A Personal Perception of Bodies

As dancers we work with our bodies. It’s always part of our work and the image we put on stage. Overall I think it’s awesome that for smaller bodies and bigger bodies there are some things that just simply aren’t possible. I remember thinking this video was insanely cool and wanted to try out something like it. But geez, the strength! I’m still torn in deciding that ultimately it’s big guy lifts small girl. But that’s being a bit too simplistic.
I don’t know about you, but my first experience watching live ballet was The Nutcracker. I think I had just started taking my first ballet class as an 18 year old in high school and holy crap, those dudes were beasts! I’ve always loved how masculine it feels to dance, to be powerful (or even powerfully vulnerable… but it’s gotta be powerful!).
And so because I loved being strong and doing cool lifts, I trained for it. I lifted heavy weights. I made strength and flexibility goals, and I had a lot of fun going for it. So for most of the past three years I’ve been thinking that my size and musculature has been an asset – something no one else has. And until recently I’ve honestly thought I didn’t have much else to offer – stage presence has been my biggest strength and my size has been
a contributing factor – until now.
I started lifting because I was so far behind in my technique that I had to make up for it with brute strength. Often I just throw my weight around with all my might and hope it gets the job done. Even in rehearsals I found myself thinking that if I could simply muscle through a lift first and add technique later it would be all the easier come showtime. I’m starting to think now that working smarter and not harder is perhaps the easiest way to go.

But it comes down to this – I simply feel big. Too big. Flat out feel out of place. Which I might think is silly at times because most of the reward of dancing is experiencing my body and feeling strong, swift, brave. Heck I even like feeling like a hulk sometimes. I regularly split pants. I’m usually 15-20 lbs heavier than my similarly-sized brother. It’s nice at times, but I have run into the same wall of “not fitting” at least 3 times in professional settings.

But there is an industry standard in dance! Often we seek the lines in our body – making them, shaping them, controlling them. So with arms and legs that curve when extended, I’ve got my work cut out for me. And try as I might, I’ve had two choreographers independently of each other about the challenge of being muscle-bound. I found myself almost grinding my teeth when I heard that I need to “lengthen.”
Two great examples about body shapes stick with me. First is Colt Prattes (Pink’s dance partner in here), who just looks freakin’ awesome. I was on the cusp of thinking “I need to decide what direction I want to go with my body” when I saw him and I decided it was ok to keep on lifting big! Misty Copeland has been popular lately as a dancer who sort of breaks with the common ballerina stereotype (though not just because of body shape).
Those are the two that I think of. But ultimately we get to make our own shapes! It takes time and our career can always change in the dance world. I’m going to give something new a shot.
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Jeffrey Mitchell is a dancer with MADCO, great thinker, friend, and as it turns out, writer. Thanks to Jeff.