Getty Images

It's Time to Dispel the Myth of "Ideal" Dancer Weight

As a dietitian specializing in dance nutrition, the most common DM flooding my inbox is "How can I drop pounds (specifically from body fat) and gain muscle?"

The short answer? Not happening.


The more we attempt to control the number on the scale, the more we risk developing physiological, biological and psychological deterrents that can drive us away from the passion we love: dance.

Striving for an unrealistically low weight while trying to increase muscle mass is utterly impossible, given the simple fact that muscle weighs more than fat. When you engage in a strength-training activity (like dancing), your weight is naturally higher.

As a society, we've developed an overwhelming fear of fat. However, whether it's on our body or in our food, fat is a key player in a healthy lifestyle and strong performance. Body fat regulates hormones, which support brain health, skin elasticity, reproduction and bone strength (helping you avoid stress fractures). In our food, fat promotes satisfaction, a commonly missing feeling in our "eat less," diet-ridden culture. When food is used solely for achieving weight goals, dancers are led down a restrictive tunnel without room for the positive experiences associated with a delicious meal.

Despite these realities, dancers still turn to weight as a predictor of achievement. Yes, the scale offers an objective measurable outcome. But this doesn't mean that controlling body weight is a positive solution—or a healthy practice. When control is placed upon our body weight or food choices, we're working against basic biology: The body is wired to survive famine, meaning it will use cravings to fight a self-imposed calorie restriction in order to protect a genetically predetermined weight.

But what exactly is the "right" weight for a dancer? For starters, it's not the weight that requires restrictive meal plans, calorie counting and obsessive exercise routines. A healthy weight is one that can be maintained without dieting. It fuels performance and makes room for all foods.

The reality of this industry is that antiquated slim "ideals" are still the unfortunate standard at many companies. Dancers are often asked to lose weight by their directors, or mentors advise them that dropping a few pounds may help them get a job.

If you're struggling with pressure to lose weight or maintain a low weight, make sure that you're seeking help from qualified sources, like a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in working with dancers. Online resources from RDNs are also available to help dancers make more balanced choices. If the pressure continues, realize that shedding those five pounds may not be worth the restrictive lifestyle—and you may need to consider other companies that foster a healthier aesthetic.

As far as the dance world goes, it's time to adjust old standards. Though body shape and size are very much apparent in this visual art form, neither needs to dictate it. Today's demanding choreography requires strength and endurance, both of which are products of a strong body and a healthy mind. An under-fueled artist, on the other hand, is mentally drained, physically fatigued and at risk for injury. Directors and teachers must shift the focus from weight to performance, because the number on the scale has no connection with a dancer's talent or drive.

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest