Earlier this week, a video of an amazing dancer went viral. Sure, this isn't an uncommon occurrence, and normally we'd celebrate the fact that dance is reaching new audiences and a worthy talent is getting recognition. But with this particular internet sensation, we aren't sure if the media understands what really makes this dancer special.
It all started when an Instagram video posted by Erik Cavanaugh started circulating after Worldwidedance shared it on Facebook. (The post now has over 9 million views and 90,000 shares). The 23-year-old aspiring dancer/choreographer who recently graduated from Slippery Rock University's dance program gets serious air, and has striking musicality and incredible control. He makes both big, splashy moments and small, subtle gestures resonate. His technique isn't perfect, but his movement has a sense of drive that is gripping.
But since the young dancer's Instagram exploded all over media sites big and small, it's hard to find content that focuses on the intricacies of Cavanaugh's dancing. Many sources even mislabel him as a ballet dancer. Instead, headlines include words like "burly," "linebacker-shaped" and "plus-size," and focus almost solely on Cavanaugh's body.
Of course, the dance world is guilty of perpetuating stereotypes about what dancers should look like, and it can't be easy for Cavanaugh to thrive in a sometimes body-shaming environment. Plus, Cavanaugh's body image seems to be a big part of his mission—his Instagram bio reads that he's "attempting to change the mind and shape of dancers," and he's reposted many of the articles that focus on that part of his story. But there's so much more to Cavanaugh and his dancing than the way his body looks.
It's a tough balance to strike, though. We certainly don't want to ignore the fact the Cavanaugh is breaking down body image stereotypes, because it's important. Judging by the comments on his videos, he's inspired many others who don't have typical dance bodies. We just wish that less people were talking about the way Cavanaugh looks, and more were talking about the way he moves—because he really is amazing.