health

What it's like to deal with your period when you're a ballet dancer.

For something that happens to 50 per cent of the population, talking about periods still remains largely taboo.

While that time of the month can throw up problems for any woman, it can be particularly tricky when it impacts your ability to do your job or the things you love.

One group that falls into this category are ballet dancers.

For many, the problems start in puberty when they first get their period. With many classes strict on a no underwear policy, young ballet dancers face a dilemma.

ballet dancers period feature
It's particularly a problem for young dancers. Image: iStock

"You can't wear underwear under your tights as your leotards are normally really high cut and they would show and it can feel really uncomfortable with them too," former dancer *Imogen told Mamamia.

This makes it difficult to use a pad, which can also prove cumbersome while dancing, making the wearer feel uncomfortable or self-conscious or limiting the fluidity of movement.

"I don't know what you'd do if you couldn't wear tampons - it's so hard to dance in a pad," she said.

"I wore tampons but you did hear stories of people wearing tampons while performing and you'd see the string or something."

Listen: Ballerina Amy Harris on being a dancer and a mother. Post continues after audio.


While a tampon may seem like a straightforward solution, for many preteens and teens they can be impractical or too intimidating.

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It's a question regularly asked in forums of parents whose daughters dance, with the option of wearing a skirt or shorts over tights not always available.

"One teacher I asked said that at her school (where she went when she was younger), girls were basically forced to use tampons! Nothing else would be allowed, and a female teacher would take the girl to the bathroom to assist. The only alternative was to sit out," one parent wrote on www.mothering.com.

"I danced for years, and wore wingless pads stuck to my tights for about a year after I started my period, then started with junior tampons when I was about 14 and would just wear them for the class and then go back to pads when I was done with class," wrote another user.

"By 15 I was in tampons full time because I HATE that 'dripping' sensation and frankly, a pad mushing around when trying to dance was very uncomfortable, so I totally get why they discourage it."

ballet dancers in class
Image: Getty

Other recommendations including trying sticking a pad on a thong, or opting for the light versions.

"I took ballet and pointe for 5 years after I started menstruating. What worked for me was extra-thin, extra-narrow pads in my tights, with leotard over. This worked fine, even for my two hour classes," another wrote.

An ex-ballet dancer in another dancing forum recommended wearing tights that go all the way up to the natural waist rather than the hips and sticking your pad to them.

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"It works and has been working for dancers since way before tampons were invented," she wrote.

The learning experience for dancers isn't easy.

"As a young dancer, learning to manage periods often landed me in embarrassing circumstances. The uncomfortable realization that you have bled through your leotard and tights is all too familiar," 20 year old dancer Sarah* recently told Seventeen.

"I was always having to improvise with toilet paper and borrow shorts from classmates. I've even had a teacher whisper to me in the middle of barre: 'You're bleeding!'."

"One time i had my period, i had a pad and shorts BUT it bled on my pink tights during centre exercises. I don't know if they really noticed...Thank god while the other girls were drinking water I could change my shorts for longer ones that would hide the blood on my tights. I think my teacher noticed that... Ew," wrote someone else on YouTube.

Listen: Is the Big Ballet documentary empowering or fat shaming? Post continues after audio.

While it gets easier as you become more comfortable with your body and finding out what works for you, that doesn't mean dancing on your period when you're older is without complications.

In a YouTube video posted in December last year, former soloist with the New York City ballet Kathryn Morgan said she always took precaution whenever she was performing to ensure she never had an "incident" bleeding through on stage.

"What I used to do before performances, whether or not I had my period or whether or not I had finished or in the middle of my cycle, I always wore a tampon. Every single show, without fail," she said.

"Our bodies are weird, sometimes you might have a leak, or your timings are off so I would wear one for every performance and never had an issue.

"There was one performance I started so I was so glad I had one in. I don't think I ever bled on a costume because I took precaution."

Other recommendations from Morgan including wearing an extra pair of tights, opting for black tights or wearing panties or a thong under costumes where you have more coverage.

Because of the rare but still present risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome associated with leaving tampons in the body too long, doctors often advise not to insert tampons when you're not on your period, as many of Morgan's followers pointed out.

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Many suggested using a moon cup as an alternative if dancers did want to take precaution.

Dance teacher Alyssa Marie shared similar sentiments on her blog Beyond Ballerinas in 2015 to a question sent in by a reader about embarrassment over bleeding through their rights.

"An alternative to wearing a tampon is using the DivaCup. It takes a little bit of getting use to but once you get the hang of it, it is a lifesaver! Not only do you not need to carry tampons with you, but it will hold more liquid than a tampon does and is non-toxic for your body," she wrote.

Image via Getty.

On heavier days, she advised wearing an extra light pad and asking your teacher if you can wear shorts or a skirt.

"Do what you need to do to feel comfortable. If you do have a moment when you feel yourself start to bleed through, quietly leave the class, go to the bathroom, and change into an extra pair of tights and a leotard," she wrote.

"As teachers, we understand these circumstances, and are more gracious to these types of episodes than you think. Just continue to handle yourself with maturity and it does not need to be a big deal at all!"

Of course it's important to acknowledge that menstruation goes beyond bleeding, with side effects like stomach cramps, severe pain, bloating and headaches also causing problems.

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And while it can be a hinderance, other dancers told Seventeen viewed the arrival of their period as a good thing.

"I've found that dancing on my period actually has some advantages. The exercise relieves cramps, and because of the hormonal changes I'm always more flexible before and during my period," 21 year-old Emma* told the magazine.

In an industry which takes its toll on the human body, it can also be a welcome sign of health.

"When I got really competitively into dance I would actually stop getting my period because my body wasn’t used to being under such physical pressure all the time", 20 year-old Ellie said.

"I actually missed [getting my period] though, and now that I dance less, I actually started getting my period again. I think having your period is a good reminder that you're strong and healthy.”

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