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 of her experience.

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."

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

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

"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 included trying sticking a pad on a thong, or opting for the light versions.

"I took ballet and pointe for five 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.

And of course, if the teacher allows the students to wear underwear under their leotards, period undies can be a good option. Yes, they can feel a little bulky, but there are no wings to contend with or worries about anything moving around out of place as you leap across the floor.


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.

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

Alice*, who both danced herself and taught ballet and other styles of dance for eight years, says she would always use tampons – but used the applicator versions when she was a teen getting used to them.

"Trying to insert a tampon freaked me out when I was younger, but I found applicator tampons much easier to use. At the same time, I had a teacher who didn't have a problem with us wearing shorts or a gauzy skirt over, so something like an errant string showing wasn't ever a big concern for me personally.

"If I got my period at the time of exams or performances, I'd wear a tampon and a g-string, and just... hope for the best."

The learning experience for dancers isn't easy.

"As a young dancer, learning to manage periods often landed me in embarrassing circumstances. The uncomfortable realisation 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.

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. However, 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.

Other recommendations from Morgan that are less risky health-wise include wearing an extra pair of tights, opting for black tights and leotard if you can, or wearing undies or a g-string under costumes where you have more coverage.

Many also 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 to a question sent in by a reader about embarrassment over bleeding through their tights.

"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!"

Another tip? Make sure you pack some spare dance gear in your bag so you have a change of clothes in an emergency. Either pop them in your bag when you have your period, or always keep a spare pair of tights and leotard in your bag so you'll never be caught short. 

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.

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 that takes a 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.”

*These women are known to Mamamia but have chosen to remain anonymous.

This article was originally published in July 2017 and has since been updated.