Movement and Looking “Right”

I'm not a big fat panda. I'm THE big fat panda.

I took a Zumba class tonight that had a lot of latin hip movement.  After class one of the women came up to me and said that I was a “great dancer” but that she thought I should “tone down the hip movement” because it “just looks dirty on someone your size…it’s not your fault…I mean, no offense…” she trailed off, I assume because I was looking at her like she was out of her damn mind.

Okie dokie.  First of all, I don’t know why people say these things to me.  I was wearing a shirt with a picture of Kung Fu Panda that says “I’m not a big fat panda.  I’m THE big fat panda” so you would think that she might have caught the Fat Pride wave but I guess not.

I got some control over my facial expression and decided to try responding with a series of questions in the faint hopes that she would lead herself to some kind of  revelation: “Why do you think you feel that way?”

“Um, I guess it’s because you have so much more body – it just looks more…decadent… when you do it.  Obviously you have great technique.”

“And you feel that’s a bad thing?|

“It makes me uncomfortable”

“And you feel that the solution is to tell me that I should move my own body based on what makes you comfortable?”

“I don’t know what else to do”

“May I make a suggestion?”

“Sure”

“You could try looking at your own biases and prejudices about people of size.  Would you have said that same thing to a dancer about her skin color?”

“Oh, I honestly hadn’t thought of that.  Oh my gosh, I’m …holy cow I was totally out of line – I’m so sorry.  Thank you for talking with me about this.”

I love it when a plan comes together.  (I also love it when somebody says “holy cow”, I don’t know why.)  Seriously, I’m really happy that I could help her through that and that she was willing to be open to rethinking her strategy.  But it brings up an issue that I still sometimes have as a fat dancer.

I typically dance “kinesthetically”- When I watch someone do a move, I feel how it feels to do it in my body and then my body can reproduce it without much trouble.  That’s all well and good but my coach Rowdy will back me up that this does not work for me in Waltz or West Coast Swing. For whatever reason, I just don’t “feel” those dances.  This created a problem because, not matter what I did I never looked like other dancers. I would work on something, then look at the mirror or video and it wouldn’t “look right”.  My attempts to look like other people’s bodies lead me far away from proper technique.

I realized the problem one day when my friend, the brilliant plus sized model/actress/life stylist CJ Legare, was talking about the difficulty of making clothes for fat people because of the varied three dimensionality of our bodies.  In other words, our bodies are so differently shaped from each other and from the way that thin people’s bodies are shaped that it’s much more difficult to make clothes for us.  Eureka!  That was the problem with my dancing. I almost exclusively see dancers who are thin and so I’ve become conditioned to think that what looks “right” is however a thin body looks.

The bad news is that the is really prevalent, and that some jackasses try to make themselves feel better by making fun of the way fat people look when we move.  (Because they are so very concerned with our health that they discourage us from moving our bodies.  Wait, that doesn’t make any sense….)

The good news is that just because that’s the way it’s always been doesn’t mean that’s how it will always be. And those of us who enjoy movement and athletics have the power to start changing it.  One of the super coolest parts of my trip to San Francisco (and there were many super cool parts) was attending a rehearsal of Big Moves Bay Area.  They were so incredibly welcoming to me and their rehearsal was a lot of fun and hard work (Kick Army!!!) It struck me as we leaped, transitioned to the floor, spun and kicked, that dancing looked amazing on us.  We didn’t need to look like thin people to be dancers, we are dancers and so the way that we look is perfect.  Dance has always been about evolution, and we fat dancers are evolving it in our own awesome way.

I think that can be the case for lots of types of movement.  Most of the people we see moving are thin but that’s just what’s happening – not what has to happen in the future.  Not only is it rarely about “looking right”, but in truth “looking right” is different for us than what we are used to seeing, so we get to create that for ourselves.  And this is one of those awesome times that we can change things just by doing what we love to do.  The more fat runners, cyclists, mountain climbers, dancers, soccer players, Zumba participants etc. there are, the more we get to see what movement looks like on a fat body. Hell we may even *gasp* normalize fat athleticism and how awesome would that be?!

And if people have something negative to say about that then let’s marvel at the fact that they can still be heard with their heads so very far up their asses and hope that they get that colorectal head extraction for Christmas this year, then go about the business of being us and changing the world.

68 thoughts on “Movement and Looking “Right”

  1. I am in awe of the way you handled this person who felt you should be living according to HER rules and what made HER uncomfortable. Apparently seeing a woman of size dancing and looking sexy just blew her tiny little fuses. Kudos to you, Big Panda!

  2. I kinda wish I had that shirt. I haven’t dealt with any anti-body nonsense at the Y where I work out, but I think a lot of people in my Zumba classes would get a kick out of the joke. (OTOH, I really need to stop saying stuff like, “My immune system is going bugfuck today!” while wearing my Dr. House “It’s Lupus” shirt. Yeah, take a wild guess what my damage is. 😉 )

    And I’d just like to add how much I’d love to dance with you someday. 🙂 Zumba, belly dance, truffle shuffle (my skill level!), you name it. I’d totally be there.

    1. My Kung Fu Panda shirt was made on Zazzle – you could always do one for yourself.

      I would love to dance with you. I don’t know what the truffle shuffle is but I am definitely in. I don’t know where you live but maybe I’ll see you on the World Tour and we can truffle shuffle the night away 🙂

      ~Ragen

    2. That’s okay, I can do the shirt. 🙂 Thanks to a childhood of listening to Weird Al, I’ve developed quite a fondness for all garments loud and Hawaiian.

      (Oh, Ragen, if you’ve never seen The Goonies, it’s a fun, hilarious movie that’s just as amazing in adulthood as it was when I was nine. Pirates, treasure, mobsters, Sloth, and a kid who wants to be James Bond minus the suavity.)

  3. Words cannot describe how I wish I lived in a city with some sort of fat movement dance company. I have always loved to dance, but am intimidated as hell to go to a traditional studio. I’ve taken Zumba classes, but they’ve always tended to turn into aerobics classes instead of dance. I would love, love, love to take a proper dance class from someone who looks like me.

    I’m very impressed that you kept your cool and was able to turn that person’s ignorance into a teaching moment for her. I would have been offended and horrified and cried all the way home.

    1. I would have been offended and horrified, punched her through a wall after calling her a bunch of evil names, then cried all the way to the police station! Ragen handled it much better.

  4. I couldn’t say it better then Nellie did as far as my awe in your ability to “school” people in appropriate manner fitting each individual circumstances…
    Sometimes, Ragen, I lose hope, that size acceptance and fat acceptance and advocacy has such a long way to go. Seeing though the difference you make when you write blogs, such as this, leaves me a lot more hopeful and optimistic that maybe it takes one person at a time.I only hope that you develop a part of your business, that will allow you to share your message to kids of all ages in school someday, in both size acceptance matters, whether it’s acceptance and embracement of our diversity, and loving and respecting our own bodies and psyches as well as the acceptance of others…

  5. You know, you’re right. I can recall the comments from people who say “how hard is it to just get up and move you fatty fat fatso!?” and then you can turn around and read “pet peeves” from people and usually in the top ten is “Fat people working out – seriously I don’t want to see your lard ass on the treadmill as the first thing I look at in the morning.”

    So they want fat people to work out… but not publicly. Yeah, that sort of does make it hard to get up and move. Hypocrisy at it’s finest!

    1. So they want fat people to work out… but not publicly. Yeah, that sort of does make it hard to get up and move.

      Agreed. Even if all fat people were able to work out in private — which simply isn’t true and which removes a lot of fun options — there’s an underlying message of “your body is gross and shameful,” which is hard to shake.

      1. Exactly right Tori–they want us to get up off our fat asses and just lose the weight for Gods sake……just don’t do it where anyone, especially I, canee you doing it. Come back and live with the rest of us when you can be acceptably thin.

        Then when we do just that, we’re labelled as lazy, ridiculed as reclusive, and it’s just assumed we’d rather keep ourselves locked away with a bucket of KFC and 4 dozen Krisp Kreme’s than get out there and “get healthy”. It’s a no win situation, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

        YYo

      2. Oh yes. The underlying message was the given. I’m just more disgusted in the doublespeak of “You shouldn’t be so disgustingly fat because it’s so easy to get up and move …. just don’t do it where I see you because I don’t want to see it.”

        Well, yes, I guess it would be easy if my body was socially accepted, but being told my moving looks disgusting now makes it not so desirable to do – doesn’t it?

        And yes, working out in private (if you can motivate yourself to keep at it) does remove so many fun options! So much for freedom of choice and making it “easy” to get up and move!

        I’ll be different – I do applaud Ragen for her work because I like to see what difference she makes because she tries. I know she will continue to make a difference in people one at a time. You never know, that next person she reaches out to may have more of an ability to reach people than she could ever dream of reaching! Positivity people! And keep up the wonderful work Ragen!

  6. How beautifully and powerfully said, Ragen. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking fat bodies are okay as long as they look/act/sound/feel like thin bodies… only bigger. The thing is, fat bodies do things differently and many of us have different walks, dances, textures, and tastes than thinner bodies. This isn’t a failure to be thin; it’s success at being us, perfectly and beautifully.

  7. Holy cow indeed. I love the way you diffuse these situations with calm and kind, rational behavior. Another rectocranial inversion prevented…. At least for a little while.

  8. Obviously someone didn’t get the “nobody’s watching you, nobody’s judging you” memo when she signed up for Zumba class. Or maybe that’s only in the Zumba classes I take? Whatever, we have a lot of fat dancers in those classes and no one even blinks. If you ever come through Charlotte on your world tour, you should go to a Queen City Dance Out class.

    And I totally want a fat panda t-shirt now.

    1. I’m fat. There was another fat womanin a zumba class I took who was kicking ass. I kept watching her because she had on awesome jazz shoes, and she was kicking ass. I figured that if she could do it, that I would eventually get there… and I found out where she got her shoes.

      Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it “wrong,” because you could be doing it exactly right for someone who really needs to see it.

      For every asshole who thinks you’re a “disgusting fatty,” there’s someone who sees you as a role model.

  9. I love taking reggaeton classes and watching my fat jiggle in the mirror. I usually start to giggle while dancing because it’s so funny. I also try to exaggerate any kinds of hip movements because I think it’s awesome that my moving dimensions are so much bigger than the person’s next to me.

  10. Wow. She denied it, but I think she actually had a problem with you being confident and competent and wanted to bring you down a notch. If you’d been awkward and embarrassed, then all would have been right with her world.

    I’ve picked up on people having that attitude about me before, but nobody’s ever said it to my face. What a spectacularly rude woman, and what a perfect response.

  11. Wow, I really admire your ability to think on your feet. Sadly, you’re probably so good at it because you’ve dealt with so many knuckleheads saying crap like that.

    I’d be more tempted to toss something back like, “Well, this all sounds like YOUR problem. No one’s making you look, sweetie. While we’re at it, take a look at your own technique…you dance like a stick insect.”

    I don’t get the “I don’t know what else do.” How is that YOUR problem?? Were you crashing into other people, knocking over tables, stepping on feet and squashing toes?? Were you belching or shouting out obscenities? Were you spouting political rhetoric or handing out leaflets about your religion? No? Then how about keeping one’s mouth shut and dealing with it like a GROWN UP?

    God in Heaven…good thing she repented at the end. I hope she lost a night’s sleep over it.

  12. I cannot believe that woman had the nerve to say such a thing but kudos to you for turning the tables! Teachable moment aside, I hope she was mortified. When I’m working out, whether it be in the gym with my trainer, in a Zumba class, whatever, I get so totally engrossed in what I’m doing that I barely notice there are other people in the same space, much less how a specific body part of a specific person is moving. Just for grins, I’d have to make it a point to stand directly in front of her during every class .

  13. Wow. I’m absolutely in awe at the way you handled that. You’re amazing and I’m going to keep this incident in my head as a lesson for the next time someone ticks me off and I need to respond. I tend to retaliate so I would have said something like oh is that right? Well maybe you should take your ass to the front of the room so you don’t have to stand behind me if it bothers you so much. Bitch. LOL Yeah, I definitely need some help in that area. You go!

  14. I’m a dancer and I’ve had a similar disconnect with the “how it feels” vs “how it looks” problem. When I first started studying bellydance 8 years ago I would look at my self in the mirror (reluctantly) and realize that what I thought I was doing was not what it looked like. This made me quite upset until a more experienced dancer spoke to me one day and said: “The moves will NEVER look on you like they do on (our teacher). They will never look like that on me either. She has been doing this dance for 25 years and she weighs 100 pounds less than us. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t look like she does.” I felt so much better after that. My dance still does not look like her dance, but I know I’m pretty good and my teacher has asked me to perform in some venues. She and I both know that dance looks different on different body shapes but that does not make it “bad” or “invalid.”

  15. Ragen, thanks so much for this! I’ve been told that tall fat people like me shouldn’t be doing Taiji, because it doesn’t look graceful. It is, however, one of the few sports I actually CAN do (my vestibular system is severly damaged) – apart from Nordic Walking, which bores me to death, and yoga (which I used to get the same comments on). I practice yoga at home now, partly because simmering rage at the other course participants just isn’t the frame of mind I was aiming for while doing my yoga exercises (the other reason is, that it fits my schedule). But one just needs more space to do Taiji, so I brace myself and do it in public. So far, I’ve always responded with blank stares to this kind of negative remark. Thanks for providing me with a line of argument! I will try to use it on the next person contesting my right to be there and practice a sport I enjoy.

  16. This might make me a weirdo, but I think it’s super-awesome that the way you moved was described as “decadent” and equated with being overtly sexy, simply because you’re fat and dancing. Sexy fat FTW!

  17. Oh, you are so, so right! I really enjoy your fabulous blog entries.

    I am a singer and I lead 4 Gospel choirs, and we do a lot of moves during some of our songs which I choreographed.
    I am definitely on the so-called “unhealthy” side of the insane BMI measurement (hah!), I am fifty years of age, I have a cold maybe once a year and otherwise I have perfect health, all perfectly normal measures (blood pressure etc), and due to a lot of strength training, I can easily lift not only a lot more than my own weight, but I can lift a man who is heavier than me (which I often do when somebody questions my fitness. Then I ask them to do the same. Afterwards, they never ask again…. teeheehee).

    And I often get feedback from the church congregation or the audience how great it is to watch us move – and believe me, singers come in all sizes (of course, we do not discriminate due to size, – even the teeny tiny ones are allowed to sing with us, LOL) although I must say that usuallly those who are more on the heavy and athletic side of body frame are often those with the strongest voices; probably due to big and healthy lungs and strong back muscles (which a singer needs to “support” the notes she/he sings).

    One thing that I learned over the years is that timing is crucial – if a whole choir has to move in unison, we all have to “time” our steps and arm movements. Meaning that those of us who are heavier or simply taller or much smaller than most have to watch out and maybe start a movement or a step a tiny little bit earlier or later, according to the time it will take for our bodies to reach a given point in time and space (!). It is not a question of weight, but of body proportion and the position of your body parts, again, relative to a given point in space.

    So I try to help my choir members by telling them , for instance, that “on measure two, your elbow should be HERE, and on three, your foot is set down THERE, and on four, we conclude the movement with a snap of the fingers HERE.”
    Thank you for everything you do! Hugs, Lola from Germany

  18. That’s fabulous! And as big a tool as that woman was coming up to tell you to stop making her uncomfortable, I do have to give her kudos, too, for realizing pretty much as soon as you unpacked it for her that she really had been being, well, a complete douche. It takes most people longer to learn the lesson. I know there have been times (a lot more than I would like to admit) when I’ve been called out on rotten behavior, but it took me a long time to accept that the call out was deserved and to stop pulling the same crap.

    We all have doucheweasel moments, but not all of us are thoughtful enough to admit it when it’s pointed out.

    Congrats on taking a teachable moment and using it so very well. After all, your way of teaching was part of her ability to learn from it.

  19. I’m fat and I dance Zumba. I hope that if I have to speak to a neanderthal like the one in your class, I can do it with half as much grace.

    And, um, isn’t hip-shaking supposed to be decadent? Perhaps the neanderthal would be more comfortable in a square-dancing class?

  20. While I love how you handled this situation with such aplomb, I myself am simply unable to do that anymore. I no longer am able to, nor do I want to, kill them with kindness. Unfortunately, I’d have skipped past the teaching opporunity–I’m no longer interested in teaching a grown up about common sense, abstract thinking and most of all, MANNERS!–and gone straight for the call out. I see no reason to mince words; after all, they didn’t. Never instigate a fight, if you’re not prepared for an all out war, is my motto.

    I think the thing that gets me the most about the situation you found yourself in, is that this woman (clearly a thin woman), was so threatened by the ability of a fat (read: lesser than) person, that she couldn’t hold herself back. You were going to have to be put in your place, and she was the one who was going to do it. by God. No way was she going to allow a FAT PERSON to display more skill at something than a thin person,. That is simply unheard of. She must have some serious self worth esteem issues if it bothered her that much. Even though she might have thought she was being tactful, she was being nothing more than a bully, a harrasser, albeit on more subtle grounds than the asshats who do drive by shoutings or throw fast food containers at fat people.

    Bravo for your skills at peaceful negotiations and mentoring. Maybe oneday I will be able to use those skills myself, but for now I’m still reeling over a lifetime of abuse disguised under a thin veil of ‘concern’.

    1. Thanks Kristen,

      Just so you know, I don’t always handle these situations like this. Sometimes I go right past teachable moment to calling someone out on being rude and out of line. Concern trolling is SUPER annoying and, at least for me, it’s just about where I’m at on a given day!

      ~Ragen

  21. I get your blog everyday in my email, but had to get on here to make a comment about this one! I love waking up and seeing your blog in my inbox, you’re just kickass!

    I have been in your shoes, and have assistant coached a dance class where the instructor was a beautiful older woman with a dancers body and a giddy slutty laugh to go with it. She’d glide around to the men with her fake nails while her hubby of 20 years younger looked on.

    When I came around to help them with their form and/or technique it got a tad uncomfy. The men cringed when I stepped up in their partners place to show them how to do something properly. The women would smirk at their men, all the while staring at my fat backside with contempt.

    You’re awesome to do what you do. I’d love to create, and have talked about creating – a Fat Zumba or just a Fat Jam session dance class. I have several friends who are big girls like myself, and we’d all like to get together and “shake it like a salt shaker” and have fun without the worry of watchful and judgmental eyes.

    You are, and will continue to be – an inspiration!

    1. Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry that you had that experience teaching dance. I was thinking about a Fat Zumba class too – it would be completely awesome. Maybe we can do a class together some day 🙂

      Thanks!

      ~Ragen

  22. Ha! Her calling you decadent reminds me of the shit my mom used to say right after I hit puberty. It was always about jeans. I have a prominent ass and long legs–my lower body can best be described as baDONKaDONK. It’s just very there. She would say I looked like a hooker or a prostitute. Took me years to realize that that special sexiness can be a good thing.

  23. Holy cow, indeed. It’s hard for me to imagine the gall that it would take to go up to someone and tell her that the way they moved their body was offensive. You’d think that in triathlon, a sport that is supposedly for people with “perfect” bodies, I would have heard some body-hate from some people, but I have to say that I haven’t. Maybe it’s a dance thing. I remember listening to two of my college roommates’ friends talking about this girl in their dance class who “really had great technique” and what a shame it was that she was heavy because it just looked awful. At the time, I was just kind of shocked. Went into the other room and cried on my best friend’s shoulder. Even having gone through the dog-eat-dog world of high school, it amazed and hurt me to hear people say so frankly that they hated the way that fat people looked. Now, of course, I can only hope that I would be THE big fat Panda in any similar situation.

  24. That actually sounds like a (weird, backhanded) compliment! Not that she meant it that way, or that it makes what she said any less rude, inappropriate, or thoroughly uncalled for, but still, when I read the word “decadent” I laughed cause it was basically like she was saying, “You look entirely too sexy dancing like that! Your sky-high level of sexiness makes me extremely uncomfortable! Please cease and desist being so sexy IMMEDIATELY.” That just kind of cracks me up.

    Also, the graceful way you handled that situation, and your blog in general, remind me of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” “If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you . . ” 🙂

    1. Bea,

      I love this: “Your sky-high level of sexiness makes me extremely uncomfortable! Please cease and desist being so sexy IMMEDIATELY.”

      :If” is one of my favorite poems, I memorized it as a kid, I even used it as the framework for a blog once.

      Thanks for the comment,

      ~Ragen

    2. I had the exact same reaction to that woman’s comment. And I thought, “If you don’t want to see sexy dancing, why on earth are you in a Zumba class? Go do some water aerobics so you can’t get distracted by anyone’s hips!”

  25. Why was this person watching you in Zumba?? My Zumba instructor always told us to “Say hello to the people in front and behind of you, because this is the last time you’re going to notice them for the next hour”. And she was right, we always are too busy having fun to pay much attention to anyone else.

  26. I’m a much more obscene person, because when I got to the “May I make a suggestion?” I realized the next words out of my mouth probably would have been, “Go fuck yourself.” I love shepherding people toward the path of Not Being A Jerk, but this was weird enough it knocked the didactic bits right out of me. Your way was better. I won’t ask you to stop being so decadently awesome, though, because something rich in goodness is something we all need.

    I am what you would call anti-kinesthetic, so I watch people all the time in classes, because I need the extra help. I don’t really remember if the people I watched were big or small, toned or not, I just remember that they were doing really well and I should watch them because oh God, moving is harrrrd! This whole story blows my mind as an unabashed people-watcher.

  27. I had been feeling a little low today, and then I read something that pointed me to this post …. and now, I feel a lot better. I had been wondering about Zumba, and thinking I was too self-conscious to enjoy it. And now? Now, I’m going to check out the class schedule. Yeah.

    Yeah!!!!

    Thank you. This post was awesome.

  28. I’m on my university’s dance team, and let me tell you, there are two big girls on the team and they kill the dances, every time. I am absolutely jealous of the way they move. And I’m not the only one, haha. They’re two of our best.

    I remember one time we were performing at halftime at a football game, and we had to watch the first half of the game sitting as a team (Not like anyone really had to enforce this rule, we all love to hang out). Anyway, there were two or three girls behind us who noticed our matching clothes and asked who we were. We told them we were the dance team, exchanged some “How is it?” “Oh it’s fun” smalltalk, and then turned around to watch the game.

    A few minutes later, we heard one of the girls who was sitting behind us begin to wonder under their breath about the two bigger girls on our team. Stuff like “I wonder why they let the two fat girls on the team?” “Maybe they just joined to lose weight.” “I wonder if they can do like, leaps and jumps and stuff?” Then, one of the dancers (a really loud, outgoing, no nonsense kind of personality), who was sitting right in front of them, turned right around and said,

    “Our two fat girls challenge you to a dance off, after the game, behind the stadium.” And she was totally serious. The girls behind us went redfaced.

    “Uh, no, no thanks.”

    “Why not? They’re fat, right? So they can’t do leaps and turns and stuff. Doesn’t the fact that you’re thin mean you can automatically do a triple pirouette?”

    The girls behind us sort of laughed in a confused, uncomfortable way. “We were just joking.”

    “Well I’m not. Behind the stadium, after the game. We’ll grab some football players to be judges.”

    “Uh, we don’t want to dance battle.”

    Our dancer gave her a, quite frankly, terrifying look. “Damn right you don’t,” she said, and then turned around again.

  29. You were very diplomatic. I think I probably would have told the #$&% if she doesn’t like how I do it then she should stand someplace else.

    I have issues with people in dance classes who do something besides what the instructor is leading, mostly because I’m usually busy looking at the people around me trying to stay in time with them.

    As a member of the white-frozen-chosen tribe I like to stand behind somebody who’s channeling their inner Beyonce. It inspires me and makes the whole thing more fun.

  30. Hi! I’m cuban so latin moves come very naturally to me. I’m a zumba addict who always tell my friends to try it because nobody is looking! everybody is trying to follow the instructor and having fun.It’s so sad that the woman who talked to you is so worried about her own hangups she is wasting her time by looking at others instead of enjoying the class.
    Dirty moves!ha! One of my cousins back in cuba is plus size,always has been, she’s also one of the very best salsa dancers I’ve ever met.
    Keep enjoying your zumba class and shake those hips!

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