Dancer’s Body and Other BS

Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel

After a workshop that I taught, a participant told me that she was told she shouldn’t take dance class by a dance class instructor because she doesn’t have a “dancer’s body”.  It struck a chord because I’ve heard this countless times.

Dancer’s body.  Swimmer’s Build.  Athletic physique.

Complete, Total and Utter Bullshit.

These ideas are constantly touted by two groups of people:

1.  People who want to sell us something “Buy my Taepilatyogalletboxing System and get that dancer’s body you’ve always wanted”

2.  People who rely on feeling superior to feel ok about themselves: “I have a dancer’s body so it doesn’t matter how well you dance, you can’t possibly be a dancer because you don’t have a dancer’s body.  I am therefore better than you and so my fragile sense of self-esteem and exaggerated sense of self-importance both remain intact”

Except that nobody actually has the right to declare anything about anybody else’s body. Nobody is required to do any kind of athletics or exercise, but anyone who wants to should be welcome.

Do you dance?  Do you want to?  Then you have a dancer’s body.

Do you swim?  Do you want to?  The you have a swimmer’s build. (Let’s try to remember that everything from minnows to whales swims, you know what I’m saying?)

Are you an athlete?  Do you want to be?  Then you have an athletic physique.

People can try to tell us otherwise, but happily we get to decide if we’re going to let people who are trying to sell us something or trying to put us down to make themselves feel better keep us from doing what we want to do. And we get to choose how we do it – do we want to find a comfortable accepting environment (even if it’s our living room)?  Do we want to crash the party with our “non-traditional” bodies?  It’s all up to us.

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28 thoughts on “Dancer’s Body and Other BS

  1. Thank you so much for this – this exactly what I needed to hear today. I climb & I bike long distances, but I weigh 240 pounds and I often think that I’d be better if I had a proper ‘climber’s body’ or ‘biker’s body’. Thank you for the reminder that my body is exactly what it needs to be.

  2. Back when I used to do ballet (some eight years ago–I’d still do it if I could afford to!) the instructor was an extremely slim woman, but she never belittled me about my physique and she never treated me any differently than any of her other students. I still remember her quite fondly and would recommend her to anyone who was looking for a ballet instructor.

    1. I feel the same way about all of mmy ballet teachers, past and current 🙂 It seems like a lot of body-policing comes from outside of dance (at least, when you’re a recreational dancer- perhaps when you’re a dance professional it’s different?).

  3. Super love this post! Seriously, this is something I’ve had to remind myself of a bunch in several areas of my life, not just when it comes to the size and shape of my body. I’m totally crashing the party!

  4. Love it! People are always surprised that I run marathons because I don’t have a ‘runner’s body.’ I love telling them that this (non-runner’s?) body is training for its first ultramarathon!

  5. Love this.

    It happens a lot in yoga too, from students, from would-be students, and from teachers. There’s this hangup that practicing yoga — or at least being a “dedicated yogi” — is directly related to one’s thinness and flexibility.

    And I do sort of understand misconception when it’s coming from someone who knows little about yoga. But I hate it when it comes from — and it does happen — someone who should know better, like a teacher. I’ve left studios like this in the past, and I’ve let them know why.

  6. Hi

    Just wanted to say that i enjoy reading your blogs.

    I smiled today at the athletes or dancers body thing, I have been exercising etc for the last year or so and people keep asking me how much weight I have lost.

    the answer is none I am still 95k, when I say I have not lost any weight they look at me and say well you must feel disappointed/ripped off. Actually no I don’t, I feel stronger, fitter and more confident in myself and my body. I no longer sugger aches and pains in my knees or back. I enjoy the buzz I get from working out and the fact I can feel the strength of my body and its muscles working. I lvoe the fact I am now able to trot around 3 k and build up a ncie healthy sweat, that I can leap and stretch in the aqua aerobic classes, that I can do all these things I thought I was too overweight to try. So no I am not disappointed that I have not lost weight. I am incredibly pleased at how my body has responded and how it has helped me see myself in a more positive powerful way. I don’t have a gym junkies body I have my lovely, strong, getting more agile, faithful one.

  7. It really does happen in every sport, doesn’t it? I’m a long-term student of karate, with a square, blocky middle-aged woman’s body. Most karateka realize that body-type doesn’t determine skill, but sometimes I’ll run into somebody who’s convinced that if you aren’t obviously muscular and buff (and young) or 90 and Asian, you can’t possibly be a threat. It always gives me disproportionate pleasure to chase their butts all over the ring – which I can almost invariably do, because they’ve already decided I’m not dangerous. Surprise is a wonderful thing.

  8. You have a traditional body. Painters in the renaissance used to love picturing women shaped like you, wearing little clothes. Just a thought that struck me.

  9. My seven-year-old daughter started taking ballet classes this year. She’s got a gorgeous round belly. Some of the girls in her class are super skinny. They all looked great in their tutus and learned a lot.

    The older teenage girl who danced the Sugarplum Fairy in their Nutcracker production did not have a ballet body. She had what some would call a stocky build. She danced the crap out of that part and was amazing.

  10. Inspiring. I quit ballet when I was a little girl because the instructor told me that instead of a tutu, I needed a four-four.

    1. What the ef? I hope that this instructor slipped on resin and got some sense knocked into her! I’m sorry that happened to you, I don’t think it’s ever to late to dance if that’s what you want to do!


      1. I dance at home for fun. Maybe I should look for a size positive ballet instructor willing to teach a 30+ plus size woman. Surely there’s someone in Nashville.

  11. I’ve just discovered your blog, and wanted to thank you for putting these messages out there on the Internet! I’ve been struggling myself with body image, and I’ve been trying to expose myself to lots of body-positive literature and images (it all started with “Lessons From The Fat-o-Sphere”) to help me re-align my expectations and view of myself. I am so grateful to find blogs like this one!!

    Also your mention of “everything from minnows to whales swims” reminds me of something my therapist said when we were discussing comparing ourselves to others: “Humans come in all shapes, just like breeds of dogs. You would never ask or expect a golden retriever to look like a poodle, so why expect a fat person to look like a skinny person, or a tall person like a short person?” It made me laugh, but it also made lots of sense.. 🙂

    Anyway. Thank you again for this wonderful blog!!

    1. Hi Allie,

      Thanks a bunch! I absolutely agree with you – things in nature come in all shapes and sizes – even our feet are really different lengths and widths – but our bodies are all supposed to fit into a very narrow ratio? That doesn’t make sense to me.


  12. I was told at sixteen I was too short and curvey to be a ballet dancer, so I switched to contemporary dance instead, which taught me so much about movement choice and how to dance without being occupied by fitting one mold. So much so in fact that now I’m working at a ballet camp as a mentor and role model to the kids here, as well as doing all the dancing.
    There is so often an assumption in dance that your physique defines how good you can get, and that certain roles should only go to people with a certain look.
    My last dancing job I worked with girls a foot taller than me was paid £100 a show. I take great delight in showing everyone that I can do everything they can, a few things they can’t and when I’m done I’ll go back and take the men’s class as well. So there.
    Your practice and your dedication and how you identify are what give you the right to be called a dancer, an athlete, a swimmer, not someone elses opinion of what those labels should look like.

  13. I’m coming at this from kind of the opposite side, I guess – I spent my childhood and adolescence being told that my body, which resembles my father’s, must be a ‘runner’s build,’ both because we are both naturally pretty slim and because he actually is an amazingly gifted long-distance runner. I do not have a ‘runner’s build’ in anything but the outward aesthetic! My body does not like to run; it’s a quick route to pain and long-term injury, for me. But I had it impressed upon me that I was a Natural Born Runner, with such earnest fervor, that I began to believe it was simply through my own personal failings and lack of character that I could not live up to my ‘true potential.’
    Thank you so much for this very thoughtful (and thought-provoking; I recognise that these kinds of problematic assumptions are present in me as well!) post. I absolutely agree that the notion of sport to body type as a 1:1 ratio is utterly superficial and can be very damaging. There may be some body structures that lend themselves to better performance – say, a tendency to build muscle, or natural flexibility – but it simply isn’t true that there is a monolithic ‘X-er’s build.’

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