For most of us, our dance life begins around three years olds; tiptoeing in tutus and tights. We are not self-conscious, in fact, we are totally uninhibited. We do not notice the size or shape of our bodies, we just merely enjoy the way it can move to the music and perform. Our pink, whimsical attire is quite gratifying to look at in the mirror. We are perfection and we know it.
Preserving the sweet feelings of how we perceive our bodies can easily change as we grow and develop. It's so easy to begin poking and prodding in front of the mirror. Noticing the way our leotard fits and our tights grab our waistline and ultimately that it may not pull or grab at your classmates the same way. The fixation eventually takes precedence over why we are wearing form-fitting attire and why we are here; to dance.
"We must continue to nurture and build our dancers up to acknowledge the wonders of our bodies; not just how they look in the mirror."
To combat the judgement of society, peers and body pressure we place on ourselves; we must stay focused on the mind/body connection that is instilled in dancers from their days of creative movement.
We must continue to nurture and build our dancers up to acknowledge the wonders of our bodies; not just how they look in the mirror. Sometimes I will tell my younger dancers to talk on their feet or legs to make sure they behave; feet pointing, legs pulled up and knees tracking over toes in a plié. As they grow, we focus on feeling pride as their legs work to straighten in a tendu rather than disappointment because they're not completely straight. What we are able to do with our bodies as dancers is quite spectacular and for me, a critical part of my teaching from the very start is making sure my students celebrate that. Dance workshop teaches a diverse group of dancers who approach dance with varying aspirations. Some of our students pursue a formal, pre-professional path while others simply come for recreation and physical activity. Yet despite their purpose, there is a level of competitiveness that will always exist as with any sport.
Many times, this competitive spirit extends beyond skill and includes physical comparisons as well. We've learned over the years this has to be addressed as early as possible - we do believe skill is within your control but physical differences may not be and in most cases, should not. It's important to us that this message resonates with young dancers growing up in a studio environment and it's a pillar our practice is based on. It doesn't have to be said but rather shown by treating all dancers impartially. Regardless of your shape and size the expectations for you are the same. If you've come to dance, you will do just that. Achievement is acknowledged in skill and dedication.
This approach empowers our young dancers and alters their focus to what should matter in their practice. It garners immediate love and awe for the physical body. While no two bodies are the same they are equally wonderful and strong.
Approaching our bodies with admiration for how high they can jump, deep they can stretch, quick they can pirouette builds tremendous confidence. Our bodies work so hard for us and will push as far as our minds can go.
Instilling this mindset as early as possible is the best preparation for the teenage years when the pressures and insecurities creep up on almost everyone. Appreciating your body for its strength and all of the things it can achieve on the dance floor is always on full display. How it can balance your entire body weight on one foot in pointe shoes is still astounding to me no matter how many times I've seen it. What about watching a dancer execute several pirouettes or fly overhead to jete´? And our students know their practice isn't limited to the studio and the hours they spend with us each week. Providing their bodies with the proper nutrition is essential. If you want peak performance you must feed your body what it needs. It's what fuels, heals and strengthens.
"Our students know their practice isn't limited to the studio and the hours they spend with us each week."
There is certainly a shift in the professional dance community and an increasing emphasis on positive body image. It is truly incredible to watch a group of dancers of all shapes and sizes visually blend together through their execution of steps. Although physically they look nothing alike, through technique, performance quality and passion they are able to become one. The movement unifies the dancers and reminds the viewer what can be achieved through discipline and the belief that your body and mind are boundless.
The dance community's view of what a dancer looks like is evolving.
Once a business known for hiring specific body types, talent and individuality is becoming the prerequisite these days. And talent comes in all shapes and sizes. Dancers are being hired for their uniqueness more than ever. Technique, personal style, hair, skin, personality, and fierceness all play into the equation at an audition.
Having "a dancer's body" is no longer required for entry. If dancers are confident in how they look, feel and dance they will project it to casting agents, choreographers, and the world. If the dancer can move his or her body with grace and poise at any shape, weight or height they are successfully dancing. There are no preconceived notions about dancers anymore. Judgment may only be based on what happens in the movement, not simply by how they look in stillness.
We have all experienced moments of insecurity, times where we compare ourselves to others and feel discouraged. Combatting this, I really believe is a work in progress for everyone. But in my world, the more we reinforce what dance is truly about, the way our bodies can move, lengthen and strengthen through hard work and practice, the more overall pride we will feel in ourselves and can tackle negative feelings. I have it on good authority!
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."