Does a person's 'body shape' have an effect on their success in the dance industry?

This is a piece I have written for my Gold arts award, exploring if a person's 'body shape' effects their success in the dance industry.

Does a person's 'body shape' have an effect on their success in the dance industry?

In my arts issue I will be talking about how body image effects how successful someone becomes in dance industry. I have chosen this as I have always thought that people with a smaller body shape get further with their success. However, I feel like this is mainly due to what the media tells us, which makes us put our own expectations on ourselves. I really wanted to look further into what it actually does take to be a successful dancer and if what I had thought previously was correct. I think this affects me because I have always been one of the bigger people in my dance classes and I have always thought that I couldn’t become successful as being bigger restricts me from doing certain things. Although in the previous couple of years I have begun to learn that I am capable of doing the same things as everyone else, I still feel that it is something that people have self-standards for as in the industry it can be really hard if you don’t look a certain way.

Firstly, I think that a big reason for there being a ‘standard’ is due to media in todays day and age. Famous people, especially dancers post pictures of them with the ‘perfect’ figures, which make younger people and people who aspire to be them think that they need to look like that to get where they are. This is clear when you go through any social media platform and it isn’t something people hide. Its also the same when you google a ‘ballet dancer’. I found in my research that when I did this is came up with pages of stunning dancers with a small figure. This is what people perceive as what you need to look like to be noticed in the industry. I have to admit that when I initially googled it, I didn’t think it was going to be like this and I thought there were going to be dancers with all shapes and sizes, however I only managed to find one image of someone who was bigger than the average ballerina. The reason she was on the main google page was because she is someone who spoke out about it and tries to get people of all shapes and sizes to dance if that is what they want to do and to not let something as silly as your image stop you from pursuing what you love. Although this was what I found when looking online I know that this isn’t always the case and that they have to use eye catching images when advertising the dance, however I feel as though because this is the case it stops people from wanting to do it because they may not look like them. 

This then brings me to my next point which is how the body standards differ depending on the genre of dance you are doing. For example, I found YouTube clips of hip-hop dancers and you just can’t pinpoint a certain type of ‘body types’ to the genre, however as I said previously when I searched ballet dancers it came up with dancers that quickly began to form a clear theme to how they look. Within the hip hop genre, I found dancers of all shapes and sizes who were able to do the same thing. There was no divide in anyone and they were all encouraging one another. It doesn’t seem as brutal as what it is in the ballet industry as I feel they have much higher standards of what they need to look like and for them to become a successful ballerina. I know as a whole the industry is harsh and gets straight to the point when they are looking for certain people. I know this because of a question and answer I attended with dancer Billy Sawyer. He stated that ‘some of the best dancers in the room have been turned away because they don’t look how they wanted them to look like.’ Sometimes it can even be because of the colour of their eyes or hair or that they are just not tall enough. What I also found from research I did was that there are still places around that won’t allow people into their company if they don’t have the ‘traditional’ ballet body. So,if I am able to find out that information it means that anyone can, which could really have an affect on people who aspire to do something in the industry.

My next point is how the question and answer session with Billy Sawyer changed my opinion slightly as it showed me that even though the industry is brutal and sometimes disheartening, there are opportunities for everyone and just because you weren’t right for that certain performance or company you will be perfect for something else. It just allowed me to have more of an insight on what the industry can be like and if its something that you are really passionate about you shouldn’t let some criticism stop you from still reaching your initial goals. I feel as though when you are young you listen a lot to others and a lot of the time you are shown dancers of just one shape who all have a ‘perfect’ shape and so that is the norm for people, however its not all true because there are many forms of dance that have thousands of dancers ranging in their shape and height. I just think that usually people look at ballet dancers who have got the ‘traditional’ shape and then they get discouraged and not wanting to continue what the love doing.

My fourth point is how teachers views the situation. I gave three dance teachers a questionnaire about their thoughts on how a dancer’s body shape can affect how successful they become. The answers I got back were different to what I thought they were going to be. For example, one teacher wrote that ‘even they have a pre-judgement on someone by how they look, however they would never turn anyone away because of what they look like.’ Also, she said that she has even witnessed people being turned away for not only being too big but for also being too small. This surprised me as I didn’t think this happened as I never thought someone could be too skinny to do something they loved. I also don’t think anyone should be turned away for being too big but I had never thought of it the other way around. Teachers have one of the best insights into how the industry is as they have experienced auditions as well as having to audition students for school companies. They get both sides of the industry, which is why I thought they would be a good source to target for my issue. It did help me with my further research as it allowed me to see what their thoughts are and how they see ‘body shape’ in the industry and if they think it has an affect on a person’s success. I found that they do judge people and have a preconception of someone just by the way they look, however the teachers I asked said that they would never not give a student a chance. They would always see if they were able and allow them to dance if they enjoyed to do so. I think that it is a fitness thing yes people may be pre-judged on the size of them, however it may just be because dance requires a high level of fitness, so someone who has a bigger shape or even a really thin shape may struggle with something that needs a lot of fitness as they may not be used to it.

That leads me to my last point, which is the physical demands of dance. Even though I do think body shape of a dancer does encourage their success, however I think a huge part of their ‘perfect’ shape is due to the amount of exercise they have to do to be a dancer, especially a successful one. You are very unlikely to come across a professional dancer with a physique that is too big or small, they will have the right amount of fats in them as well as a lot of muscle. This would be due to the amount of dance they would have done in the previous years as well as what they have to do up to date. Even though I do think dance helps to build a ‘perfect’ body shape I know that not everyone is born with a small shape. This means that from a young age they could be discouraged from doing it as they look up to people with a small body shape. I think if a dancer is able to see through all of the ‘traditional’ facts about what a dancers body should look like then they would be able to make a career out of it as overtime their body will adapt and change because of the amount of exercise they would need to do. If people do get turned away in the industry maybe it is because they think that they lack in physical strength or fitness that they require, which means it is something the dancer is just going to have to work on, it does not mean that they need to stop doing dance and give up all together. Where I have said earlier that different genres, I think this is because different genres work at different levels and focus on different muscle and different levels of agility. Hip hop dancers are usually a range of shapes and sizes and I do think this is mainly because it is freer and allows a person to really be individual, meaning there is not strict rules on certain moves, as everyone has their own interpretation. However, ballet is more physically demanding and requires so much training to be good at it. This is because it there are specific moves that have to be learnt and you’re more restricted to what you are able to explore with. All in all I think that yes dance does have a big impact on how your body shape develops through training and I know this because I have personally experienced this. Where before I didn’t do the level of dance and training as I am now, I would struggle with doing some of the lessons as I wouldn’t be able to do something or I would get tired really quick. However, now that I train frequently I have begun to notice a change in the shape of my body and my ability to do certain moves has improved immensely, this is just because I have been being consistent with my training and I haven’t given up if I wasn’t able to do something. I do also understand that there are still standards, especially in the ballet community as it hasn’t really evolved as much overtime as other genres have. This could be something that disheartens someone who wants to start doing it.

In conclusion I think that yes people that have a better body shape become more successful in the industry, however, in more recent years there has been more talk on the matter and more people are becoming famous in the industry no matter what shape they are. When I say ‘better body’ I mean being physically fitter than others, as people that have trained are more likely to be physically fit and therefore have a better shape. This is especially in different genres such as hip hop. You are much more likely to see people of different shapes in a genre like that. However, ballet dancers are less like this. I think this is because it is such a traditional genre that people still have a standard of what they need to look like. I think people have become more open minded in the ballet genre, however there are still some companies that will only accept people that have the ‘traditional’ ballet body. So I still do stand beside my argument as I think that it is still an issue in some cases, although some of my sources, such as the questionnaire has allowed me to have more of an open mind to the situation and it has shown me that it isn’t just ‘bigger’ people that are shut down, it is also people who are ‘too slim’. All in all, the dance industry is harsh and I feel as though people that love to dance will do so even if they do get shutdown a few times. I don’t think that you should give up if someone makes a comment or doesn’t give you a place the first audition you do.

This is a user generated post from our Arts Award on Voice community and was not edited by the Voice team. We would love to hear your views too! Sign up for an account and make your Voice heard!


Mia Hammond

Mia Hammond

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  • Emma Del'Nero Williams

    On 7 November 2018, 15:51 Emma Del'Nero Williams commented:

    I agree that people who are physically fit may succeed more in the dance industry than someone who is not and I suppose it does relate to body shape and size. It is a difficult industry with many people going for each job and as with acting and sometimes they are looking for a certain look. If you don't fit with it, you don't get the job but you may get the next one. An interesting piece, well done.

  • Jade Burton

    On 8 November 2018, 11:19 Jade Burton commented:

    I totally agree with all of these points you make. when looking at the average ballet dancer they all seem to be slim and there is never really a diversity of body shapes. These types of industries usually look for a certain type of person based on their looks and if they are too small, too chubby, not the right face shape, they will not get the job for being who they are.

  • jack taylor

    On 8 November 2018, 11:35 jack taylor commented:

    I completely agree with your arguments. I think that if someone trains then they will eventually reach there physical peak and everybody's physical peak is a different shape and size. When someone has reached this I think that it just comes down to how good they are at the movement and this can be achieved by lots of practice. All in all a good and interesting read.

  • Oliver Jones

    On 8 November 2018, 11:42 Oliver Jones commented:

    This is a very sensitive subject which I feel you have approached well. I believe that it is a matter of a lack in diversity at times and specifically in dance, choreographers often look for fit slim females. Furthermore during my recent trip to New York I spoke to a Rockette who told me about how she had to be an exact height and body shape in order to be part of the Rockettes group. I feel that this is a real issue and am glad that you have shown both sides of this debate.

  • Kelly Stockley

    On 8 November 2018, 11:56 Kelly Stockley Centre commented:

    Do you think social media and the history of dance has a big impact of how society views the average dancer? Let's face it, hip-hop is quite new in comparison to ballet, do you think this was because people felt the same as you? I saw a show called 'Big Ballet' and it proved that bigger dancers can do just the same amount of techniques as other sized dancers. So is it really just based on fitness?

  • Daniel Stokes

    On 8 November 2018, 12:07 Daniel Stokes commented:

    A great article which approaches this sensitive subject very well. From reading this you have made me think a lot about how there are people that don't get into companies or get jobs as they don't "Look the part". You've made me question how some people expect to find new talent just because of a certain way of which they look, there could be a dancer that's so much better than somebody else and could be the next best thing, but don't get the chance as the people choosing want to go with a safer option, which would be the people that "Look the part". I also really liked the fact that you used quotes from your own personal experience with Billy Sawyer, I feel it was an effective way to back your point by using a quote from someone well known in the dance industry. Very well done.

  • holly warrener

    On 8 November 2018, 12:21 holly warrener commented:

    I feel like you have really thought about this, I feel like its very powerful especially how you related it to your own story I feel its very touching to read, great piece of work well worth a read :)

  • Beth Webster

    On 8 November 2018, 12:25 Beth Webster commented:

    I really like this article. I've never fully thought about the size of a dancer to the full extent and I had definitely not thought of a dancer being turned away for being too skinny, especially a ballet dancer. but I guess that the media chose what they want people to see and because no one ever does anything on bigger people dancing, people don't see that and aren't fully aware.

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