How Dance Taught Me to Love My Body
Yes, I am a dancer, and yes, I am fat.
There's nothing quite as soul-crushing as the reactions I've received when I've told people I dance. They can range from disbelief to confusion to shock. To many people, it's somehow incomprehensible that a plus-size person like myself could grace a stage. While the body-positive movement has been trucking along at full force over the past few years, it hasn't made much progress in the dance community yet. In fact, the words "body positivity" and "dance" are almost never used together in the same sentence.
Despite that fact, dance is what helped me learn to love my larger frame. In honor of National Body Confidence Day, I wanted to talk about my first time in a studio, and about the tremendous progress I've made since.
A dancer isn't made by a number on a scale. A dancer is formed by passion: passion so deep, so strong, and so powerful that it has the ability to do almost anything. When that passion is cultivated through years of training, a dancer is born—whether he or she is fat or skinny, tall or short, able to tilt or not.
My first dance class was terrifying. I was petrified that I would be judged by my size and not my skill. The unfortunate truth is that I most likely was, since many people don't know how not to judge a book by its cover.
While no one made any direct remarks during the class, I saw the looks. I saw the judging. I saw the disapproval. Unfortunately, that day marked my last public dance class for over a year. My mind told me I wasn't ready to share my passion with others because of my size.
For two years, I spent each week in my best friend's basement, which had been turned into a small dance studio. My friend, Mackenna Dombroski, is a professional dancer, and she trained me in the craft and pushed me harder than I'd ever been pushed before.
Gianluca (left) with Mackenna Dombroski (photo by Lisa Dombroski)
At times, it felt useless. If I didn't change my size, how could I ever be a dancer? How could I ever be accepted by the community I so desperately wanted to be a part of? But Mackenna never gave up. She taught me everything, from ballet to jazz, from the simplest movements to the most complex. She saw the passion inside me, and knew it shouldn't be wasted.
I saw myself improving. In the hazy dance room mirror, I began to see myself not as "that fat kid," but as a dancer. After two years, I was ready.
Leaping back into dance class was scary at first. But this time, I wasn't giving up. At the end of class, I felt vindicated. Hearing positive words from the teacher and students reassured me that my weight wasn't my identifying factor. Instead—finally—my talent was.
Soon, people in my local dance and theater community began to see me as a dancer. I was asked to join productions and given dance-heavy roles. I was a part of the dance world. And I was becoming the dancer I'd always dreamed I would be.
Am I the best dancer in the world? Of course not. Am I a great dancer who just happens to be plus-size? Absolutely. While I still have a long way to go, I know now that my weight will never keep me from doing what I love. I'm sure I'll have to deal with more prejudice along with the way; I'll have to keep fighting misconceptions about what a dancer should look like. But I'm ready for that. I'm ready to show that no matter your size, you, too, can be a dancer. Dance has shown me who I am, who I want to be, and how to love everything about myself, from pas de bourrée to grand jeté.
Gianluca (right) with Mackenna Dombroski (photo by Lisa Dombroski)
Rapping, dance duo Ayo & Teo may still want "ice on their wrists so (they) look better when (they) dance," as they're 2017 chart topping song, "Rolex" says, but the two are featuring a more unusual accessory in their recent dance routine: The cotton swab. After teaming up with DoSomething.org for the Give A Spit About Cancer campaign, Ayo & Teo are encouraging people to join the national bone marrow registry and donate marrow for those suffering from blood cancer.
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
As a teenager, contemporary dancer Eveline Kleinjans felt like nothing she did was good enough. Auditioning for university dance programs paralyzed her: “I was so focused on every move I made and what people would think that I wasn't able to be free, to be myself," she says. And her intense perfectionism had real repercussions. “I'd get negative feedback saying, 'We don't see you.' "
Perfectionism is extremely common in the dance world, because dancers hold themselves to terrifically high standards. It's easy to get a little discouraged when you aren't improving as quickly as you want. But there's a difference between healthy self-criticism and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. How can you tell when your drive to be better has crossed the line—and what can you do to get back on track?
Partnering is hard enough as it is: You're trying to untangle technical snafus and synchronize your movements with those of another dancer, not to mention building the delicate trust required to catch and be caught, lift and be lifted. Throw a hostile or uncooperative partner into the mix, and you might wish you could take a pass on pas de deux. But don't give up! We asked the experts for tips on how to solve partnering's "relationship problems" as gracefully as possible.
Yes, they're quite possibly the cutest dance duo since, well, ever. But put Paige Glenn and Artyon Celestine onstage, and it's immediately clear they mean business. That was apparent to millions across the country last summer, when Artyon and Paige's unbelievable extensions, fearless turning, and infectious energy propelled them to the quarterfinals of "America's Got Talent." They've also appeared (together or individually) on "Little Big Shots," "Lip Sync Battle Shorties," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and "Access Hollywood Live"—not to mention the competition titles they've won as a pair.
"Simon Cowell came backstage during 'AGT' and told us, 'Go out there and do your best. They're going to like you.' "—Artyon
Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.
With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)
That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "
Winter is drawing to a close and you know what that means -- It's time to really kick this year into gear! Move U has done the research so you can find your best match, look good, and feel great this season with a twist unique to your team! Here are five looks to put your performance on the map in 2018.
We already knew Taylor and Reese Hatala can do anything. After all, they're both incredibly versatile dancers capable of serving up some serious face. And now the super siblings can add another title to their resumé: that of fashion magazine cover stars.
Last week Disney Channel star Sofia Wylie released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of her YouTube dance series. Along with some stellar dancing, the video shows the dance community featured in her "4k Dance Series" and the things they've learned from being a part of the dance project. And though the project features dance, we love that it also emphasizes supporting and building up fellow dancers.