If you type "a dancer's body" into the Google search bar, what comes up? The first link is "How to Get a Dancer's Body: Get Fit like a Dancer." Following this article is "The Ideal Ballet Body" and "8 Moves to Get a Dancer's Lean Body." But what is a dancer's body exactly?
One website defines "a dancer's body" as typically long, lean, and strong. While I do not deny this as true, as the technique we practice frequently produces a longer, leaner line of muscle, does every dancer's body fall under this one category?
Being a dancer is a mental game. We spend almost every second of our time staring at ourselves in the mirror. Noticing every curve, every fold. Frequently in tight-fit clothing, you can't hide from seeing yourself at every angle.
Is my body at the ideal peak of fitness? No. Is my body where I want it to be or what I want it to look like? No. Am I working hard to improve my level of fitness so that I can improve my dance ability? Yes. Do I struggle with body image issues that many other males and females also experience because I spend my daily life staring at myself in the mirror attempting to achieve perfection?
The concern with the links provided through Google is a dancer's body is not one set concept. A dancer's body comes in various shapes and sizes; there is not a model to follow. There are no rules to how a dancer's body looks, and it is more what a dancer's body can do and achieve that makes it so incredible.
A dancer's body needs an unspeakable level of poise and discipline. This allows us to make the movement look effortless when in reality we are engaging every muscle, whether they are visible or not, in our body just to do a simple relevé. So often I hear the performing arts called "cute" or "easy." If only those individuals knew what it took to look "cute."
A dancer's body requires cross-training along with hours of rehearsal in order to allow us to push our bodies to unnatural limits. A lot of the time I am working out at the gym, rehearsing for hours, and taking class all in the same day. Why? We are athletes, constantly working to improve our craft. A dancer's body has the ability to do close to the impossible. It can lift weight, both less, equal to, and more than one's own body weight. And it's not a simple pick up and put down. No, I'm talking about flipping another girl over my shoulder, or catching someone as they fall backward off of another girl's shoulders.
Having trust in another individual to catch you as you fall back without looking means that the dancer doing the catching has to be prepared. That dancer's body has to be sturdy and stable, it has to be in control to face the aftereffect that comes with the speed of a falling figure. There is no room for error without consequence, but it is the risk that the dancers are willing to face. Cross training lets my body be ready. It allows the dancer I am catching to instill trust in me as an individual; it permits me to achieve mesmerizing works of art that look almost unattainable.
A dancer's body can contort itself into unnatural shapes, kick higher than the hamstring should be able to stretch, and dance on top of our toes for crying out loud. The human body was not built to dance on top of the toes, and yet, dancers do it every day.
A dancer's body has the ability to face the ridicule of others; being cut from a role because we are too tall, too pear-shaped, not athletic enough, or simply because we are a brunette. Some things are just out of our control. You can't shrink. You can't change your genetics. You can't make your bones less dense or hide the fact that you were born with curves. You may be told that you don't have the "ideal dancer body," but how can you create the "ideal dancer body" when some characteristics you are gifted with you cannot change?
Furthermore, one of the hardest parts about being a dancer is facing the ridicule of one's self. One of the toughest aspects that a dancer's body faces is that oneself does not see perfection. Constantly striving to achieve more, to leap higher, to complete four turns instead of three. There is always more you can do; we are our biggest competition. It is impossible to be in a room of hundreds of dancers and not compare yourself. You can try, but you can't help but notice those around you. Those that have what Google defines as "a dancer's body." Do I wish that I could be like them? Those with the long, lean, stick-like arms, and the small but mighty legs that seem to stretch on for miles. Of course, I do. But that doesn't mean, that in a room of hundreds of other performers, that I am no less of a dancer than any one of them.
While I admire the long, lean lines that I see displayed on social media and across dance advertisements, and I aspire to achieve this higher level of physique, it is hard to not be discouraged about how I look right now. I am still a dancer, whether I am 5 pounds heavier or 5 pounds lighter, but the media doesn't always portray it this way. Even though I may be strong, I am not long and lean. I have curves, I have rolls, my abs are "protected" by a layer of fat lying on top of them. So am I strong? Yes. Am I at my strongest? No. Do I look like the image of a dancer you would find if you typed the term into Google? Not necessarily. Does that mean I am not successful as an artist? No.
So do I feel more successful when I am at my strongest? Completely. But right now, you can't see all of the muscle I have. I am not as defined as I have been in the past, and as a college student, it has taken me a long time to learn how to make sacrifices to achieve both. Have I sacrificed a workout to make memories with friends? Of course. Have I chosen to indulge in a drink and fries instead of a more nutritious option? It happens. Have I faced the repercussions of some of these actions? Yes. Three years of college with one to go and I am still fighting this battle. The challenge of being a college student for just a little bit longer, but also preparing myself for what I am going to face in the professional world. However, despite all of this, I have also experienced what it feels like to be strong and powerful. Being the strongest I had ever been changed me as a dancer. I was able to achieve more, push myself further, last longer, and I was the most confident and happiest I had been in a long time. Do I miss that level of physique I was at, I do. Am I working hard to get it back? Every single day, one step at a time.
But I'm not there yet. And no, I will never be as thin as some of the dancers you find on your Instagram or your Google search. I was born with a larger rib cage and natural curves. Even at my leanest, I am not tiny. When my arms are long and lean and toned, they are not small, but they are strong. When I am squeezing my core as tight as I possibly can just to maintain my balance for a few seconds, can you see a six-pack? Not really, and who's to say you ever will be? And I don't know the answer to that. But you see, a dancer's body is so much more than what you can see just with your eyes. Some dancers have six-pack abs, others don't. Some dancers have long, lean, and defined muscles; while other dancers are a little softer, have a little more curve to them. But that does not mean that they are not a dancer. A dancer's body is strong, it is powerful, and it is mighty. Just because you might not be able to see it on the outside, doesn't mean it's not there.