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My Body Image Story in Ballet

When you start dancing, it’s about the joy of it. You just love to move, and you enjoy the challenge of striving to be better, stronger, more lovely. There’s this great sense of achievement when you’re able to improve something from a technical or artistic perspective. It’s about growth.

As your journey in dance progresses, you become more aware of the physical aesthetic. We get messages that this is a thin art form. Because of the age you start ballet, it’s not uncommon to take the messages you’re receiving from teachers, artistic directors, and the dance world and come to the conclusion that thinner is just better.

After my first summer intensive away, my teacher tapped me on the thigh and told me, “that wasn’t there before.” I had gained weight over the summer. I was 13 and had not yet gone through puberty, so it made perfect sense. My takeaway from her actions and words was that I should do something to change my body.

body image in ballet
Photo from the end of my first Summer Intensive away from home.

I decided that my thighs were not OK for ballet. I had to make them smaller. So I started a journey of damaging practices with food that lasted for nearly 15 years. 

Dieting at any age is not sustainable. A true, total transformation is necessary to make positive, healthy, long-term adjustments. It took me until my mid-late 20s to figure that out, but I’d like you to know and believe that truth now. 

I was able to make it to the professional level despite my struggles. Not all dancers see that end. Many burn out well before achieving that “pro dancer” job title.

Wherever you are with your technique, it’s easy to think that if your body were different, you would look like a better dancer. You would instantly be a better dancer. Let’s try to erase that concept from your mind. Better dancing CAN happen now, independent of how your body looks.

During my first professional dancing job, I was living alone. I was in a new city and had some friends in the company, but overall, the experience was quite riddled with stress. My food struggles were exacerbated by stress and loneliness. 

My dance journey became almost solely about my body. It was about how I looked and how big I was much more than technical or artistic growth.

If you’re struggling with this, I want you to know you’re not alone. Many dancers fall into the pattern of restricting food then overeating. It easily becomes a yo-yo cycle that has a huge negative impact on your confidence in yourself and your dancing. If you fear you might be in disordered eating territory, speak to a therapist or seek treatment. I work with many dancers as a health coach while they’re also working with a therapist.

You can move through this struggle. Just because other dancers might not admit it to you, it doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. They’re likely worrying about how they look or how they think they should look.

One of the big shifts in perspective that helped me to move past my ballet body image story was the realization that everyone is walking around much more concerned about what’s going on in their own head than what you look like, the things you consider your “flaws,” or your body.

Want some more in-depth actionable support on this topic? Check out the upcoming free workshops.

Check out this related post :   How to Deal with Criticism in Dance

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If you’re working through body image struggles, eating issues, or how to approach food in a more balanced, healthy way, consider enrolling in The Dancer’s Best Body Program.

This post was originally shared in January of 2018.

It was edited for content and clarity in August of 2021.

My Body Image Story in Ballet
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Jess Spinner

Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Holistic Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Coach for high level dancers. She founded The Whole Dancer in 2015 after identifying a greater need for balance, wellness and support in the dance world. Since The Whole Dancer was founded, Jess has worked with 100's of dancers worldwide at top companies and schools. She has been featured in or written for Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine.

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