How To Stay Body Positive In The Ballet Studio
Can you remember the last time you checked your phone?
With so many apps and google at our finger tips, ‘screen time’ has become a regular part of our day.
But have you ever thought of your mind as a screen?
It makes sense to think of it this way, as so much of what we see (and hear) becomes a mental image that we relate to on a personal level.
What images come to your mind when you think of your body?
As a dancer, thinking about how your body looks may have become second nature. The way you glide your foot through the ground in your barre exercises, the position of your pelvis as you float your leg gracefully into an arabesque.
Constantly checking the mirror to make sure everything is in its place, could mean that anything you perceive as ‘out of place’ may cause you to become critical of your body. The way you process these images can have an influence on your thoughts and feelings.
Body image is the perception a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. These feelings can be positive, negative or both and are influenced by individual and environmental factors.
The good news is that many of the challenging thoughts and feelings that arise in relation to your body can be put to good use, you can learn from them. In fact, if you find yourself feeling stressed when it comes to your body, then developing a healthy perspective by noticing your thoughts and feelings is a great place to begin.
Take stock of the thoughts and feelings you have about your body
With patience and curiosity, you can begin unravelling some unhelpful thoughts about yourself, which may have become knotted in your mind. These negatively charged sentences along with feelings form part of your inner monologue.
After your next class, take some time to write down some thoughts you noticed about your body and how you felt when these came to mind.
Like the work you do at the barre, this is an exercise that will contribute to developing a stronger self-esteem.
Becoming aware of what is influencing you externally can also help.
Did you know that culture can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves, as well as the way we think about our body?
Take some time to observe the culture in your ballet studio. How do other dancers talk about their body? Depending on the culture and overall emphasis on body image involved, you may find that your surroundings either positively or negatively contribute to building a healthy body image and self-esteem.
Try taking a step back when you notice any negative thoughts and feelings brewing. What experiences may have lead you here? What has triggered this response? Like flicking the off switch on a kettle, you can begin to alter your environment, and your response to it.
At first, doing this may feel overwhelming, like sorting through a tonne of jigsaw pieces. Think of the movie Inside Out, when Joy upturns two cargo crates, spinning excitedly on ‘The Train of Thought’. She stops to try and sort them out, exclaiming:
“Oh no! These facts and opinions look so similar!”
Sometimes ballet culture makes it extremely challenging to maintain a positive body image. You may have been conditioned over time to believe that the opinion of others defines you.
But in reality, these are just ‘stories’ that have been internalised, and when you see them on your screen, you may interpret these opinions as facts.
How you interpret these images/stories/opinions is something every dancer is in control of.
You have a choice about what kind of images, thoughts and feelings you have about yourself.
Becoming more aware of what triggers your inner critic will help you re-evaluate what is worth your energy and what you can start to let go of.
Then you can focus on the facts.
Now that you’re becoming more aware, see how you go turning things around. For example, if you’re comparing yourself negatively to your classmates, try focussing on other things:
- remember non-body related aspects of yourself
- what are your strengths and values?
- focus on the progress you are making
- think about how your personality contributes to the culture around you
When you come back to these core aspects of yourself, you can focus on continually improving and positively influencing the world around you.
And look beyond the body shape of other dancers too. Notice things like:
- their personality
- how they work
- how they handle challenges
- the ways they inspire you
- compliment them on non-body related things.
By filling in the rest of the picture, you can put body image into perspective and help yourself and those around you build a positive image of themselves.
Another technique is to shift your self-talk and the way you communicate with others, by avoiding gossip. The goal is to come from a place of love, not judgement of your body.
Make a commitment to nurture your body.
Remember, your body is yours to live in for a lifetime.
Taking care of yourself is nourishment for your self-esteem, it sustains you over time. In doing so, you’ll also create healthy boundaries, and by setting limits around body image, you demonstrate to others what you will and will not accept.
These strategies will help you gain a healthy perspective and will also have a positive influence on the culture in your ballet studio. Your conscious effort to build a healthy body image and increase self-esteem will help you balance out any negativity.
Learn to see through mirrors
Rather than looking for reasons to criticise yourself or others, remember that true confidence is not linked with appearance. Use the mirror as a guide but remember, it doesn’t have all of the answers.
Try to work on getting a better feel for how you’re moving without relying on the mirror. Not only will this improve your body image, it will contribute to building your kinaesthetic awareness and help you transition from the studio to the stage.
So, instead of getting fixated on your reflection, perform through the mirror as if you’re in front of an audience.
Most importantly, Enjoy your body; use it to move, perform, express, be creative. Build up a memory bank of enjoyable experiences in your body and remind yourself of all the wonderful things your body allows you to do, feel and create.
When you nurture yourself with positive experiences, you will allow the screen in your mind to reflect this.
Create a safe space for you and your fellow dancers and stay body positive in the ballet studio.