By Sydney Navarro, Dietetic Intern and lifelong dancer.
Coming from a dancer herself, I understand how the dance studio can become a daunting place. That mirror staring back at you 24/7 is something we as dancers have gotten so used to. Whether we realize it or not, this can have a strong effect on the way we think about our bodies.
I want to call attention to this and emphasize the importance of maintaining a positive body image while in the dance studio, always being in front of a mirror. For dancers, living in front of a mirror is more like it. The mirror is undoubtedly an important tool, it is the reality of the dance world. But, we must not forget the impact it can have on our self-esteem and the way we view ourselves. Here, I am going to tackle practicing body positivity in the dance studio. Together, we can learn to dance with the mirror and use it to create an environment filled with self-love!
The Reality of the Mirror
For dancers, the image of our bodies in the mirror is extremely familiar. For some who struggle with positive body image, maybe all-too familiar. I mean, who else looks at themselves in the mirror more than dancers? Most people see their reflection when they wake up and brush their teeth, get ready for the day, wash their hands in a public restroom, take a selfie, or when they wash their face before bed. For dancers on the other hand… it feels like every damn second! In the dance studio, “body checking” can feel like second nature.
Dancers are hyper aware of what their body looks like, how it moves, how it responds to certain stimuli, and how to manipulate it to look a certain way. To create a beautifully weightless line from the top of the shoulder all the way down to the middle finger when the arms are in second position, we as dancers know exactly what to do to achieve such shape; and rely on the mirror for validation that we accomplished it. Take a peak, make a tweak, and you have achieved that seamless line you were striving for.
In the dance world, the mirror has become a tool for validation. For when it comes time to step on stage, we know that we look as we want to. If this constant time in front of the mirror has started to affect your body image, I want you to know that this is understandable. You are not alone. Body image issues are prevalent in the dance world and it is time that we address it. It is not an unsolvable issue, though. There are things you can do for yourself and your fellow dancers to boost body positivity. Let’s turn our way of thinking around and pirouette into positive body image.
The Reflection From Within
I wanted to shed light on this idea because I think it can really change the way dancers think and see themselves. Rather than our feelings about our bodies being determined by what we see on the outside in that mirror, let’s start looking on the inside and have our feelings be driven from within. Instead of looking outward, let’s pivot to looking inward.
Recognize all that your body is doing for you from within! The strength from your muscles in your legs allows for jumps sky high across the stage. Your lungs bring oxygen into the body and help you keep your steady breath throughout your routine. Your pumping heart supplies your muscles with the oxygen they need to carry you through your performance. Your brain houses millions of routines, that dance move you learned 10 years ago, and maintains your muscle memory that enables you to point your toe without even thinking about it!
And perhaps the most important, your heart feeds your passion to perform and your love for the art of dance. All of these things live inside your body, and they are not seen from the outside. And even crazier, they are way more important than only what the eye can see.
True beauty of a dancer comes from the inside. What people see from the outside, is all created first from the inside. Remember to thank your body everyday for being your number one tool in your sport. Dancers don’t need a ball, or a bat, or a net. We need our bodies, our minds, and our passion (and maybe a trusty pair of pointe shoes).
Tips for Boosting Body Positivity
Now that we know how the mirror can affect how dancers think about themselves and the true beauty of the body from within, it’s time to talk about how we can actually promote body positivity and cultivate a positive body image. It is easy to forget about, with the million other things going on in the studio. Here are some tips for dancers to practice body positivity, sprinkled with some self-love.
- Pick out what you want to wear. Wear the leotard, pants, shorts, legwarmers, headband, the dance clothing that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Save your favorite leo for days when you may be needing a little bit extra self-love. Or whip out that fun skirt on a day when you need to be reminded that you are beautiful, amazing, and gorgeous. Or just on any day! Wear the clothes that make you feel secure in who you are.
- Make a list of things you love about yourself. This list can say anything you want. It can be about your body, your personality, anything about yourself that you absolutely love. Keep this list in your dance bag and glance at it when you need to be prompted to love yourself. Stop the negative thinking before it spirals, and remind yourself how loved you are.
- Post-it note the mirror. Encourage your studio to practice body positivity by putting up post-its on the mirror with uplifting messages. This will create an environment that is filled with self-love and self-acceptance. These can say things like: “I am beautiful.” “I am strong.” “I am grateful for what my body does for me.” “My body is a gift. I treat it with love and respect.”“I am confident in my beautiful body.”
- Use inclusive language. Words have power, and they need to be chosen wisely. Language in the dance studio should be inclusive and make everyone feel valued and welcome, regardless of what they look like. Any comment made about a dancer’s body should only be regarding an aspect of technique.
- Lean on your team. There are no better friends than dance friends. I still keep in touch with my friends from dancing growing up, and these are my life-long relationships. No one else understands what dancers struggle with, other than dancers themselves. It is so important to lean on your fellow dancers for support and encouragement, because they get it. Share with a friend that you might be having a bad day. Or if you see your friend feeling low, offer some positive words to lift her up again. Just by telling someone, “you did awesome today”, can make all the difference and creates a positive environment.
The body of a dancer is a piece of art. It does amazing things that normal human bodies can’t do! Too often, dancers put so much pressure on themselves to look a certain way or change what they see in the mirror. The mirror can create negative thoughts about self-esteem and self-confidence. And as dancers, we have to face that thing everyday! But, we must remember all that our bodies do for us from the inside. We wouldn’t be dancers without our amazing bodies! I’m here to definitively tell you that you are beautiful the way you are, and your body is beautiful the way it is. In our society, it is more important than ever to promote body positivity, starting in the dance studio. Just like there are a plethora of dance genres, there are a plethora of different body types that can perform them. You do not need to fit a mold, you make the mold. Let’s start dancing with the mirror and seeing our beautiful bodies for what they are, incredibly stunning.