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Creating a Body-Safe Environment for Dancers – How CCD Does It and Why

 In Body-Safe

Premise:

At CCD, we believe that anyone learning to dance needs to be free of judgement to fully experience their own capacity for movement. Our school has a strong emphasis in classical ballet, but we know full-well that ballet is not the foundation for dance. Instead, a passion for wild, uninhibited movement which a person cannot help but embody is the foundation for all dance, including ballet. We believe that dance training can be an empowering, body-loving experience, and we work towards that philosophy during every moment of nurturing/coaching we embark upon.

Inside the Artistic Director’s Brain and Heart:

I love and marvel at all bodies.

I believe every body can create breathtaking, life-changing art through dance.

I love the way musculature twists and loops around our bone structures to create movement. 

I love trying to “figure out” how each body works and what it needs.

And I love to watch untamed tigers push and pull inside of young movers, eager to pounce, rip, and escape. 

And so, at the heart of our organization is the fierce love for what the body and brain are capable of creating when they are free from judgement.

I think the idea of what a body should look like is something someone made up. It isn’t real, and therefore is fictional. This antiquated myth is completely counter to our purpose as dancers and artists – to embody the movement potential and expression locked inside of our physical selves with wild abandon and to touch the hearts of our audiences through our vulnerability and depth.

Our Philosophy: 

CCD’s classes focus on kinesiology and imagery. We adapt each movement to work on each individual’s physical needs and assets, and we refuse to say “that’s just the way it is.” As a faculty we talk to our students about how important it is to fail, as failure allows the dancer to find themselves as an artist. 

We offer a Wellness Center onsite, so that our dancers can grow up learning how to take care of themselves and what interventions can work for them. They trust when they tell us they are hurting, we will truly listen to them and carefully evaluate their condition. We give them steps to take to make sure they know when and how to get help. We teach them what pains are acceptable and which require more care. We don’t leave them guessing to somehow figure it out on their own.

We value hard work coupled with true self care, learning quickly, learning deeply, taking risks, nerdiness, artfulness, and a deep passion for the art form.

The Nuts & Bolts:

We train our faculty to abide by these guiding principles: 

  • Do not discuss your own body in terms of aesthetic appearance with the students.
  • Do not advise any student to lose weight.
  • If the opportunity should arise that a student approaches you about body image issues, we advise that you focus only on the importance of the health of the dancer, not on weight. Alert the Artistic Director immediately.
  • Focus your technical corrections on musculature. Do not at any time use words such as “fat” or “big” to describe a student in class, yourself, or anyone else.
  • Do not use imagery relating to “dinner” or “lunch” to encourage proper abdominal use. Instead, use phrases that relate directly to the muscles used, like “engage your transversus,” or “lift your belly-button.”
  • Do not advise dancers about nutrition. Please alert the Artistic Director as soon as possible if you think a student has a problem with their body image or nutritional intake.

While we ask the faculty not to advise the dancers about nutrition, we do teach our students about how nutrition works and how food can help one thrive as a dancer. We teach this through a thorough syllabus based on the work of anatomist and biochemist Rebecca Dietzel. The most important principle with talking about nutrition is talking about how each food fuels the body – your body needs massive amounts of nutrients from many different sources to make you a powerful and vibrant dancer.

Similarly, focusing on our older dancers for these delicate lessons, we train our dancers to:

  • Never use the words fat or skinny to describe yourself or any other person.
  • Remember that when you announce to the dressing room that you are “having a fat day,” every single person in that room just judged themselves. They will never forget that moment. 
  • Doing the sideways glance in the mirror is the pantomime for the previous bullet. It shouts “I wonder if I’m fat?” to the entire room. Every single person in that room will wonder if they should “feel fat.” 
  • And here’s the point to all of this – when you create an environment that is free of body judgement, it allows for the people who own those bodies to feel safe enough to permit themselves vulnerability. “The rules” help to make community members aware of the power their words can have over others. Hint: parents, these are great rules for the household, too.

For far too long, our art form has relied on a system of abuse to create its artists. Many of the artists who’ve “made it” have suffered hidden symptoms of mental health trauma. Equally sad, the art form has also left a wide path of “former” dancers who loathe themselves or loathe dance, often feeling their body failed them. It is time for us to do it a different way, creating a way for curious young artists to find a positive journey through dance which includes self actualization and acceptance. Not every human will become a professional dancer, but every human should have the freedom to express themselves through dance with love, support, and great training. 

I will write more soon about what to do if you’re afraid someone you care about might have body image issues. 

Showing 7 comments
  • Avatar
    Fiona C.
    Reply

    Thank-you for writing this Julia!
    As the mother of a dancer who is nearly 5’9″ this type of approach is a godsend.
    Waif-like dancers who are terrifyingly thin are hopefully a thing of the past and an aesthetic that we, in the U.S., refuse to perpetuate.
    I am so grateful for your blog and your wisdom and that CCD embodies (pardon the pun) these thoughts and are basing school policy in such a healthy mindset for your artist/athletes.
    Excellent work.

  • Avatar
    Jan Dunn
    Reply

    Terrific Julia congratulation!! I remember all those early conversations with you and I and Sarah years ago and it’s so beautiful to see how the CCD program has blossom in terms of taking care of dancers💜

  • Avatar
    Mark R.
    Reply

    Great post Julia!

  • Avatar
    Kristin Field-Macumber
    Reply

    So encouraging to see a dance school not only representing these beliefs, but proactively putting them out there to educate the whole community. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    John
    Reply

    Onward!!!!

  • Avatar
    Marnie Rundiks
    Reply

    All dancers, all parents need to read this! Thank you Julia for your insight and truth! ❤️

  • Avatar
    Diane S.
    Reply

    Thank you for this post. Given the long hours the dancers devote to their craft on a weekly basis(20+hr!), good health and proper nutrition are crucial. As my daughter looks at applications for intensives/college, I cringe when I see entries for “height” and “weight” and look forward to the day that both will be absent from those forms.

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