In An Industry Built On Body Shaming, There's A Revolution Afoot


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!

6min read

What Sexual Abuse Survivors Want You to Know

In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.

For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.

Believe it or not, I am happy about that.

The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.

It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).

These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.

So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.

Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.

The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.