I was told in my audition that I was fat.
I should’ve known right then and there that my year ahead studying at full-time (otherwise known as a Cert IV in Dance) was going to be tough.
“You have a pretty face but you are carrying too much weight, I’m only telling you so that you know what you need to change so you can be successful” …um thanks I guess?
The person who said this to me didn’t ask me who I was as a person, what I wanted out of a Cert IV in Dance, or what kind of dancer I wanted to be. They probably don’t even remember who I am. But those words had a profound effect on me, and a whole year of this messaging culminated into a complete loss of connection to dance and some pretty dark moments for my self-worth.
How dance education perpetuates weight stigma
The year that followed looked a little like this:
These overt attacks on my physical appearance seemed semi-hurtful at the time but mostly I believed them. Everyone who I saw in the industry had a model-like body and appeared in Bonds ads on the side. It felt virtually impossible to believe that maybe they were wrong, and I was fine just as I was.
Lucky for me, my personal hate for pyramid schemes quite literally broke the spell of believing what these so called experts-of-the-industry were spouting as truth. We were sat down as a group one day to discuss how we were all going to lose more weight.
How a pyramid scheme made me realise I was in the right
The director who shall-not-be-named said she was going to let us in on her secret. She had a magical way to lose weight that was “healthy” and “affordable” and “easy” and OMG WHAT IS THIS AMAZING THING THAT IS GOING TO BE THE ANSWER TO ALL MY PROBLEMS!!
One word: Isagenix.
If you don’t know what Isagenix is, they’re bull-shit meal replacement shakes filled with effed ingredients to make you think that you are full when in fact you are starving and running on chemicals. Turns out our director had recently become a (and I say this in the most aggressive inverted commas possible) “consultant” for Isagenix. This magical product was apparently going to give us all the tools to be a successful dancer and all for the “cheap” price of just $500 a month! 💸💸
At this point, I would like to acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged to have been doing an $11,000 course that many people can never consider doing due to the demanding schedule that often doesn’t allow much room for side hustles let alone working a job to pay for life’s little pleasures…you know, like rent and food. 🤷🏼♀️ I paid for this course myself and I lived off savings and Centrelink for the year, but I have wonderful sisters who fed me and supported me and I am very lucky for that.
Back to the $500…This was a CRAZY amount of money to me. I could never have afforded that as well as buying the 200g of protein you were required to eat on the side each week. And I was pretty sure most people in my course also couldn’t afford it. But out of the 30 people in my class, majority signed up.
I. Was. PISSED.
Not only was she making money from us on a course that was essentially just emotional abuse 5 days a week, but she was also now going to be making money from us signing up to Isagenix. This incident gave me the insight I had needed all year: these people don’t know anything. They are insecure teachers perpetuating harmful behaviour to reconcile with the way they themselves were treated by the industry.
The attitude change I needed
Although their behaviour didn’t change, my attitude did. I spent the remainder of the year focusing on my personal improvement. I finished the year and spent 3 months eating literally anything I wanted. It was glorious. I quit dance for 3 years following, but I’m now 7 years on, working full-time as a dance teacher at studios that value the psychological and emotional wellbeing of students. Since then, I have done a lot of personal internal work (and hours listening to Jameela Jamil) to change my problematic relationship with food and weight and so I can accept my body for what it is: an amazing vessel that allows me to experience all the f*ing amazing parts of life.
I can accept that there were other influences in my life that fed into my problematic relationship with my body that required unlearning. I can also accept that this dance institution did bring about immense personal growth that made me a better dance teacher (and human in general) who was more explicitly aware of how I was contributing to the perpetuation of body-shaming. What I refuse to believe is that the industry is a static entity that cannot change with progressive social awareness. Or that dance is unable to accept bodies as they come. That, I cannot accept.
Come as you are in my opinion. Find your community that too thinks this behaviour is totally effed. And bask in the gloriousness that is not accepting other peoples opinions as fact, or their pyramid schemes as gospel.
How we can break the cycle of weight stigma in dance
It’s sadly not surprising that my experiences are not unique or isolated. Weight stigma in dance is a real issue, and I hope this post has showed just how explicit and hurtful it can be. While this post has shared some overt aggressions when it comes to size and appearance, it can also happen much more covertly. At Disrupt Dance, we conducted a survey of dancers’ experiences of learning dance, and body-shaming was frequently reported by participants. To find out more about this research and learn how you can avoid these bad habits in your teaching, sign up to our free online mini-series – Breaking the Habit.