One of my biggest regrets is not loving myself and not loving my body while I was a dancer. I wasted a lot of time and prevented myself from making great memories because I told myself a story about how I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I returned to dance I realized what I had.
I didn’t have any concept of size when I was a little girl.There was no doubt in my mind I could keep up with Baryshnikov and I looked liked his lithe partner. I could do the moves therefore I was a dancer. As I got older I started to realize I didn’t look like the other dancers. By the time I got to high school I was embarrassed to say I was a dancer. I loved to dance but when you say “dancer” that conjures up a certain body type and I could feel the listener’s eyes rolling up and down me. “Sure. A dancer. That’s nice.”
I’m not a huge girl. I’m not a tiny girl. When I’m with slim, trim girls, I look athletic. When I’m with larger girls, I can look right up there. I’m a size 10. A “10” in anything else would mean “perfect”. But when you’re ordering dance camp clothes and everyone’s ordering smalls and mediums and you need to order a large to be safe…makes you feel awesome.
I’m making myself sound like a weeble-wobble out there. I was very good. I made sure I was very good. If you were looking at me because I was the biggest one out there, you were going to look at one of the best dancers out there. I was evil to my body. Nothing was good enough. My balance should have been better. My flexibility should have been greater. Everything would have been perfect if I was smaller.
But I loved to dance. As much of an evil bully I was to myself, all the critics would vanish when I started to dance. I loved the way dance felt. I loved the way it felt to move, to have control. I loved when choreography was organic, one move bleed into another. I never was a character when I danced, I never became someone else. It was always an extension of me, a liberation of me because I was shy in high school. During halftime I could smile, even flirt with people (boys). I was Cora, the dancer.
Love wasn’t enough. There was a lot going on when I turned 18. One of the things was, in spite of recovering from a traumatic brain injury, I was invited to teach at the dance camp my dance team had attended the last four years. I had looked up to the instructors; I thought they were the coolest girls. There was a lot going on in my life, but I said no because I didn’t want to be the fat girl. I then found out about an audition for a dance company in Chicago. I said no to dance camp, I didn’t even consider the audition. That was a pipe dream. I was self-taught and a big girl? I’d take up space at the cattle call. That was pretty much the last time I danced.
After college, after hearing it several ways from several people, I had a revelation. I should appreciate my body for all it does for me. Whenever I start criticizing my looks, I remind myself of all my body does. When I was late for class, my body worked harder, moved my feet that much faster so I’d get there on time. When it had the option to recover/heal or stay near a vegetative state after my brain injury, it chose to heal. It didn’t have to. It didn’t have to re-learn how to walk and it certainly didn’t have to let me dance my Senior year in high school.
My body works very hard for me and it rarely complains. It attempts everything I ask it to do. I’m not naturally flexible, but it allowed me to stretch it, to hold stretches longer, and gradually improve. When I have one more set of reps and I’m tired, it always gives it it’s best shot. My body loves to dance so last year I returned to dance…a little different.
I tried belly dancing last year and found a new love. It was one of the first times I really got to dance in front of a mirror so I got to observe my body. And I got to be honest. Yeah I’m not a stick figure, but I’m not dumpy. My body does a great job. It loved all the new movements it learned. It was relaxing and a lot more like playing. My instructor asked why I decided to try belly dancing. I joked I have hips, I might as well use them. They’re also a pretty good metronome and usually find the beat before the rest of me does.
I’m happy to say after a lot of work I’m much better friends with my body. I respect it more than I did. It sometimes can get a little challenging (like when I’m jean shopping) but I return to love and remind myself all my body does and chooses to do for me.
This summer I happened to see a clip from the Chicago company I could have auditioned for. There were big girls up there. Not- your-average-dancer size, like me size. And they were jumping and they were doing lifts. I told my mom and she wasn’t surprised. it was never my size that kept me from auditioning. It was my mind and the story I was telling myself.
You are the author of the story you’re telling yourself. You are the authority. If you don’t like the story, change it.
I wrote this blog because I was inspired by the Lingerie Love Your Curves- Size Acceptance Charity Drive. I found out about it through Christine Arylo.