Being Body Positive in the World of Dancesport

Artwork by Candace La

Like all women, I’ve been hyper aware of how my body looks from a very young age. I haven’t owned a pair of shorts since I was 11. I do not like the way my legs look. When I joined the swim team when I was 14, I looked forward to the workouts, hoping that they might make me thin enough to wear shorts. I certainly did get thinner, so thin my pediatrician prescribed me a diet of pizza and ice cream. I still wouldn’t wear shorts. This experience taught me that my feelings about my legs have very little to do with anything within my control and everything to do with the unrealistic image in my head. I still won’t wear shorts, but I also won’t let my self-consciousness about my legs stop me from pursuing a hobby where I compete in a short skirt.

Competitive ballroom is aesthetic, subjective, and athletic. Slender seems to be aesthetically appreciated in dance and extra weight can be a hindrance to our performance. However, everyone has different lifestyle and genetic realities. Our culture is already filled with predatory messages telling us we need to buy something because we aren’t good enough already. (I see you, Sephora.) As dancers our bodies are our instruments, our medium, and the source of our artistic expression. We need to care for our bodies and caring for our bodies must go beyond the stereotypical diet and exercise, but must also include not torturing ourselves with unrealistic expectations. In the context of ballroom dancing, here are a few things I’ve considered in an effort to be kinder to myself:

Thing 1: Ballroom dancing is athletic. As we continue our never ending quest towards better technique and perfecting our lines and running our rounds, we are doing great things for our muscle tone and cardiovascular health.

Thing 2: Confidence, skill, and passion are tremendously aesthetically attractive. These things have absolutely nothing to do with your BMI.

Thing 3: Just because she is beautiful doesn’t mean you aren’t as well. There are plenty of zero sum battles in competitive ballroom dancing, but no one gets a prize for being the fairest one of all. Just because the girl who beat you is beautiful doesn’t mean you aren’t too.

Thing 4: Comparison is the thief of joy and Instagram is not real. One of the most cruel things you can do to yourself is wonder why you don’t look like her. 

Thing 5: If you are able to ballroom dance, your body is already all it needs to be. How incredible is it that you can move though the world most of the time without debilitating pain or hindrance? How incredible is it that your body can do something as difficult as dance?

Our bodies are not perfect and neither is our dancing. Let’s do it anyway. 

According to illustrator Candace La, “The ideas [of this piece] reminded me of ideals relevant in both martial arts and dance. Both require much practice, dedication, and body awareness. Martial arts does not focus on someone’s body type. I’ve also seen how people have utilized their experience with martial arts to help them significantly with partner dances.”

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