Charlie Hodges shares his story of fighting insecurity about his height, weight and hair line

Yes, Male Dancers Get Body Shamed Too

Conversations about body image in dance typically revolve around female dancers. For an obvious reason: It's usually women who are driven to dangerous means to reach the ideal "ballet body."

But they're not alone in the struggle. Former Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges recently told his own story during a TED Talk at California's ArtCenter College of Design.

He Experienced Shaming Almost As Soon As He Started Dance

Hodges began dancing at age 10. Shortly after, a teacher who noticed his talent told him that if he were serious, he'd need to lose weight. By age 12, Hodges started winning awards on the competition circuit—where one director told him, "You'll be unstoppable just as soon as you lose your baby fat."

Losing self-esteem, he went on a diet and lost 14 pounds. To this day, Hodges thinks that weight loss might have stunted his growth.

Teachers kept telling Hodges that the right growth spurt could fix everything.

As a Professional, He Couldn't Escape His Body

At 18, Hodges won second place at the prestigious National YoungArts Week. But when he auditioned for 14 ballet companies that year, all 14 said no. One letter read, "We regret to inform you that we have absolutely no use for a body like yours in our company."

He eventually got a job at Sacramento Ballet, but continued to face challenges. When he was cast as the lead in Theme and Variations, the company needed to get special permission from the Balanchine Trust because he was so short. Critics consistently called him a fireplug and pointed out his unorthodox body.

On a "Hail Mary pass," as he puts it, he auditioned for Twyla Tharp and she hired him on the spot. He says dancing for her was paradise: He loved the artistic collaboration, and was voted "Dancer of the Year" by the European Critics' Choice Awards. He felt the spell had finally been broken.

Then in 2002, he was considered for the leading role in Tharp's new Broadway show, Movin' Out. Although he had her full support, the producers weren't convinced that he looked enough like the masculine heartthrob that the role needed.

Hodges loved the artistic challenges of working with Twyla Tharp

He Turned Around His Career By Embracing What He Had

Finally, Hodges decided to change how he saw himself: He would be the shortest dancer on the stage who jumped as high as the tallest; he would be the thickest dancer who moved lighter than the rest.

"My entire career, I stood out too much to fit in," he says in the TED Talk. "And that whole time, I was the one who couldn't accept that short, fat and bald could be the next best thing on the block. I had to change how I saw myself. All of my accomplishments were not in spite of my short, fat, bald body, but because of it."

He eventually replaced the lead in Movin' Out, and went on to dance in two of Tharp's other Broadway shows. He later moved out to Los Angeles and helped Benjamin Millepied get his L.A. Dance Project off the ground as a dancer and ballet master.

He feels that his success came from the bravery it took to face failure. He says, "Failure is a rain storm: The sooner you let yourself get wet, the quicker you realize how fun it is to skip through the puddles and feel the rain on your face. You remember how harmless water is."

A slide from Hodges' TED Talk

Watch Hodges' full talk for yourself—it's worth it:

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020