When I was a teenager, the other girls reached puberty way before I did, leaving me with no curves whatsoever. A bunch of us were auditioning for the part of Spanish dance in The Nutcracker, and I guess I didn’t look—or feel—very womanly. After we did a couple steps, my ballet teacher, in exasperation, blurted out, “Wendy, you look like a beanpole!” Needless to say, it was humiliating.
But some of my friends had it worse. They were told point blank that they didn’t have the body for ballet.
A dancer’s life is governed by, if not always destined by, her body. So it’s no wonder that many of us to have a love/hate relationship with our own bodies. We love what our body can do or what it can express, but we hate the part that is visibly imperfect. Our legs aren’t long enough, our belly isn’t flat enough, or our insteps aren’t high enough. We know what we have to work on, and we can see the difference that training makes, but sometimes we feel stuck in the same old body.
In this, our second annual “Body Issue,” we offer a lens onto some of the issues that dancers grapple with. In “Bodies That Beat the Odds,” Victoria Looseleaf talks to five dancers who have body types that fall just outside the conventional parameters of the dance body. Through raw talent, hard work, and perseverance, each one of them found a niche as a professional dancer.
We can change our bodies through training, and the mirror can be an ally in that transformation. But it can also be a hindrance. In “Reflections in the Mirror,” six teachers discuss the difference between using the mirror to help improve your technique and using it only for body image, which can mean tormenting yourself with your fault lines.
It only takes one or two injuries for a dancer to start focusing on injury prevention. Former dancer Kim Okamura recounts her own knee disaster—and how she recovered enough to keep dancing another 10 years. Looking back—and doing a bit of research—she gives us hard-earned tips for how to stay onstage and out of rehab.
Another way to keep your body strong is to give in to your latent star worship. In “Dwana’s Abs, Maria’s Legs, Irina’s Back, and Larissa’s Arms,” Lauren Kay asked four top dancers about the private workouts that keep their best features in shape.
And just to remind you that dancing isn’t only about flesh and bones, we explore the concept of energy in “Mind Your Body”—asking people from different corners of the dance world to define it. Energy is the animating force that moves your body into expression—whether you are shaped like a string bean or a tomato!
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