Today, we are going to explore the intersection between dance and diet culture. As most artistic sports, the pressure imposed on these athletes can be detrimental to their body image and self-worth. The intersection between the two is very common and prominent within dance culture, however, it’s not often explored as it is normalized within the industry.
There is an ongoing debate of whether dance is a sport or an art form. Truthfully, I (and most dancers) would argue that it’s both! Dancers require a lot of physical strength and stamina, comparably to any other mainstream sport, all while putting emphasis on the actual physical representation of the sport.
What I mean, is you don’t actually care what the hockey player LOOKS like while they are playing, they don’t have a higher chance of being recruited (to some degree), based on how they physically look and present while on the ice. But, when it comes to a sport like dance, figure skating and gymnastics, it’s about more than what your body can do and endure; it’s about how you present your body while doing it.
When it comes to classical styles, such as ballet, modern, jazz etc. there is a specific “look” that is advertised and expected of the dancers. This includes a dancer who is a white, tall, able bodied (usually female), in a smaller body. In fact, 1 in 5 ballerinas will have an eating disorder. This is truly a representation of the industry and the culture within the industry that has been created.
Each style/technique carries its own aesthetic and it catered towards certain types of bodies:
At the end of the day, the big message is: how your body looks in addition to what it can do carries a certain level of important to be successful in the distinct style.
The intersection between dance and diet culture can be divided into 2 sections. The industry mindset and body image concerns which both borrow from the diet culture mentality and reinforces their messages.
Not only do you have the athletic part of dance, (the athleticism that’s super important) but because it’s a form of visual art, the visual presentation of the dancer within that sport, is a huge part of it. In addition to what your body can and should be able to do, you also need to be aware of what your body looks like while doing it.
Also, most dancers, especially professional dancers, require other forms of employment to survive and to network. Many will go into acting and/or modeling which is still an industry that reinforces a certain look and is heavily influenced by diet culture body and nutrition expectations.
Dance can be both harmful and empowering at the same time. Sounds confusing right? This blog post is NOT to turn you away from dancing or any other form of performative art.
The environment can be harmful as it can be more difficult to foster positive body image when you have all of these messages reinforcing that your body needs to look a certain way. But on the other hand, dance can be so empowering because it allows you to truly connect with your body through movement and can serve as an emotional outlet.
It all depends on your mindset and how you choose to incorporate dance in your life. If you are someone who is looking to turn dance into your career, you may experience more hardships due to the competitive environment. Although these issues have a lot to do with the industry itself, there are ways for you to practice rejecting the diet culture, competitive mentality on your own!
– Mirrors can be useful and important to make sure your body is positioned properly to prevent injuries, and to look unanimous with the entire group. However, once you have that figured out, keep dancing and practicing away from the mirror. This reinforces you to connect with your body on how it FEELS when it moves vs how it LOOKS.
– It is not worth putting your bodies through the restrictive period at all and damaging your body. Adequately nourishing our bodies and listening to what your body needs is so important to foster positive body image and prevent injuries.
– On a day to day basis, we are asking our bodies to do a lot for us. Especially when dancing, we are asking our bodies to support us through an activity that we love! Remember to be kind to it and show it gratitude.
Work on slowly unlearning these beliefs and making room for new ones. By doing the internal, individualized work, you are support change in the industry. It’s not easy and it takes PRACTICE and TIME, but it is feasible.
Dance is such a beautiful form of self-expression. It’s amazing to see how our body just wants to move through music and explore what your body can do. When stepping away from the diet culture influence and focusing on dance as a form of therapy, release and connection, you will develop a deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude for what your body is able to do.
Check out my FREE Class to learn more about my Guilt Free Method so that you can find food freedom and feel good in your body.
Hear me talk more about this topic with one of our Balanced Practice team members, Joelle! It’s PACKED with insightful information! Click the links below to listen:
The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating. Our mission is to help as many folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!
We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.
Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian and Founder of The Balanced Practice
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