The Body-Shaming Reality Of The Dance Industry

26th April 2018

I was scrolling through Facebook a couple of weeks ago when I came across a post about a young woman who had been body-shamed at a dance audition.

Alana Grant had shared her story on how she had been cut at an audition because the director decided that she ''wouldn't want to see her in hot pants on stage'' and to ''sort out her body and it might get her job.'' I felt disgusted and appalled at how someone could say such a thing.

It made me think about how cruel, shallow and soul-destroying the performance industry can be. Judging performers on their body-image rather than what they can bring to the table feels like such a medieval way of thinking. The modelling industry is beginning to tackle the issues on body image, so why is everyone so accepting to performers being body-shamed?

As an industry, something needs to be improved. Commenting on a dancers' physique can cause detrimental effects such as: eating disorders, depression, anxiety and sometimes worse issues can begin developing.

Research has found that ballet dancers have a three times higher risk of suffering from eating disorders compared to other athletes; much of it due to the pressure they receive from the industry.
Also, the highest risk of eating disorder development in ballet dancers is around ages to 11-15.

It is saddening to think of the many dancers who have suffered with eating disorders and other issues, just because the industry more than less resort to image over talent. So what if they're bigger, thinner, taller, smaller etcetera - if they can perform and love what they do then there shouldn't be a problem.

I wanted to investigate further on this topic by finding dancers and listening to their body-shaming stories. I came across quite a few and what i've discovered is worrying.

I spoke to Zoe McNulty, a Body Confidence Coach and Headmistress at the School of Strut. She told me how she went to Ibiza and landed a job at a club as a podium dancer. What she said next was shocking. She told me on her first night dancing there , she was asked by the owner of the night who was big name DJ to ''get down'' and that ''she doesn't have the look'', although Zoe was only a size 14.

On my first night of dancing there, I was asked by the owner of the night who a big name DJ, to ''get down'' and that I ''don't have the look.''

—Zoe McNulty, Body Confidence Coach

I couldn't believe it. Zoe shared a video with me the night she was asked to leave and she didn't look big at all, and she was very good at dancing. She told me how it was a kick in the teeth, but still loved dance and wanted to pursue something within the industry, but not her dream career because she didn't want to be told that she was too big to do the job.

Zoe then set up the School of Strut - not a real school, but a metaphor, to help women feel good about themselves regardless of their shape and size. She teachers women fun and sexy dance routines to help them with their body confidence, as well as doing something that she loves.

Here's the video of the night Zoe was body-shamed. Credit to: Zoe McNulty.

I also spoke to Katie Smith, a dance student at The Centre Performing Arts College.

Katie's story in particular was shocking.

At the first college she went to, she told me how she was body-shamed so many times. She used to get called fat on a daily basis and told to lose weight but they never gave her any advice on how to.

They also told her repeatedly that she would never get a job in the business at the weight and look she was and that if she didn't have a six pack, then she couldn't be in the dance. How can teachers and professionals be so insensitive? Katie also told me how she would wear certain clothes as she was too scared to show her body and went through a very tough stage where the look of her body would make her feel sick.

I think it's ludicrous how teachers, who are meant to guide and support you throughout your education can be so unsympathetic and make one of their students feel that bad, that they hid their body with certain clothes and had to leave the college.

Not all dancers and performers are body-shamed and encouraged to go on a strict diet. Sometimes the industry requires a certain look for a specific role, this particularly applies to those auditioning for a role in a musical.

But we do still need to change the stigmal of the 'ideal' dance body.

Perhaps their needs to be more educational learning and conversation between teachers and pupils on the correct nutrition a dancer needs.

According to the specialists at Youth Protection Advocates in Dance (YPAD), when a dance teacher or studio owner uneducated in nutrition chooses to advice impressionable young dancers on a diet, there can be a lot of negative consequences.

Like Katie, who told me about her experience of being body-shamed, her previous college teachers didn't advice her on the suitable nutrition a dancer needs.

I spoke to Richard Evans, a Casting Director who told me his views and thoughts on body-shaming in the dance industry.

He said: ''While health is obviously important, I have known outstanding dancers who are both extremely thin and extremely large, neither has affected their light-footedness or abilities.

''However, some choreographers can be quite sizeist, but it depends on whats required. I also expect that in some training schools, rehearsals, dressing and changing rooms there can be some quite nasty things said.

''In Musical Theatre, the medium in which I work, there is room for all types, shapes and sizes depending on the project concerned.

Richard went on to tell me a story about a dancer who came to an audition for a West End Show who was recalled, but was second choice because she was larger.

''I got her back several months later and the same thing happened. Her agent asked me for feedback and I tentatively broached the subject that in order for her to get the job, she would need to lose some weight.

''Her agent asked me for feedback and I tentatively broached the subject that in order for her to get job, she would need to lose some weight.''

—Richard Evans, Casting Director

''Her agent was very understanding and said she would talk to her about this, as she really wanted the job. She was sensible about her weight loss, and I got back to her three times during her dieting time.

''On the fifth attempt, her perseverance paid off and she got the job, in a better role than she had already auditioned for.''

The dance world is clearly not as pretty as everyone thinks. There are flaws in the sector, which are still prevalent now since it began a long time ago. We need to educate our dancers, particularly our younger ones, on a healthy diet. We need to focus more on talent and not just how long a dancers' neck is, or how flat her chest is. We need to stop body-shaming men too.

Let's stop fetishising thin and fetish talent instead.