Archive | April, 2013

Too big to dance?

9 Apr

“You’re a good dancer, but you could lose some weight.”

The words that I have spent a good third of my life trying to avoid came at me full force after an adult ballet class I took a few days ago when I was out of town visiting my grandmother.

Hot-faced, I agreed with the teacher, knowing full well that at 5’2” and 122 pounds, I am practically morbidly obese in the dance world. I would have rather her told me that my turns weren’t sharp enough, my leg wasn’t high enough, my feet weren’t pointed enough—any criticism but that.

When I told my friend about the comment she was shocked that a stranger would tell me something like that to my face and asked, “Well, would they rather have a bad and skinny dancer?”

In the ballet world, companies expect girls who are technically brilliant and have about 3 % body fat. Horror stories about eating disorders run rampant, fueled by Black Swan* and other media portrayals of anorexia and bulimia in ballerinas. Some of it is overblown, but some of  it’s sad but true—dancers are constantly fighting their bodies and it’s often not acceptable for these high performing athletes to look like, well, athletes.


            A New York Times dance critic called out New York City Ballet principal Jennifer Ringer for looking like she had eaten “one sugarplum too many;” an especially biting “review” because Ringer had recently opened up about her years-long struggle with eating disorders.

Misty Copeland, the first African American soloist in American Ballet Theatre in decades, says she’s been told to lose weight and struggles with being considered a “curvy” dancer.


Misty Copeland. Too curvy? I think not.

I’ve known too many girls who are gorgeous dancers, wonderful people and, even though they don’t look like they have an ounce of fat on their bodies, are pressured by their directors to lose weight, lose weight, lose weight. No matter that these girls have almost perfect technique, are proportional, and look like women, not preteen boys.

I read an article about dancers’ bodies where someone argued that requiring such slenderness from dancers is a power play. Asking dancers to look like little girls keeps them acting like little girls—powerless.

The aesthetic is changing though. Contemporary choreography is more athletic—it asks for strong women who can perform full, powerful movements; not waifs floating through a fantasy world.

Take a look at what audiences are actually watching. Professional ballet companies are struggling—the digital age doesn’t have the patience (or the cashflow) for three hours of The Sleeping Beauty, but over 10 million viewers tuned in for the first season of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.


Me just dancing around.

The dancers I can’t help but watch perform feats of intense physicality with the ease and stamina that only comes from well-developed and properly utilized muscles. They haven’t starved their souls into submission either—their personality and style shine because they have the strength to project themselves and fill up the space.**

I’m not sure if anyone reads this besides my mom, but if dear blogosphere, if you’re out there, thoughts?


**Like Drew Jacoby of Jacoby and Pronk, all of the members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Pilobulus, Misty Copeland, and others.


I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t go no crystal ball.

4 Apr

A few days ago, I was sitting in my friends’ kitchen, chatting and dunking freshly baked chocolate chip cookies into a class of soy milk (she was out of cow’s milk). I don’t remember exactly where the conversation went—probably discussing the relative merits of different types of dairy—but it led me to make an offhand comment.

            “Oh yeah, I’ve never seen a whole dead goat, but I saw a goat head one time.”

            Claire and her weekend guest looked at me with the type of horror and disgust people usually reserve for talking about incest.

            “Where? Why?”

            “Well, it was part of this Santeria sacrifice I saw on a road in Cuba.”

            Shocked silence.

            “There was this really auspicious tree on the road to the National Theater and the Plaza de la Revolucion. I always saw dead birds or offerings of fruit and stuff like that there.”

            When I stopped to think about it, I frequently almost stepped in quite a few piles of pieces of dead animal, paper, ribbons and other sundries that I realized were some sort of offering seconds before plunging my foot into that benevolent blessing (or something less friendly).

            Claire continued to stare, bewildered.

            I didn’t really know how to explain the whole phenomenon because it was one of those things that just sort of exists in Cuba and you are aware of, but you don’t worry too much about (like your eccentric 7th grade geography teacher’s dating life—he’s in his mid-thirties, he’s single, what does he do on the weekend? Whatever.)

            Honestly, I still don’t really know a whole lot about Cuban religions of African descent—I have a fuzzy understanding of the various gods and goddesses, the rituals and the doctrine. This is not meant to be an educational post on the goddess Yemaja or what exactly is an orisha—I’m fully admitting ignorance on 99.9% of these religions because, newsflash for the uninitiated, belief systems and codification of them is complicated. What this is meant to be is a commentary: Maybe there is not so much difference between a decapitated goat’s head outside of someone’s apartment and wearing a necklace with the image of a man painfully dying.

            Until you know the whole story, many things look strange at first glance.

            So I guess one man’s disemboweled bird is another man’s not eating cow.


[A lighter example: We were happily eating milk-soaked cookies, an American pastime, but my Mexican tutor told me that dunking cookies in milk is just weird to many people in the Yucatan, and not a thing.]