Body Positivity in Dance Education

There’s a widespread notion in the performing arts world that only people with certain body types can be dancers when this simply isn’t true. Any person can be a dancer if the have talent and have trained, no matter what their size or body shape is. 

Classical ballet is famous for its shapes and lines, and at any professional ballet performance, you’ll see only one body type on stage creating those shapes: thin, tall, and lanky. Some dancers argue that if you train like professional ballerinas do, eight days a week for years and years, your body will look that way no matter what. That is a misconception. Everyone’s body works differently, and some people’s natural, baseline, homeostatic body type (even at peak fitness) isn’t extremely thin, and their limbs aren’t extremely long, and that’s equally as okay as any other body that exists. All bodies are okay, acceptable, beautiful, worthy of admiration, and capable of athleticism and the performing arts.

Ballet, in particular, is an art form that unfortunately has a nasty underbelly of brutality concerning dancers’ bodies and wellbeing, but it has come a long way and many ballerinas are happy and healthy. However, there is still room for mindset-growth in this industry. There are ways to have a more inclusive dance troupe and to make choreography less harsh on the human body, it just requires some creativity. Many people love the traditional aspect of ballet, but perhaps it is time to part with tradition in some ways, particularly a damaging tradition, and embrace the myriad of possibilities that the world has to offer.

In 2014, Channel 4 came out with a three-part series called “Big Ballet” which followed 18 amateur plus-sized dancers as they prepared for 20 weekends to perform Swan Lake. The show caused some controversy amongst the performing arts community, but ultimately the show called out the elephant in the room: plus-sized folks are not usually allowed to perform professional ballet, and this is wrong. People of all body types, sizes, shapes, and colours can perform all types of dance. While the show had classic characteristics of reality TV including drama and some cringe moments, it proved an important point – the aesthetic ideal of ballet is arbitrary and unnecessary. Beauty and art can be found anywhere and can be creatively woven into all disciplines.

As you navigate your journey in the performing arts, remember that the way you look doesn’t limit you. It’s terrifying enough to get on stage and do something in front of people; your body doesn’t have to be something that holds you back. All bodies, no matter the size, shape, length, colour, or ability, is worth of art and attention. Body positivity in dance education is something that really needs to be discussed. There are some bad traditions that the performing arts community clings to, but we can be the ones to change that.