As dancers, our body works hard for us. It allows us to execute beautiful, amazing things, and through that be a paintbrush in the art form of dance. We don’t always return the favor, however, by showing our body love, care and that we’re grateful for what it does for us. That starts with having a grateful mindset toward our body. That then carries into good choices like getting enough rest, eating right and doing balanced cross-training. Those things can help us perform at our best, expand our artistry and increase our overall wellness.
Part of being a dancer is constantly scrutinizing our body. It can be hard not to when we so often watch ourselves in mirrors, as well as take critique on alignment, movement quality and choreography execution. If we use all of this in the right ways, we can achieve enhanced artistry, body awareness and overall wellness (for instance, making healthier diet, rest and cross-training choices). If we let it negatively affect how we feel about ourselves as people, however, the results can be tragic — lost performance and training opportunities, over-training to the point of injury, eating disorders, mental health problems and more.
If it’s inevitable that we so often focus on our body as dancers, how can we avoid such issues? How can we achieve that enhanced artistry, body awareness and personal wellness? I propose that we come to more strongly, clearly appreciate what our body can do for us. That mindset comes from gratitude for what our body does in fact accomplish every day. For some of us, that happens naturally, but some of us have to be more mindful and diligent about it.
If summoning gratitude for your body isn’t always so easy for you, and you might sometimes feel less than loving toward it, try these ways to re-frame your thinking. Wishing you could drop five pounds? Maybe instead focus on how you effectively use that weight when you dance, and maybe on your strength. If weight loss would actually be healthy for you, that kind of mindset can take your energy away from that negativity and toward healthy weight loss. Annoyed that you can’t nail that triple pirouette? Well, guess what, you can offer a beautifully controlled, a lifted yet grounded, double. Maybe you wish you were six inches taller. Try to instead acknowledge that you have hair and eyes that get frequent compliments. And, hey, choreographers love to play with your height for creative partnering with taller dancers.
In these ways, gratitude can help us to shift negative thinking about our body into positive. With that, we’re more likely to treat our body with care, for all that we appreciate it does for us. We’ll eat healthfully, get enough rest and mindfully cross-train. We’ll also more likely dare to dream — going to that audition that feels like a total “long shot”, to take that advanced class, to introduce ourselves to that master class teacher we’ve worshipped. We’ll know that our body can do amazing things, and that we’re worth it! On top of that, our mind will be in freely creative spaces, rather than stuck in what we don’t like about our body.
Our performance and choreography can then flourish, and we’ll just feel happier and more fulfilled. Staying in that positive mindset can sometimes be easier said than done, but the advantages of doing so make it worth the effort. It’s a practice that takes time, so try to stay compassionate toward, and patient with, yourself. I challenge you to notice something to appreciate, rather than something to criticize, the next time you take in your body in a studio mirror. It’ll return the favor when you start to move, flow and express yourself without words.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.