Promoting Healthy Body Image in the Studio

A dancer’s positive body image isn’t merely thinking they look good in this season’s costumes. It goes much deeper than that. In fact, their body image impacts almost everything a dancer does in the art and outside of it.

Something that important must be defined. So what exactly is body image?

  • How you see or picture yourself
  • How you feel others perceive you
  • What you believe about your physical appearance
  • How you feel about your body
  • How you feel in your body

Everyone – including dancers – has days of feeling awkward or uncomfortable in their bodies, but those occasional days don’t usually harm an individual’s body image because body image is developed by consistently recognizing and respecting one’s natural shape and learning to overpower negative thoughts and feelings with positive accepting ones.  Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds – especially when negativity is reinforced more often than positivity.

Since no one can control every environment they will experience, it’s important to know how to absorb the positivity and deflect the negativity that everyday situations will present. In other words, it’s up to each person to develop and maintain a positive body image.

This is important because people with negative body images are more likely to develop such conditions as eating disorders, depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

It’s clear that this goes far beyond the dance floor. But the dance floor is a place where it shows up all too often.

For dancers, developing and maintaining positive body image is complicated. Teens, and pre-teens especially, celebrate their bodies while fighting with them at the same time. One day they love how they look, the next they despair at how short / tall / fat / skinny / clumsy / awkward they are. It is this fertile breeding ground of seething hormonal and emotional changes that we, as caring adults, need to guide them through and help them embrace their strengths.

Back in 2005, a couple of 5-year-old students at All That Dance were noticed comparing the sizes of their thighs. Kids don’t always have accurate information on which to base their comparisons – especially at 5 – and can unfairly tease classmates who don’t fit what they consider to be the norm. So how do you reinforce a healthy, positive body image among dancers? Answer: Love Your Body Week

“Managing and facilitating Love Your Body Week is by far one of the most rewarding parts of my job, and having it as a part of our studio calendar each year makes me proud to be a faculty member at All That Dance.” – All That Dance, ballet department leader, Mary Gorder.

To Love Your Body Week’s good fortune, All that Dance’s local chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts believes in what the program does and helps with the week’s events and curriculum.

While the NHSDA is comprised of mostly high school juniors and seniors, the organization’s mission is all about mentoring young dancers as well as their peers, so Love Your Body Week fits perfectly with its core values. It’s an ideal match.

Love Your Body Week is a fantastic idea that All That Dance’s students get extremely excited about. It offers opportunities for growth in activities like exercises that use both journaling and improvisation based on the most loved and most unloved body part of each student. Instructors are amazed as they see students of every age learning to dance fearlessly and with heart. Love Your Body Weeks in various forms have popped up in many places, including college campuses, where it may be associated with campus women’s organizations since negative self-image is quite common among their female populations.

No single program can dispel all feelings of self-doubt among students, but this one does provide a support system for regaining confidence when it may have been worn down, making nurturing self-acceptance tough.

Learn more about the National Honor Society for Dance Arts.

The concept of studios using their own Love Your Body Week is an amazing way to incorporate the support of body image into class time. For example, All That Dance offers “jumping-off points” for conversations in class that use different mediums depending on the students’ ages: preschoolers see picture books, pre-teens and teens experience photos, videos and readings. Such activities as the improvisational one mentioned earlier, incorporate movement exercises that reinforce positive body image.

The National Eating Disorder Association has a several positive body image resources including a list of 20 Ways to Love Your Body that we’ve shared. This list gives those seeking help concepts they can wrap their head around instead of just saying to reinforce positivity. Actually figuring out what actions will reinforce the good in a good way can be a challenge. And it’s obvious when reading the list that it doesn’t happen overnight. But more resources are available today than ever before and more entities such as women’s organizations, colleges, and dance studios like All That Dance are helping those tiny dancers through mature professionals have a better chance at succeeding because they have learned to love themselves.

Dance Magazine, Dance Advantage and Pointe Magazine have published articles about body image and building confidence.

Learn more about the National Honor Society for Dance Arts and The National Eating Disorders Association.

Resources: Dance Advantage, National Eating Disorders Association, PBS

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