Why Dancer Body Positive Cliches Don't Work

Nov 11, 2021

By Gina McFadden

this article originally appeared on Apolla Performance’s The Muse Blog.

Why Dancer Body Positive Cliches Don’t Work:

"Stop comparing yourself to other dancers."

"Every dancer is beautiful in their own way."

"It's what's on the inside that counts."

These are well-meaning phrases. In and of themselves, they are not bad. Many dancers struggle with body image and phrases like this seem like they would be helpful. We say them in order to help dancers get to the other side of their struggles, however dancers often find themselves right back where they started, despite their best efforts to let phrases like, “dancers of all sizes are beautiful“ sink in to their innermost beliefs.

Why don't these clichés work? They don't work because they don't get to the HEART of the issue. According to Merriam Webster, a cliché is “a trite phrase or expression; something that has become overly familiar or commonplace.” I am definitely not saying that people who use body positive phrases are trite. On the contrary! They care and are trying to help dancers be their best. What are trite are the phrases themselves. They have been used to the point that they become “overly familiar,” lacking true impact.

We know that a dancer’s greatest gift isn't found in the length of their legs, the height of their arabesque, nor in the size of their body. We also know that it is what’s on the inside that counts. While we understand these concepts to be true, as advice given to dancers, they don't work because they only speak the surface layer of their body image struggles. To find a real solution we have to go deeper than clichés that only rest on the outer shell of the issue.

Many dancers believe the core of their struggle is in the image reflected back to them from the mirror. Then they focus on how to “fix” their physical bodies to meet some “perfect dancer body” ideal. They falsely believe that this fix will help them win the battle of comparison and finally conquer their body image struggles. Dancers think, "I need to fix what I see in the mirror.” But what if there was a more helpful approach?

In their book titled More Than a Body, twin sisters and PhD’s Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite write:

“A more effective approach to healing our body image issues needs to reflect the understanding that focusing on the appearance of our bodies is the problemPositive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it is knowing your body IS good, regardless of how it looks.”

Such powerful words! “Knowing that your body IS good” is not a surface-layer statement. Knowing something is different from hearing something. To know means that you have done the work to hear, then learn, then know. Hear, learn, know. When we hear, an idea sits on the surface of our awareness. When we learn, we start to intellectually understand an idea. When we know, we accept an idea in our hearts and operate in the world from that place of knowing.

Perhaps we can help our dancer(s) on the transformation from thinking, “Fix what I see in the mirror,” to, "Fix what I think in my heart." Perhaps we can help them to shift the focus from outside to inside so that they can get past clichés and welcome true change from within.

No matter where a dancer is in their journey toward “knowing that their body is good, regardless of how it looks,” encourage them to be patient with their progress. To change what one believes to be the truth is not a quick process. It is a process that takes time, support from others, patience, and trust that, once they know, they will know.

If you enjoyed this article, you will love my Free Guided Meditation to Build Confidence. Download and then pop in your earbuds and enjoy! Click here to download.



Bio: Gina McFadden is a dance educator, choreographer and author. Her book, Dancer, 360° will be coming out later this year. Gina danced professionally with The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Ballet Pacifica, State Street Ballet and The National Choreographers Initiative. She has been on the faculties of Boston Ballet School, Grand Rapids Ballet School, New Jersey Ballet School, Hope College and Grand Valley State University. Gina has degrees in business and legal studies. She is a certified yoga instructor as well as a Holistic Health Coach. She lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and two daughters where she is an avid home-cook and a highly marginal golfer.

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