Category Archives: weight
Or, erm, pre-reviewed?
Anyway, you can read it here!
This has been a rough week for the show in a few ways (a serious illness, injuries, automotive shenanigans), so it’s heartening to see such a thoughtful and positive first look from of our local theater critics!
But first, Killer Class.
This morning, I took a shower for once (to clarify: it’s not that I don’t wash myself; I just don’t usually shower in the morning). While showering, I found myself thinking, “Gee, we haven’t done saut de basque in a while. It would be really cool to do saut de basque.”
Apparently, the Divine Killer B read my mind, because we not only did SO MUCH PETIT ALLEGRO (which I managed mostly to do right), but we did an awesome grand allegro combination with sauts de basque and cabrioles.
So, basically, it was an awesome day. I also learned, by the by, that I’ve been over-crossing my arabesques, which makes my penché glitchy. Killer B came over at one point and was like, “Try not to overcross,” and moved my foot over, and then it was like, “OHAI, FLOOR!” So that was awesome, too.
On the other hand, I really missed the bus on what could’ve been a meaningful thing at DanceTeam practice.
One of the girls, who is actually a really awesome dancer when she gets out of her own way (with which, being middle-schoolers, they all struggle), randomly said while I was drilling some choreography with her and her friend in a breakout group, “I feel so fat.”
Aaaaaaand, I totally dropped the ball.
There are so, so many meaningful things I could’ve said — and while it’s true that probably none of them would’ve taken hold immediately, it’s important to hear those messages.
I could’ve said, “Don’t worry, there’s no one right body for dance,” or “The right body for dance is whatever body you’ve got” (though that one can sound a touch judgmental) or “All kinds of bodies are beautiful” (though, honestly, that might be a bridge too far for someone who’s in seventh grade and wrestle with all the stuff that people wrestle at that age). I could’ve pointed her to some amazing dancers that are shaped like she is, if I wasn’t so terrible at remembering names (1)
- Honestly, I am stunnnnnned that I’m actually remembering the names of ALL my DanceTeam girls; it’s a bleeding miracle.
Instead, I sort of choked and said, “You look fine!” and then, over the course of the conversation, reiterated the things that I think are great about her dancing — she has attitude for days and she’s really expressive, which means she has awesome stage presence; that she’s naturally a great mover for the kind of dance we’re working on.
Maybe I should’ve just asked, “What makes you say that?” and tried to listen, but on the other hand, we were trying to get a lot of choreography tightened up in not very much time.
On the other hand, it’s cool that some of the kids feel like they can say stuff like that around me, given that they really haven’t known me very long. It makes me feel like, against all odds, I’m doing okay making connections and putting them at ease (2).
- Probably the smartest thing I’ve done so far was to admit that I don’t know from Hip-Hop; that they get to teach me there.
Anyway, I’m going to have to think about this: how not to be caught off my guard the next time something like that comes up, and what to say that will be both concise and, in the long run, helpful. I’ll also check in with AS about that, since she (as an actual middle-school teacher) might have some insight.
So that’s it for now. I have to run off and suffer … erm, I mean, go back to Trapeze 3 after a not-really-intentional two-week break. Eeeeeeeek.
A long time ago, my Step-Dad said to me, “You won’t be able to keep eating like that when you get older.”
At the time, it pissed me off. I was like, What does he know? Who is he to tell me how I can and can’t eat?
And, in point of fact, there were a lot of things he didn’t know — which, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is pretty normal even for parents who live with their kids, and my Step-Dad wasn’t living with us yet at the time (in fact, he wasn’t even officially my Step-Dad yet, though he’d been in my life for several years by then). Kids are independent beings — the more so they older they get — and while it’s important to know the important stuff, it’s impossible to know all the stuff.
If I remember correctly, I was working my way through an entire stack of Saltine crackers, rabbit- (or possibly typewriter-)style: gnawing my way horizontally across the cracker, then back the other way, until each cracker was gone.
Basically that’s what I lived on during the day — Saltines, ramen noodles, Chunky soup, sometimes hot dogs, the occasional grilled cheese sandwich(1).
- True story: it took me until I was like 18 to figure out that if you put butter in the pan or on the outside of the bread, your grilled cheese sandwich will taste a bazillion times better. I persisted in not understanding this even though I regularly ordered clam rolls or hot dogs at Friendly’s largely because I loved what they did with the buns. Apparently, I imagined that this was some kind of unknowable Restaurant Magic. Seriously, childhood self: WTF?
I mean this, by the way, more or less literally. This was during a long stretch (read: my entire life) during which I found it nearly impossible to fall asleep before 2 AM and thus rarely woke up with enough time to eat breakfast; during which, to compound matters, I found most of the offerings of my school’s cafeteria singularly inedible (okay: in fact, I had never found school cafeteria food at all edible). Had it not been for the deli cart that sold little sandwiches on Kaiser rolls, I would have eaten literally nothing during any given school day.
So, basically, I would come home and shove Saltines (or ramen, or Chunky soup, or hot dogs, or… and almost always or rather than and, by the way) into my face because I was more or less starving. But, of course, my Step-Dad didn’t know that. He came from a world in which kids eat breakfast at home and lunch at school and maybe a snack in the afternoon. He had no way of knowing that one of those things wasn’t happening at all and the other was happening, but inadequately.
And I had no way of explaining any of this, because it was all just normal to me. I didn’t think there was anything weird about the fact that I never managed to fall asleep before 2 AM, for example — that’s just how it had always been. Your own normal is your own normal, and as a kid it’s not always easy to tell when your normal, like, maybe isn’t.
Normal, that is. It’s still yours.
Anyway. I digress.
So, basically my immediate response, because I’m a hot-headed little prick and frankly it tends to be my go-to, was anger. I did not welcome what felt like unfair and undue criticism from someone who still, at the time, seemed like an interloper(2).
- This wasn’t, by the way, his fault: I think he did a very reasonable job, under the circumstances, trying to integrate into a family in which it is both fair and actually pretty accurate to say that the kids had more or less been raised by cats up until then. In case you’re wondering, cats don’t do a great job teaching you how to human. I love cats, but in some ways they make lousy humans. Anyway, my sister and I weren’t having any of it.
In fact, all I heard was unwelcome criticism. I didn’t hear the part that went unsaid: that this guy, in fact, actually cared about me.
The content of the message, of course, is debatable in 2016, in a world in which we’re beginning to see the question of body diversity very differently than we did when I was 12 or what have you … though I suppose a steady diet of Saltine crackers is probably less than ideal from a nutritional perspective, at any rate.
Even in the last few years, we’ve really begun to rethink the way we approach nutritional issues with kids (if not, sadly, so much with adults). We recognize that, in a world already rife with soul-destroying messages about size and weight, we have to be really thoughtful about how we talk to them about food and body size and everything in that whole arena.
So surely there could’ve been a more body-positive way to have that conversation — one with a little more “Hey, Saltines are great, but you could probably use some hummus or something to go with them so you don’t get scurvy, because scurvy is going to make gymnastics/skiing/horsebackriding/dancing pretty hard,” and a little less, “Whoa, there, buddy — you’ve gotta learn to slow down, or you’re going to get fat when you’re older,” with all its unspoken implications about the validity of fat bodies.
But, at the end of the day, cultural baggage notwithstanding, there was that other, more important message — the one that’s so hard to hear, so much of the time, when the people who love us offer what they very sincerely intend as constructive criticism.
It’s the message that goes, “Hey, I want you to be healthy and happy, because I care about you, and I want you to avoid these pitfalls that I’ve fallen into myself.”
Things have changed a lot in the intervening years. My Dad died when I had just turned eighteen. My Step-Dad was an unexpected ally: he understood my hurt, my anger, and why I wandered around wearing my Dad’s Air Force jacket all the time. My Mom and Step-Dad married when I was nineteen (like so many other important events in my life, including my own birth, that involved a major blizzard: does anyone wonder why I scheduled my own wedding for May?). My sister and my Step-Dad reached a detente, then an accord.
I realized, most importantly, that my Step-Dad makes my Mom happy, and that they work well together, and that, in the long run, that’s what matters.
We are still a family that talks in ellipses; a family in which so much is left unsaid. After a while, you learn to kind of hear between the lines. You figure out that, sometimes, “Hey, you should put something warmer on,” really means, “I love you; don’t get frostbite.” That, sometimes, the Yankee stiff upper lip makes it hard to pronounce the words.
Not to say that everything’s perfect now. On our trip to Marco Island, I was kvetching about my eternal nasal congestion and how it makes sleeping difficult, and Step-Dad piped in with, “Especially when you get older, you should make sure to get checked for sleep apnea.”
From somewhere in the depths of my psyche, my preteen self awoke and bristled and almost said something like, “OMG DAD SRSLY?!!!”
And then I took a breath and realized that I was missing, once again, the thing that went unsaid: “Hey, I’ve had a couple of friends who’ve really suffered with this thing. I care about you, I worry about you, I don’t want you to have to go through that.”
I’m not sure if I gracefully said, “Oh, thanks, yeah, good idea, I will.” I think I said something more like, “Oh, yeah, I know a couple people with sleep apnea, it sucks.” I don’t actually remember, because I was really kind of busy being annoyed at myself for being annoyed in the first place.
But I hope that, whatever words made it out of my mouth, that my Step-Dad heard the things I left unsaid.
That he heard, “Thank you. I love you, too. That means a lot.”
Barre today was challenging: Brienne stepped things up a notch, bringing in changes of body direction in long combinations. I got many, but not all, of them.
I continue to try to focus on using my inner thighs, though it’s a greater challenge while also trying to remember the direction changes and whether to go en croix and trying not to kick the taller of the two new guys, who stood beside me today.
I’m really glad they came back to class. I feel like their presence enriches the class; they’re both good dancers who work hard. Taller Guy* has impressive splits!
*For the record, they’re both taller than I am, maybe even just plain tall — but I’m right on the borderline between average and miniature. Still, I don’t know their names, so for now they’re going to be Taller Guy and Smaller Guy.
At center, we did a pretty, but hard, adagio with … erm, fondu devisé? Something devisé, (edit: turns out it’s divisé — divisé en quarts) short for anyway (edit: also, I have no idea what I was trying to type here; autocorrupt was cray this afternoon). My phone is being weird, so I’ll have to look it up when I get home.
Turns were better. I had doubles from fourth, though not as consistently as I’d like.
Our grand allegro combination was fun — Glissade, jeté, glissade, jeté, step-grand jeté, step-grand jeté.
I did it well enough at first, but as I got tired my legs kept wanting to put extra glissades in after the second jeté.
Still, I was less tired today than I was last Wednesday — much less tired, in fact – and I felt stronger last night in aerials class. My tuck dismount on trapeze and silks is no longer just an uncontrolled unfurling 🙂
I think I will be able to adapt to this training schedule, and since I wasn’t sure, I feel good about that.
There are more days in my life now on which I look at myself as I undress at the end of the day and I think this part or that part of my body is beautiful. Rarely, I even think the whole thing is pretty decent.
This is a huge step forward: I never used to have any of those days. I used to pretty much hate my body all the time.
Ballet and aerials are changing that in a way I never expected. I used to hate it — and, honestly, I often still do – when people would respond to my feelings about my body, which were the irrational result of deep-seated dysphoria, with so much pablum about how much my body could do.
I don’t think being reminded of that on a rational level helps any more than does telling someone with depression to buck up because at least they don’t live in a Siberian prison camp. That’s not, as it were, how any of this works.
But doing amazing things with this body, and discovering it to be strong and graceful and capable, has really helped — as has exposure to the wild array of beautiful male dancers’ bodies, into which my own body increasingly fits.
In short, ballet and aerials have altered the scope of my inner sense of how my body should look (a concept that’s more complicated and less rational than it sounds). Constant exposure to my own reflection, meanwhile, has adjusted my sense of how my body does look.
I suspect that I still often literally see a distorted version of myself, but the maybe the distortion isn’t as bad as it once was.
So that’s it, today. I’m going to go home, take a hot bath (in which I will read La Dame aux Camélias in the original, maybe), foam-roll my legs until they fall off, and then do some work stuff.
I used to think that my body dysphoria and anorexic thought patterns would never, ever, ever change. Now I’m not so sure, and that feels like a good thing.
À bientôt, mes amis!
Edit: PS, my ear behaved itself today. Woot!
(Or, well, some of the reasons, anyway.)
I’ve been reading some really good articles about re-framing our cultural conversation around body size and, for once, reading the comments*, and I’ve discovered that, when it comes to talking about things like diet an exercise, many of us lose sight of one really critical idea:
Knowing about a thing isn’t the same
as knowing how to do that thing.
*You guys, deciding not to even look at the G-d-forsaken comments except in special cases has been one of the best decisions I ever made.
Knowing about a thing isn’t the same as knowing how to do that thing.
…And it really isn’t the same as knowing how to do that thing in a way that works for us, that feels good (which is far, far more important than we like to acknowledge), and that lets us keep doing it indefinitely.
If it was, a lot more of us would look exactly the way we want to look (within the limitations imposed by our genetic makeup, anyway — some of us build bigger muscles easily, some of us have long and elegant muscular insertion points, etc.).
I noticed today that, for this week, the top search that led someone to my blog was “why should ballet dancers be an ectomorph?”
Grammatical awkwardness aside, I think that’s a good question, and one that I haven’t touched on in a while.
The short answer is:
“Because that’s the trend.”
My full answer to this question is really long, so here’s the TL;DR version up front:
They shouldn’t, necessarily — but because fashion and function influence each-other profoundly in the performing arts and especially in ballet, trends in the art form stemming from the mid-20th century have created a situation that makes it easier for ectomorphic dancers to succeed as professionals. Likewise, I would posit that choreography has evolved to best suit the ectomorphic bodies currently in vogue.
Since professional dancers broadly inform our cultural definition (“what a ballet dancer is“), we have come to think that ballet dancers should be ectomorphs — but really, there’s no overwhelming em>functional advantage.
Functionally speaking, some advantages exist — ectomorphs are usually light, and thus easier to lift when partnered — but disadvantages also exist — ectomorphs are more prone to osteoporosis; they’re less likely to be good at explosive movements like jumps. The mesomorphic and endomorphic body types also come with advantages and disadvantages in dance.
At the end of the day, it’s really a question of fashion.
…And now, on to the “Really Long, But Feel Free To Read It Anyway” version:
…Sadly, there’s no DeLorean involved.
I’ll have to preface this with an, “I’m not dead yet! … I’m feeling much better.” (Apologies to the Python.)
That said, I still have the world’s most annoying cough and (as a result) can’t sleep for more than a couple hours at a stretch, both of which are interfering quite seriously with my ability to dance.
Denis, of course, can’t sleep either: it is hard to sleep next to someone who sounds like a robotic sea lion. I offered to sleep in the guest room until this blows over, but he told me that he would rather have me right next to him so he knows what’s going on with me.
He has been incredibly sweet and forebearing every time my cough has awakened him. Instead of being all GRAAAAAR GO SLEEP IN THE GARAGE OR SOMETHING FFS, he’s like, “I’m so sorry, baby, that sounds like it hurts.” (He described the sound of my cough as “mechanical” and, at one point, “like glass breaking,” which suggests that it sounds much worse than it feels.)
Meanwhile, I am more worried by the precipitous drop in my weight — 2+ pounds since Wednesday in addition to the 2 pounds in the previous few days.
This wouldn’t worry me if it had been preceded by an uptick; my weight fluctuates like that all the time. In fact, it has been known to fluctuate by as much as six pounds after century rides as I regain equilibrium — but always in an up-then-down pattern.
The fact that I’ve dropped four pounds below my previous “floor” is the worrisome part. The last time I lost weight this fast, it turned out that I had pneumonia. I also felt a thousand times worse than I do now, though, so I don’t think I actually do have pneumonia. It just makes me nervous.
Denis told me this morning to call our doc and get them to fit me in, and since he rarely gives me a direct order, I gathered that he was quite worried.
Needless to say, I am going to see our regular doc today at 2:30. (Ironically, Denis called them for me because I finally feel asleep around 8:15 AM and turned off my alarm at 9:00 AM without properly waking up. ._.)
In other news, I came up with two dances for the audition, one of which is a serious ballet and one of which pokes fun at the seriousness of ballet.
I asked Denis if he’d like to do the second piece with me (it requires one fairly skilled dancer and one dancer who’s willing to camp it up and clown around, but doesn’t have to be all that great at actual ballet), and though I assumed he’d say no, he agreed rather enthusiastically. Have I mentioned that I adore this man?
I can’t wait to get a video of the dance in question; I think it’s going to be pretty great. The music for the piece is the second movement to Beethoven’s Piano Sonota Number 8 in C minor — that is to say, the adagio cantabile from the “Pathétique.”
Go listen to it and then try to tell me there isn’t a built-in Charlie Chaplain Does Ballet thing going on! (Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/yyelz5Q0Z9w)
Denis is going to wear his fabulous tutu costume; for the performance, I’ll have to come up with a Serious Ballet Is Serious costume. I haven’t decided whether to go with the traditional “Ballet Prince ” look or an Austere Contemporary Ballet ensemble.
Perhaps I should take a poll! (HINT, HINT.)
So that’s a go, and we’ll be rehearsing the choreography starting next week, provided that I do not, in fact, have pneumonia (which I’m quite sure that I don’t) and can get some sleep between now and then.
In still other news, this post was supposed to be short. Ha! Will I never learn?
First, though, a quick question for my fellow bloggies:
How do you manage ideas? Like, when you come up with a good idea for a post, and you really want to write about it, but you don’t have time to address it just now, what do you do with it? Do you add it to a list? Start a new post, pop your idea in there, and save it as a draft?
In short, right now, I’ve got lots of ideas, but also a rather strangely large number of things to accomplish, and I’m not sure I’ve hit on a good idea-management strategy. Right now, I seem to be using the “start a draft” approach, but I’m not sure whether that’s wise. For whatever reason, my list of unfinished drafts actually sort of fills me with dread. Go figure.
Okay, now for the sensitive stuff.
In the Default World, as it were, there’s an ongoing conversation about body size and weight, about food as a source of pleasure and as a source of fuel — and while it’s still largely dominated by voices of what one might imagine as the Body Establishment, we’re starting to hear a lot more from other corners — for example, from fat activists like Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat and Kath at Fat Heffalump, from members of the medical community who are saying, “Hold on, maybe we’re looking at the wrong parameter; maybe we can’t directly measure health by measuring body size,” and even from plain old regular people who are tired of all the hoopla and just want to figure out how to enjoy their lives and be as happy and healthy as they can.
However, in the Ballet World, we’re still not really talking about it much, and we’re really, really not talking about food.
I should stipulate: professional companies tend to have advisors that address these issues, as do pre-pro schools. However, those of us in the Adult Amateur Ballet Community At Large, the area — especially where diet is concerned — is still largely Verboten. Like, we all acknowledge that, in ballet, Body Size is A Thing, but we also don’t want to give anyone a complex about it; meanwhile, we’re terrified that any specific thoughts we share about eating will spawn a rash of anorexia diagnoses.
We’re all very aware of some of the problems that can and do arise around the question of weight in the Ballet World. We’re all very aware that, for whatever reason, the modern Western world doesn’t beget too many people who fit the current Classical Ballet Body Type mold. We’re all very aware of the temptation to use drastic means to squeeze into that mold. We’re all afraid of accidentally pushing vulnerable people over the line and into those drastic means.
And yet, as a result, we also find it difficult to discuss the very measures that might, for a great many of us, act as prophylaxis against resorting to drastic measures: we find it difficult to discuss fueling strategies, difficult to discuss the challenges that different body types bring to the studio or the stage (and I’d argue that there are unique challenges associated with almost any body type, including the one currently enshrined as the Classical Ballet Ideal), and difficult to discuss how to cope with those challenges (whether they be joint strain, risk of osteoporosis, or just possessing a set of knobtastic knees that sometimes seem like they won’t get out of the freaking way — oh, wait, I might be projecting, there).
I suspect that we’ve developed a sense that acknowledging the challenges unique to a given body type sort of delegitimizes that body type as a vehicle for dance. There are too many stories out there of people being told they should simply quit dance because they weren’t blessed with the right body for it — people who loved dancing, who wanted to keep dancing, but who too often weren’t able to find a place where they could continue.
We’re all afraid, I think, of touching those nerves. For adults, ballet is already a counter-cultural pursuit. It’s neither “useful” in the purely-practical “this is going to make me lots of money” sense (though, in fact, ballet offers immense health benefits for dancers of any shape), nor is it casual (with rare exceptions). It tends to turn into a life-consuming passion, one for which non-dancers kind of look at us askance. Somehow, to them, watching TV for ten hours a week doesn’t seem strange, but dancing for ten hours a week does.
To be fair, part of the argument in favor of TV is that you can do it at home with your family at relatively little expense — I get that. But the long and short of it is that, as adult dancers, a lot of us already feel like we’re always fighting an uphill battle to prove to the universe that we have a right to belly up to the barre.
When we start addressing some of the problems of body type, we’re already coming from a defensive posture. We’re already fighting against a societal claim of illegitimacy — one that comes from both outside the studio and sometimes from within, as well.
On one hand, from the outside, we get the message that we have no business dancing at our age, whether that age is 19 or 95, unless we’re professionals. On the other, from the inside, sometimes we get the whole “you’re not a real dancer” thing — especially if we’re truly raw beginners with absolutely no experience or if we diverge too widely from the standard Classical Ballet Body Type. This makes the whole idea of saying, “Hey, I have this body type, and I’ve noticed that people with my body type have this specific challenge in the studio…” exceedingly uncomfortable. It’s just a shade too close to that old message, “People who are built like me shouldn’t dance.”
Bike racing shares a few characteristics with ballet.
First, if you do it as a hobby, people think you’re nuts. To be fair, this is a label that most serious bike racers pretty much embrace publicly in a way that amateur dancers often don’t (though we do, within the confines of the Ballet World, acknowldge at regular intervals that We’re All Mad Here).
I suspect that, in the US at least, that particular flavor of Crazy is more broadly accepted if it involves competitive sports. While cycling isn’t as warmly embraced in the US as it is in much of the world at large, it’s still clearly a competitive sport, one with well-defined competition opportunities for people of all ages (and one in which people in the higher age brackets are often formidable competitors). Nonetheless, cycling as a sport is still fringe-y enough in the US that people are shocked to learn that you spend twenty hours a week like, you know, riding a bicycle? And you don’t get paid for it?
A few years ago, people felt similarly awkward around amateur MMA or Muay Thai enthusiasts (I know, because I was one at the time; I loved Muay Thai and wouldn’t mind taking it up again, if the day were only, like, six hours longer); now that everyone’s doing P90x (which seems to be somehow loosely associated with the world of combat sports), tough mudders, and so forth, a fanatical embrace of combat sports has gained a kind of legitimacy.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s something you do in a community: we learn MMA and Muay Thai skills in classes at organized schools, and the best part is that we can usually bring our spouses and kids along for their own classes. Like cycling, meanwhile, combat sports also offers plenty of competition opportunity for adult amateurs. Sure, it’s expensive and time-consuming: but you can win, like, a trophy or a belt buckle or something! To the American mind, that kind of makes it all make sense, I suspect.
Meanwhile, ballet is fringe-y without offering any overarching structure by which adult amateurs can measure our achievements. We don’t have our own Prix de LAAusanne (see what I did there? AA for Adult Amateur?). We don’t even have the equivalent of the weird competition-dance circuit that those of us in the High Art World of Ballet (myself included) kind of love to hate. We might walk away from our hours in the studio with exceptional poise and grace, and sometimes even with very lean and fluid bodies — but we don’t get “ripped” in the way that people who go to the gym and lift weights for fun do.
And, just like in cycling, we spend what the rest of the world perceives as an inordinate amount of time in the studio. Ballet is a harsh mistress, but we love her so. That’s suspiciously close to the way cycling aficionados tend to describe their bikes.
Second, cycling culture has powerful, deeply-ingrained standards about body type. Professional cylicsts, like professional dancers, tend to be extremely lean. Amateur cyclists — racers especially, but also those who don’t race — are subject to a sort of inherited pressure to be lean.
Seriously, in no other American sub-culture are you likely to hear someone kvetching about his arms being too muscular. The demands of training at anything beyond the entry-level both select for and produce lean bodies; in very competitive areas, even the most rank Cat 5 amateurs tend to be far leaner than their non-cyclist peers (seriously; hit up a cyclocross race in the freakishly competitive Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series, and you’ll see what I mean).
Combat sports enthusiasts, meanwhile, don’t have quite the same problem: yes, weight is a legitimate concern (since competitions are organized by weight category), but the hard-and-fast upper limits are still very much in line with people of average build, and how your body’s shaped matters a whole lot less in the gym than how much ass you can kick with the body in question. Or, at least, that was my experience.
Meanwhile, competitive bike racers really are kind of expected to cap out at around 170 – 180 pounds, and the selection pressures only increase as you progress through the ranks. A lot of high-end racing equipment isn’t designed to handle riders heavier than that. The idea is that the lighter the total weight of bike, rider, water bottles, kit, and whatever else you might need to have on hand, the easier your job as a racing cyclist will be. Moreover, the slighter you are, the less wind resistance you’re going to create — and simply pushing through the air is actually where you do the vast majority of your work as a cyclist.
Third, bike racing culture is a niche culture within a niche culture: just as there’s dance culture, and then there’s ballet culture, so there’s cyclist culture, and then within it, racer culture. A lot of non-racing cyclists think all racers are arrogant, jerk-faced wankers (to be fair, some racers regard all randonneurs as grade-A weirdopaths and all commuters as dirt); some non-ballet dancers seem to think all ballet dancers are uptight, arrogant, jerk-faced wankers (to be fair, some ballet dancers regard those ballroom-dance types as plebian socializers and all modern-dance aficionados as wannabes whose technique couldn’t cut it in ballet).
In short, to the outside world, both amateur bike racers and amateur dancers are the Weird of Weirds. You’re not just weird, you’re an especially devoted, obsessive flavor of weird that owns a lot of suspiciously fancy stuff and uses a lot of foreign words. Mon dieu!
Lastly, both cycling and ballet share high energy demands and a history of disordered relationships with food.
The major difference, as far as I’ve seen, is that bike racing culture is really pretty free to discuss food and diet, and does so constantly, sometimes in nauseating detail. There is, perhaps, less sense of illegitimacy imposed upon individual riders — and, as such, less risk of being cast out of the circle if one admits that one is a few pounds (or even many pounds) heavier than one would like to be, or that one resents one’s muscular arms. The discussion of how best to fuel for training, for performance, for recovery, for the off-season, for the pre-ride, for the post-ride — that discussion never, ever, ever, ever ends. Food may be the only thing cyclists talk about more often than bikes.
Dancers, meanwhile, also need to think about how best to fuel their bodies — but forums for discussing how to do so are almost impossible to find. Some of the best online communities for adult amateur dancers have explicit rules against talking about diet, for fear that the discussions in question will devolve into “How To Starve Yourself And Still Keep Dancing.” The standard answer is more or less, “Eat a balanced diet and bring your specific concerns to your health-care providers.”
That’s a very legitimate approach, I think, to dealing with nutritional questions from adolescents in pre-pro programs. In short, the nutritional needs of growing dancers are immensely complex, and most of us have no business trying to advice them; likewise, adolescent dancers are just as subject to the immense pressures to maintain the Classical Ideal as adult dancers, but generally less-equipped to cope with those pressures. They are more likely to lack the resources and experience to make well-informed decisions about whose advice to follow; they may not yet have acquired the critical-thinking skills that will later help them distinguish between a sustainable plan for healthy eating and what amounts to a quack diet, but they are more likely to have people in their lives to help them with these decisions.
Meanwhile, amateur adult dancers (who my very unscientific analysis suggests tend to be self-possessed individuals with pretty good minds) are less likely to have people in their immediate lives who have both the time and expertise to offer any kind of insight into fueling their bodies, but are more likely to have critical thinking skills to help them distinguish between sound fueling strategies and wacky starvation plans.
Perhaps part of the problem is that ballet is an art first, an athletic endeavour second. As an erstwhile half-baked bike racer, I’d go so far as to say that bike racing is an art, but I’d be remiss if I failed to state plainly that it’s an athletic endeavour first. Dancers are encouraged to think of themselves as artists; cyclists as athletes.
Athletes are free to regard their bodies as machines and to think about them accordingly.
Artists? Well, maybe not so much. We are invited to transcend the limitations of our mortal frames: but we are not explicitly invited to examine those limitations, especially not as adult amateurs who must already combat the idea that we’re not “real dancers,” and therefore not “real artists.”
Perhaps it follows from there that we can’t freely discuss what is, ultimately, an immensely important topic: what kind of fueling strategy will help us feel the best in the studio, on the stage (if we’re so lucky), or after class? What works? What doesn’t work? What works for some, but not others? Flatly put, how much should we be eating, anyway, when we’re dancing six or ten or sixteen hours each week?
Inevitably, some of us will want to trim down a bit; others might want to build some muscle or fill out our curves. It would be good if we could talk to each-other about these things: in part because sometimes it’s that very possibility that allows people who are slipping in to the realm of Drastic Means — of disordered eating — to get help before the problem gets out of hand.
It would be good to know that there was a forum where we could ask what might seem like stupid food questions (“Okay, I just did two hours of class. It really is okay for me to have an ice cream cone, right?”) and ask about other dancers’ strategies (“Guys, do you find you get less sore if you eat after class?”) or even to figure out who to talk to about specific questions that might need input from a professional (“As a male dancer who spends two hours a day dancing and does a fair bit of throwing other dancers around, who do I ask about making sure I’m getting enough protein? Dietitian? Family doc? Personal trainer? Wizard?”).
One of the strengths of the bike-racing community is the way it handles questions like these. There’s a huge aggregated knowledge-base out there pertaining to fueling strategies for racers at all levels, and bike racers are free to talk about it all they want. They even talk about eating disorders (which kind of makes sense in a sport that has itself more than once been described as “a very expensive eating disorder”) and reach out to help members of the community who struggle.
I think we, as adult amateur dancers, are mature and wise enough to do that for each-other. True, dance-specific nutritional strategies are less broadly-studied than sport-specific nutritional strategies — but a lot of us in the Adult Amateur Ballet World are pretty good researchers. We are capable of putting our peer-reviewed journals where our mouths are (though, guys, just so you know: there are better fueling strategies than eating peer-reviewed journals, and besides, they tend to be kinda dry and dense).
The question is, where do we start talking about this, and how?
A while ago, I wrote about returning to class after my extended winter break (link to come). Among other things, I said that I felt like a pudgy dancer.
I realized at the time that “pudgy” was the wrong word for a number of reasons.
First, it wasn’t the word I wanted, and didn’t actually convey the concept I hoped to express, but I wracked my brain and couldn’t come up with the word I knew I was looking for. Like autocorrupt on crack, my brain kept suggesting “pudgy.” Finally, I gave up and used it. Twice.
Second, it’s a loaded word. Like “chubby,” it’s one of those words that means “adorably chunky” when we’re describing puppies or baby elephants or cartoon orcas or toddlers or what have you, but something else entirely when applied to human adults (never mind that some of us, myself included, like how “pudgy” looks on other people; I married a slim guy, but I’ve always preferred big guys — pudgy guys, in fact). So it’s a word that implies a kind of judgment I try not to make, and also reveals the double standard by which I judge myself. “Pudgy,” in short, is a word that can hurt.
Third, the dance world is full of implicit (and, sometimes, explicit) judgments about body size. I’ve written about this a couple of times (again, links to follow). I try not to participate in this particular hegemony: I think dancers of all sizes can be beautiful. That doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it, though. I am both human enough to admit that I do experience reflexive moments of size-ist thinking, and to say that those moments are often concurrent with their opposites: one part of my mind will be thinking, “Wow, that one dude in the corps is pretty hefty,” while another part of thinks, “He looks really great up there.”
The difference is that the first of these thoughts is a conditioned reflex; the second is a feeling. So while my conditioned thoughts — the ones influenced by cultural dictates — are busy being jerks, my actual gut feelings are appreciating what I’m seeing. It’s weird, uncomfortable, and cognitively dissonant.
And when I use words like “pudgy” in contexts where they mean something bad (in this case, the word I really wanted was “clumsy”), I reinforce the cultural dictate that says dancers need to be shaped a certain way — even if that’s not what I believe, feel, or mean to convey.
Even if I really genuinely believe (and I do) that dancers actually need to be shaped all kinds of ways, my intentions don’t matter in a static context that doesn’t convey them. What matters is what I actually write.
Lastly, there’s a part of me that still genuinely believes that everyone else can be great and look great at whatever size but I need to be, in a word, skinny. That voice is always there. It was there when my BMI was 14.5. It was there when my BMI was 30. It is still there now, when my BMI is 24.
Every time I make a disparaging remark about my own weight, I reinforce that voice. Yes, I need to talk about that voice, and to acknowledge what it says (ignoring it sure as heck doesn’t make it go away) — but I need to do so in a way that reduces, rather than increases, its power.
I need to do that for me, and I need to do that for everyone else who has that voice (which, to a greater or lesser degree, is everyone).
I thought long and hard about whether to write this at all. I’m just going to go ahead and admit that, in short, I was debating whether or not to stick my head in the sand and hope nobody noticed my apparent act of woeful hypocrisy.
I was being a coward, but I guess I was also thinking about what I said (“pudgy”) and why (because my language co-processor was on the fritz, but also probably because I was having a exceptionally poor body image day) and what to write about it (this, it turns out).
I’m glad I did: that is to say, glad I tool some time to think about it, and also glad I took some time to write about it.
If my choice of words hurt you, please know that I’m sorry. Nobody deserves to be hurt (except maybe masochists who have been really good and done all their chores ;)). And I guess I should apologize to myself as well, because I am a dick to myself way too often.
For what it’s worth, I really do mean what I say: there’s room in dance for all kinds of bodies, all colors and sizes and shapes and abilities. All of those different bodies are valid and valuable — and just as painters have expanded their palettes as new media have emerged, it behooves those of us with choreographic ambitions to expand our palettes to include all kinds of bodies (“Oh, brave new world that has such creatures in it!”).
I’m hoping that, having written this, I’ll think of more to say on the topic. For now, this is it.
Go forth and be pudgy and proud, or svelte and sublime, or medium and miraculous: no matter your shape, dancers of the world, the things your bodies can do are amazing.