Diet Culture within the Dance Industry

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.

Dance is an Athletic Art Form

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.

The dancer aesthetic

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:

  • Classical (ballet, jazz, modern): smaller body, thin, tall (as mentioned above)
  • Street styles (Breaking, popping, hiphop): athleticism, strong, powerful, stamina
  • Heels: Sensuality, smaller or curvy bodies, emphasis on body image as representation of attraction and sensuality
  • Kpop: Korean body image influence
  • And more…

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

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.

Industry mindset:

  • Hustle Culture: When you need to work work work or train, train, train, if you want to get better. This can reinforce a lot of disordered mentality and behaviours.
  • It’s about more than the dancing: For most performing arts, your body is a huge part of the culture. So, having a specific body shape or size, plays a big role in the culture of this dance style. Often times, to be successful, you need to also “look the part”.
  • Requires you to micromanage your body: In order to “make it” or “accurately represent the style”, achieving a certain body shape/weight/size is reinforced, which forces you to micromanage and hyper focus on how body and what affects your body.
  • Your body is what will make you successful: There is often the reinforcement (especially in classical styles), that your body NEEDS to be a certain size in order to jump higher and spin faster. But we know that our bodies are still capable of doing this, and worthy of appreciation regardless of our size.

Body Image

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.

The Beauty and Harm Divide

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!

Practical tips to improve your body image while dancing

–> Look away from the mirror:

– 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.

–> Eat enough & Listen to your body:

– 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.

–> Remember what you are asking your body to do – treat it kindly:

– 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.

–> Respect others & Don’t comment on other people’s bodies

  • While doing the work to respect your own body, remember to also respect other people’s bodies. There is no such thing as a good or a bad body. Everyone is deserving to dance and connect through community.

–> Get support if you can – don’t wait

  • If you feel like you are having difficulties with your body image and/or managing your food intake as someone who dances, reach out to someone you trust. It can be a hard and awkward conversation to have but seeking support and not letting the issues worsen can help you preserve your love for dance and keep you safe.

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Looking to find Food Freedom but don’t know where to start?

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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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