A controversial new reality show called Big Ballet will soon air in the UK, but Body Positive Dance Company director Ragan Chastain doesn’t think it’s helping the cause of fuller-figured dancers
The show will feature plus-size dancers (or, as I like to call them, dancers) performing a version of Swan Lake. Even as the women involved explain that a dancer at any size would look sweet, commenters rushed to disparage their dancing, sight unseen. Even the director, Wayne Sleep, who pulled this together said, “They’re too big to be dancers and they don’t mind me saying it.”
Maybe they don’t but I do. The dance world has created a stereotypical ideal of a “dancer’s body” and, overtime, that has manifested into a myth that only people with a specific type of body can dance. I get e-mails from fans literally every day telling me that they had always wanted to dance but until they saw one of my videos, they didn’t think that women our size could dance at all.
It’s not just dance either. This idea that fitness is a body size (dancer’s body, swimmers build, athletic physique etc.) actually ends up discouraging people from getting involved in fitness, and it self-perpetuates because those who don’t fit the mold and do try to get involved end up being told that they have the wrong body. Somehow we’ve made an arbitrary stereotype into some kind of law and, as a society, we police people who break it. This is why the fat women who want to dance on the show have to worry that viewers will “tune in to laugh and point at someone playing a role usually danced by a woman half her size.” This is why those who aren’t seen as naturally athletic are so damaged by junior high school gym class that they turn away from sports and movement for the rest of their lives.
This is also what drives the strange double edged sword wherein people insist that fat people need to exercise, but seem to want us to do it in our houses with the blinds drawn under a blanket or they’ll promptly mistreat us verbally and even physically.
If we really want people to pursue healthy habits then we should be removing every barrier that we can – and we could start by creating a world where people feel comfortable engaging movement without fear that they will be treated poorly for doing so. We should also make every possible type of movement available to as many people as possible – dance, swimming, walking, sports at every level – in a climate of encouragement and not stigma.