There is perhaps almost no activity so entwined with moving and knowing your body – both its aesthetics and its capabilities – than dance. Unlike things like modeling, we require acute awareness of our body’s capabilities. Unlike traditional athletes, we have to not only get the job done – but look good doing it too. Plus, in dance, our body is usually in contact with others or shown off through clothing.
I know I didn’t struggle with any sort of self-image issues in my youth… until I started to dance.
Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by incredibly fit, flexible, and toned dance stars. Granted, there are exceptions, but those are the anomalies – not the norm – when it comes to big-time dancers. When you are surrounded by these people, it is difficult to appreciate your own body for where it is in its dance journey right now. You may see young, fit, attractive girls or guys who are new to dance getting attention from top artists, dancing multiple songs, while you sit on the sidelines.
For me, I feel this much more keenly in my favourite dance – Zouk – than any other. Surrounded by curves and tiny waists with long, gorgeous hair on many of the most popular dancers, I found it hard for a long time to feel good about my body. I have short, thinner hair. I’m also taller than most, and if I put on any weight, it goes straight to my abs – not my butt or thighs. I got in a habit of comparing myself to other girls in the scene – and I started to feel darn crappy about my own body.
This translated into my dancing: not feeling good about myself made my dancing tentative; my styling became limp. I became afraid to express myself for fear of looking silly. I concentrated only on how I felt, hiding from the fact that I didn’t feel good about how I looked by concentrating on internal, connection-based feelings.
Self-Perception vs. the Perception of Others
Even if you don’t think you have a ‘rockin’ body, there is also a very strong chance that someone else thinks you do. I remember I went shopping with a girl who, by all accounts, is widely considered one of the most attractive women in the scene. Women want to be her. Men adore her. She moves her body as if she is an absolute bombshell.
… and she thought she was too heavy. Then she used me as an example of someone who was thin. I’m more than twice her dress size. Often, I’d rather look like her than myself. But yet, here she was, comparing herself to me. Why are we so much harsher on ourselves?
So how do we deal with this? How do we make our own body at home in the dances that we love?
We have to accept ourselves. One of my personal breakthrough moments happened when I stopped trying to ‘become’ the Zouk stars that I so admired. I was never going to be a 5’2″ girl with long, flowing hair, full hips, and a tiny waist. I always have been – and will be – myself. I will always have long legs and arms – so I’m much more able to create long, expressive lines… if I get over my fear of myself and use them.
There is power in being outside the norm. Being outside the norm means you have the best ability to change it, and to reverse expectations. You have the power to determine your relationship with dance – and your body is intrinsically tied to that. Whether it is big, tall, short, old, young, or anything else, your body is what enables you to dance. And if you rock your own body, others will see it as a rockin’ body.
Be gentle on yourself. There is no magic pill or thought that will take away the anxiety. Allow yourself to recognize that it’s OK to be self-conscious, but try to transform that insecurity into something constructive. Use the fact that you are outside of the ideal to create your own style. Inform your body with what makes you special.
You are special. You are of value in dance. And, even when you feel down on yourself, never let your insecurities keep you from doing what you love.
I loved this article and the previous article I read: “The Under-appreciated Skill: Following”. I feel that both articles hit on sensitive topics in the dance world that apply to new and seasoned dancers in the Latin Dance world. I have danced in Korea, Europe and the U.S. and I must say that the things dancers face here, in the U.S. is what you are talking about! Maybe there is something to these issues as well that involves the country/cultures that surround Latin dancing/social dancing and the dancers themselves….maybe a topic for a future article!
Zouk has certainly made me more aware of my physical imperfections. At least this heightened awareness has encouraged me to improve my diet. I now follow Whole 30 often enough to no longer be concerned about diabetes.