Body Positivity in the Classroom

Screenshot 2015-06-23 11.18.37In the studio, we all want to do our best. We’re always looking in the mirror, trying to make our bodies do something new or challenging, and we’re always raising the standard for ourselves. It’s what makes us grow. Unfortunately, sometimes this feeling of ambition and expectation can make us feel inadequate. Sometimes we analyze our bodies so closely that we think there’s something wrong with us.

We talked body image with Katrina Errico, instructor and choreographer at Studio 19 Centre for Performing Arts in Eustis, Florida. She shared her experience with her own students and gave us some valuable advice about keeping a healthy attitude.

Is this a common issue among your students?

I see this a lot, especially with my teenage girls. For our adult students, we’re a lot more lenient with our dress code because we know how intimidating tights and a leotard can be. A lot of our adult students are women who have had children, haven’t danced in years or even have never danced before, and they don’t feel comfortable having their bodies on full display in class. If they can wear their favorite yoga pants and a tank top, they feel more secure and confident, and the experience can be about learning, not about comparing body types.

Why do you think we feel the need to compare ourselves?

Unfortunately, I think it’s natural to want to compare yourself. You’re in a room full of mirrors with a bunch of people you barely know, and you want to measure up. It can make you feel vulnerable — I don’t think there’s one of us out there who hasn’t looked at their body and wished they could change something about it.

Any tips for beginners or ballerinas intimidated by the big mirror?

  1. The most important thing to remember is that every single body is unique and special. Be grateful for the things your body can do for you, and recognize your unique talents. Maybe you’ve got a great extension, or a flexible back, or elegant epaulement. Whatever it is, your body is amazing for it.
  2. Compare yourself only to yourself; watch your progress and be proud of it. Don’t hold yourself to expectations meant for someone else’s body, and never talk down to yourself when you don’t get it right.
  3. Know your nutrition. Every successful ballerina knows that health comes first, and that a well-balanced meal is what your body needs to grow stronger between classes.
  4. Be patient with your body. Muscle tone and flexibility aren’t achieved overnight, and pushing yourself to rush the process can cause serious injury. We want healthy, happy bodies that can dance for a lifetime.

Image via Katrina Errico

Guest Post: Ballet for Body and Soul

So you’re on your way to your first ballet class, either ever, or in a good few years, and you’re feeling anxious, nervous, excited, a bit self conscious, wondering if it was a good idea at all. If you think this is just you feeling like this, you are wrong. Any dancer feels this at regular intervals, no matter how long they have been dancing. What sets us apart is that decision to walk through the door, embrace those feelings and do it anyway and the achievements that spawn from that first decision are what drives us on!

Dance, Ballet in particular, is not just good for your body, but also for your mind and soul. You learn to be comfortable with your own body, to feel graceful and beautiful, to meet like minded people and more often than not make friends for life.

If you are new to or returning to ballet you may feel frustrated to begin with as you try to master all the steps, or co-ordinate your arms and legs to move at the same time as you are trying to complete a port de bras and plies at the same time. Do not despair, it takes hard work and commitment but each week you will find something is slightly easier, you will remember a bit more and before you know it your arms/legs will be travelling to the right position without even needing to think about it.

On a psychological level this concentration also means that any other noise in your mind; what to cook for dinner, whether you’ve put the washing out; what time you need to pick the kids up, will all be quietened, allowing you that bit of peace in your day to calm your mind and just be present in your body. You will begin to notice every movement of your body, listen to what your body needs, both inside and outside the dance studio.

As a dancer myself, I have found dance to be hugely therapeutic. I am not dancing for the audience, for the other people in the class, I am dancing for myself, getting lost in the music and the movement. I have no doubt that with continued practice friends, family and colleagues will comment on how you are carrying yourself, not only in your physical stance but your persona. Ballet gives you grace in both body and mind!

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PurpleClaire started dance classes at the age of 5, taking classes in ballet, modern and jazz and continued until the age of 13.  After a short break from dance she then returned to dance at 16 with tap, contemporary, jazz and ballet and continued on to study BA (hons) Dance Studies at Roehampton University, London.  Claire has always been very interested in how dance can improve your health both mentally and physically for professional dancers and people new to dance.  She is currently studying Msc Dance Science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London. Find out more about Claire at www.clairefarmer.co.uk and http://healthierdancers.blogspot.co.uk/

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