NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Lindsey McGovern, Owner and Director of Enchanted Dance Academy. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
What even defines a “healthy body image” in this day and age? It’s nearly impossible to avoid feelings of insecurity--especially as a teenager--as we’re subjected to constant comparison through various growing forms of social media. While the modeling and fashion industries are certainly making strides to value all body types, insecurity in growing dancers is still all too prevalent--in part due to the mirrors surrounding them, typical dress codes for class, industry body type standards, and the need to “look right” in a costume. It’s January and the time is upon us, as dance instructors and studio owners, to place costume orders and hand them out in class. Because of all our students are subjected to in their lives and online, it may seem tricky to avoid negative or damaging comments about size and appearance as they try on their tight, maybe revealing costumes in a room full of mirrors. There are, however, ways we can lessen or prevent self-deprecating comments from dancers, normalize conversations about body image, and even make them feel good as we navigate our way through costume fittings.
Navigating Negative Talk
As a studio owner and instructor in recovery from an eating disorder (onset in my teenage years), I am keenly aware of trigger points in conversation and in my environment. While we can’t possibly control everything that comes out of the mouths of our students, we can make it clear what type of conversations are acceptable in our building. Whenever I hear students talking about their size or losing weight, no matter the age, I shut it down with something general, like, “You are so beautiful the way you are; no more of that talk here!” This kind of light comment makes it known that conversations about weight loss are not appropriate in the dance studio. If I notice the dancer continues with that kind of attitude, I may address the comment with a more therapeutic approach, providing a more private and sincere check-in/reassurance. There’s a fine but distinct difference between a dancer talking about weight loss because it’s “relatable” versus a dancer making comments that suggest he or she is in a dark place with their body image. Both situations must be handled with compassion in order to foster a healthy environment.
Taking Costume Measurements
How do I take measurements? I sacrifice efficiency. I take the measurement in class privately and write it down myself, no matter how long it takes. Other tips:
- I have an assistant work with the rest of the group on something unrelated: drills, choreography, a game, or another form of “distraction.”
- I prepare the little ones by telling them they’ll come over and stand in second position, and ask them to tell me a joke as I measure them.
- I make it as fast as possible, but I never say numbers aloud. Saying the number out loud only validates that the number indicates what size they’ll receive. The dancer doesn’t need to know how many inches their waist is and they certainly don’t need to overhear measurements for anyone else.
Even with this system, I notice dancers paying careful attention to their own measurements, or my younger dancers trying to peak at my chart to see who’s the tallest or smallest. I remember how stressful it was for me as a dancer with intense body image issues. That’s exactly why I keep it private and quick.
Trying On Costumes
How do I prevent uncomfortable situations or triggering conversations while trying on costumes? Again, I make it quick. I hand out the costume, have them change into it, and then line them up facing AWAY from the mirror. I take a look to make sure everyone’s costume is manufactured correctly, and then I have them try the dance in the costume. Afterward, I tell them to take it off and come over to me if they think they’d be more comfortable in a different size. No stress is placed on anyone who feels they need to size up or down, and there’s less comparison having them face away from the mirror.
- Take the costumes out of the bag and hang them on a hanger labeled with the dancer’s name, so the size is hidden inside the costume rather than displayed on the outside of the bag.
- If questions arise, make it clear that the size is usually determined by the length of the torso. This is less stressful than the idea of weight determining size, and pretty much true.
- Without singling people out, offer plenty of undergarment options to the group to ease stress from anyone who wants to wear a bra.
- All general comments from me are about how the costume flatters the DANCE, not the DANCER, unless I feel they need reassurance. Example: “The fringe on this costume makes the hip shakes look SO much more fun!”
Fostering a body-positive environment all year long can ease the entire costume process. For the sake of the mental health of our dancers, it is critical that we pay attention. Take note if you have a dancer who fails to follow the dress code each week, as it might mean they are uncomfortable with their size or weight. Take note of the dancer who refuses to take off their sweatshirt, or the dancer who gets distracted staring in the mirror. Maybe you need to make adjustments to your dress code. It is truly not the end of the world to provide an option for a long-sleeve leotard or warm-up jacket in class, especially if it makes the dancers more comfortable. Know your dancers, and choose costumes that will flatter different body types and help all to feel comfortable. Let’s move away from the dated saying, “We used to wear what our teacher chose and that was that!” You can still have the power to choose their costume, but choose it based on what your dancers will feel good in, because you’ve paid attention all year and you understand them. As long as there is an “ideal body type” in our culture, there will be dancers wishing to look like that ideal. But failing to create an environment that accepts and celebrates all body types is dated, damaging, and 100% avoidable. Let’s do our part.
Lindsey McGovern is a Boston-based dancer, choreographer, and studio owner. She received a degree in Sport/Movement Science (dance concentration) from Salem State University in 2015. She then opened Enchanted Dance Academy in Winchester, MA, where she teaches many styles of dance to ages 2-18. In addition to teaching, she choreographs and works in musical theatre (Venturing Theatricals, Five Star Theatre Company, Reading Public Schools). Recent choreography credits include Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr, Frozen Jr, Anything Goes, The Addams Family, and The Drowsy Chaperone. Lindsey dances professionally with Allo Movement Project and Vitality Dance Project, both based in Boston. Vitality Dance Project is a modern dance collaboration she co-founded this year with her duet partner, Kelsey Blanchette. Top photo by RJL Photography. All other photos by Patrick Beckman.