Nobody Has a Perfect Dance Body. How Can You Turn “Imperfections” Into Assets?

From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer’s body that is not under scrutiny. It’s easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.

Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. “The days of carbon-copy dancers are over,” says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. “Only when you’re confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have.”

Read the full article at Dance Magazine


Our Changing Bodies – Notes for Dancers in Ballet 3 classes and above

At ABA we maintain strict dress code standards because of the necessity in ballet training to create long, clean lines, and for our the instructors to be able to easily see those lines.  However, as our young dancers mature and begin menstruating, we find that they are sometimes self-conscious in class when wearing pads.

We know this a sensitive and delicate topic, and we want to encourage positive transitions into this new time of life.  To this end, Ms. Abra has spoken with the young women in our Ballet 5 and 6 classes, and they have said that they would sometimes like to wear a skirt or dance shorts (in a solid color) when they have their periods, which we support.  They may also wear black tights when they are menstruating. We do not sell skirts, but we do sell black dance shorts and black tights.

Also, Ms. Abra will loan out her ballet skirts if needed.  Please ask her or her assistant, and they will give you a combination to the locker in the lobby where the skirts are stored.  Please return the skirt to the locker after class.

We have reviewed some other ballet schools’ policies on this subject, and found that they are similar.  Thank you for your understanding and support, and please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.


The Discipline of Ballet Class

This article about Dance Discipline is from a dance blog written by Theresa A. Velardi, certified to teach Classical Ballet (Cecchetti method) and Tap through Dance Masters of America teacher, Dance Educators of America and Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey.

Discipline in ballet class simply means learning, practicing and demonstrating expected behaviors specifically associated with ballet. From the dancers’ viewpoint, discipline comes from the desire to meet and obtain the desired results in class, that is, learning and perfecting the steps taught. Taking ballet class develops self discipline of the body as well as critical thinking skills. Practicing ballet physically changes the body by teaching it a way to communicate through the choreographed movements, we call steps.

Dancers, executing the required barre, center and across the floor dance combinations, requires them to focus on the exercises and combinations in logical, orderly phrases, that create a sequence. Those phrases relate to the accompanying music. The dancer requires self discipline to meet the standards of ballet. Sometimes, learning to commit to the study of ballet, dancers increase self discipline and abilities which may have a positive effect on learning in other areas of their lives.

The ballet teacher views discipline as a commitment to practicing the steps taught as well as structure, rules and etiquette of the ballet class. Discipline in the ballet classroom connects dancers to the history of ballet that dates back to the courts of the Renaissance period and the formal traditions that have become ballet classroom heritage The connection to tradition results in combining performance with an appreciation of the beauty of ballet.

Dance students need to understand that becoming a dancer requires accepting feed back from the teacher. Too often, teacher feed back is received by the dancer incorrectly. Dancers who are Teens, high school students, especially, believe that the teacher may be there to make their life more difficult, and take correction personally. The teacher, while applying discipline to her class is only applying discipline as a whole.

One area is class attire. The dancer’s and teacher’s attire for class contribute to professionalism and class atmosphere. The school director decides how stringent classroom attire should be to obtain professionalism. Today there are too many dance catalogs on the market and online dance stores in which the manufacturers believe how dance students should dress for class. It is not up the manufacturer of these garments to dictate what the dancers need and need not wear. It is up to the teacher of the class to promote professionalism within the classroom.

Class attire is a discipline that is important for me as a teacher. Unity in class attire gives the dancers a piece of history as well as an ease of eye, for the teacher, while she looks at her class in the mirror. With class unity, it is easy for the teacher to identify any mistakes or dancers who are out of place. Confusion comes from seeing too many colors, styles and forms of dancewear in the mirror. Hair needs to be confined and off the neck. Bangs and short hair need to be confined. No hair should be swinging at any time. It creates a distraction to the dancer as well looks sloppy in class.

Another area of discipline is class behavior. During class, dancers are expected to be quiet while the teacher gives the instructions for combinations, or offers a correction. Talking in class to your classmates, should be prohibited. If the dancer has question, then she should raise her hand and wait to be acknowledged by the teacher to ask her question. Obviously gum chewing is unsafe and unsightly in the class and also distracts the dancers concentration. Jewelry should be absent. Small post earring are not a hazard or distraction and may be worn, but dangling earrings create not only a hazard for the dancer but a distraction for the teacher.

Classroom behavior also involves courteousness towards other dancers as well as respect for authority…the teacher. Cell phones, which are a distraction, need to remain off and tucked away and never checked during class time. This is not only a distraction to concentration for the dancer but rude to the class and mostly to the teacher.

Discipline in ballet is a way of life, a good way to learn to lead your life outside of the dance room. Self discipline will follow your for the rest of your life and your beginning is in the ballet classroom.

Click here for a link to the original article.

Bringing Up the Weight Word

Here’s a an article in the October 2009 issue of Dance Magazine about a sensitive subject in the ballet world by Nancy Wozny.

How to talk to students about a touchy subject

by Nancy Wozny

An offhand comment from a teacher such as, “Gained a little weight?” can leave its mark on a young dancer. When Patricia Rozow heard those very words from her ballet instructor at the age of 15, something shifted in her thinking that contributed to a 15-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. “I went from 113 pounds to 85 pounds,” recalls Rozow, a former dancer with Ballet West and Cincinnati Ballet. “That probably wasn’t what that teacher had in mind.”

Maintaining a healthy physique—not too heavy but not dangerously thin—is a reality of going pro as a dancer, and helping students commit to that ideal is one of a teacher’s many jobs. “A physically toned and sculpted body is a part of a dancer’s package, just like turnout, extension, and elevation,” says Rozow, now chair of the dance program at Cincinnati’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts. But the subject of losing (or gaining) weight to achieve that aesthetic can be extremely sensitive, particularly during the emotional minefield of the teen years, when the body is in flux and body image more vulnerable than ever. So what’s the best way to talk to students about their weight, without causing undue emotional, psychological, or physical harm?Dance Magazine spoke with school directors across the country to find out.

At Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, you won’t find teachers making sly “slim down” comments at the barre. Shelly Power, associate director of the school, insists that teachers concerned about a dancer’s weight come to her first. At least three teachers need to bring up the same concern before Power calls for a one-on-one conversation with the student, which she does only with parental consent and notification. “We want to make sure it’s not just one person’s opinion,” she says. “These situations are best handled as a team, when the student knows they have support and access to resources that can help them make a change. That can’t happen with a remark in a hallway.”

Age and emotional maturity are other factors to consider. “I almost never bring up the subject with a child before the age of 15,” says Margaret Tracey, associate director of Boston Ballet School. “The body needs time to settle in. And if the discussion isn’t completely necessary, it’s not worth the trauma.” She also thinks about a dancer’s professional goals. “If I know they’re going on to a university to pursue another career, it just doesn’t make sense to start that conversation.” Like Power, Tracey keeps parents in the loop. “I need to know that the child is in a supportive environment,” she says. “Without that piece, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Once she has decided to meet with a student, Tracey chooses her language carefully. She steers clear of the words “weight” or “fat” and never mentions a specific number of pounds to be gained or lost. Instead, she frames the conversation around being in the best shape possible. “I talk about dance being a visual art. You will be presenting yourself, so let’s figure out how you can be at your best,” she says. “And I never draw comparisons to other dancers. That can be very destructive.” Similarly, Power focuses on “physicality” (rather than “weight”) as “part of a larger set of requirements” for a dance career. She stresses the demands of partnering, and the aesthetic preferences of different choreographers, as reasons to stay fit. “It’s not just about getting skinny,” she says.

Helping dancers reach an acceptable weight means educating them about nutrition. Both Tracey and Power arrange for students who need assistance to work one on one with a nutritionist. “They learn to keep a food journal and receive an individualized eating plan, while not entirely giving up their favorite foods,” says Power. “What we give them isn’t a diet but a life-long strategy for health.” At Boston Ballet and Houston Ballet, group nutrition classes are also a regular offering for all students.

In contemporary dance, the pressure to look long and lean may be less intense, but staying sculpted and toned is just as necessary. As Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School, explains, “You’ll see all kinds of bodies in our two companies, but the fitness level is extremely high.” The school’s nutritionist, Marie Scioscia, offers a seven-week health and nutrition workshop for freshmen in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and students dealing with weight issues, as well as in-depth one-on-one sessions. Her classes debunk common myths like low-carb diets. “Carbs are a dancer’s fuel,” she says. “Without them the body craves sugar. We also address portion size and timing of meals, to minimize nighttime eating.”

At the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Rozow often talks about healthy eating during technique class. She also offers student-parent workshops taught by former dancer Judy Vogel. “We encourage parents to prepare healthy snacks,” she says. “When I see kids toting around a box of cereal all day, I get worried. I also stress that a diet isn’t what you eat to lose weight, but what you do to be physically and mentally fit.”

Staying in shape does not mean wasting away. A too-thin dancer requires immediate attention due to the long-term risks of eating disorders. “My alarm bells ring louder in this potentially dangerous situation,” says Tracey. “A dancer needs to know that their health is more important than being in class. We don’t take it lightly, and require a doctor’s note to return.” When Jefferson has concerns about a student rapidly losing weight, she either asks permission to call their parents, or, if less urgent, places them in a wellness workshop with Linda Hamilton, Dance Magazine advice columnist.

A dancer usually knows when she needs to work on her body. “Sometimes it’s almost a relief to have it out in the open,” says Tracey. “The student might decide not to make this their battle and pursue another career.” Jefferson remembers a student who, after a long struggle with her weight, chose to study physical therapy. “We can’t force students to make changes,” she says. “Some will find ways to continue dancing where their weight is not an issue; those possibiities exist.”

Whether it leads them forward in dance or into another field, grappling with a weight problem compels dancers to ask, “Can I do this? Do I want to do this?” Whatever they decide, the teacher’s role is to guide and support them, not bring them down. Tracey sums up one of her goals: “I want them to come through this with their self-esteem intact.”

Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health in Houston. Click here for a link to the original article.