Ballet Training
CPYB school principal Alecia Good-Boresow teaching class. Photo Courtesy CPYB.

Suddenly, all I could see in the mirror was a fuzzy, dancer-shaped outline. I had accidentally rubbed out my contacts right before pliés and, frustrated, resigned myself to an unproductive two hours. As class progressed, however, something strange happened: I felt far more relaxed and placed. My balances at barre were steadier, I didn't have a single wobble in center adagio, I nailed every pirouette and even my jumps felt freer. Could the reason for this stellar class be that I wasn't depending on my reflection?

So much of dancers' training is through sight, usually with the mirror as an aid. From toddlers to top-ranked company members, nearly every hour of studio time is spent in front of the mirror, honing technique in class and perfecting choreography in rehearsal. Too often, however, the mirror becomes a crutch, and the very reasons you need it for your training can become detrimental. Luckily, awareness and refocusing can help break the habit.

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Sit in any ballet dressing room long enough, and you'll start to hear one dancer complain about her jiggly  thighs. Then another will chime in about the extra flesh on her stomach. Someone else will grumble about the size of her calves.

 

Psychological researchers say this "fat talk" is contagious, and is also a way that women in all professions bond with each other. (One study found that 93 percent of college women admitted to doing it.) According to a recent story in The New York Times, some researchers say it's such a common practice that "it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it."

 

But bad-mouthing our bodies comes with serious consequences. Not only can it exacerbate poor body image, it can also lead to eating disorders. Those aren't risks that ballet dancers shouldn't mess around with. So what can you do? The next time your friend starts griping about her body, instead of reflexively responding with a negative remark about your own, just change the subject. Ask her about the rehearsal schedule, or bring up a joke someone made in class—anything to stop the body talk. If she doesn't get the feedback she's looking for ("You think your thighs are big, look at my jiggle!"), she'll be less likely to keep complaining—and damaging both her confidence as well as yours.

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