Nine Ways to Love the Woman You're Becoming

It seemed like everything changed overnight. Suddenly, 14-year-old Karen Black’s* breasts didn’t fit into her favorite camisole leotard, her thighs rubbed together in weird places, and she couldn’t get through 10 fouettés without becoming winded.

What was going on?


Your body will change a lot from now until your twenties. You’ll start your period, develop breasts and grow pubic hair. You may also develop an insatiable appetite, put on weight, or grow so fast that some steps become more difficult than they used to be.

As a dancer, this process can be particularly difficult. Maybe you dread changing in the locker room, because you think that everyone is staring at you. Perhaps none of your friends have started to mature physically and you feel uncomfortable about your figure. Maybe you’re the only one (or you feel like the only one) who hasn’t started to develop yet. To make matters worse, not only do you have to wear tight clothes and stare at yourself in the mirror, but you also stand in the spotlight and perform in front of everyone you know—all while feeling like an alien has taken over your once-familiar body.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t alone! Here are some other ways to make growing up a positive experience.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Every dancer is different—you may covet your friend’s fabulous feet, but she might envy your long legs. Lamenting your own appearance because you don’t think it’s as great as someone else’s will only frustrate you, because it’s beyond your control. Remember that dancers have many body types, strengths and weaknesses.

2. Try other dance forms.

If you feel terrible about yourself after, say, a ballet class, add another kind of class, like jazz or hip hop, to your schedule that makes you feel great. It’s important to give yourself positive experiences with movement, even if that means just dancing around your living room to your favorite hip-hop artist.

3. Understand your own biology.

During puberty, it’s normal for some things that were once easy to become seemingly impossible. Maybe you could do triple pirouettes, and now you struggle to balance in passé. Don’t panic: You’ve probably just had a growth spurt, and you need time to adjust to your new body. With practice and time, you can get it back.

4. Accept yourself—and your peers.

You may be tempted to poke fun at your friends to soothe your own insecurities, but this won’t contribute to a supportive training atmosphere and may even backfire when people belittle you. Think of this phase of your life as something that you and your friends are in together! Focus on building each other up and on being the best dancers you can be.

5. Embrace your appetite.

Some girls put on a layer of fat prior to a growth period. In these instances, you may grow out before you grow up. If you aren’t eating enough of the right foods, you’ll interfere with this process and suffer health consequences down the road. “Usually with a growth spurt comes increased metabolism and increased appetite,” says Dr. Michelle New, clinical psychologist, reviewer for website KidsHealth and a former dancer. “You’re hungrier, and a lot of girls are afraid of that.”

Listen to your body. If you ignore your appetite and stop eating, you may actually stunt your vertical growth and end up heavier than you would otherwise. “Buy bigger jeans and keep being healthy and active,” says New. “It’s a normal part of growth and it won’t last forever.” If you really think you’re overweight—or a teacher tells you to slim down—see a licensed nutritionist before starting any diet.

6. Don’t hide.

If your school has a dress code, there isn’t much you can do to “cover up.” But even if you want to drown yourself in baggy sweats, hiding isn’t the best way to cope. “It gives the message that you should cover up when you start showing signs of womanhood,” New explains. If you’re really uncomfortable, ask your teacher if you can wear a fashionable shrug, a skirt or warm-up shorts, but be prepared to conform to the uniform. Find other ways to make yourself feel good—try out a new hairstyle or a new cut of leotard.

7. Talk to someone older.

You may feel like you’re suffering through something that no one has ever suffered before. “Whether you feel alone because you haven’t gone through it yet or your body is becoming a woman before you feel emotionally ready to be a woman, there is somebody who’s been through that,” says New. “One hundred percent of women go through this. No exceptions.” Talk to an older dancer, family member or teacher about how you feel. When you educate yourself, you’ll feel empowered.

8. Know that it’s OK to be modest.

If you dread the locker room, it’s perfectly acceptable to shower at home or change in a bathroom stall. Everybody has their own comfort level, and you shouldn’t feel pressure to put yourself on display if you don’t want to. You control your own body in and out of the dance studio. In fact, developing a sense of privacy can actually mean you have good self-esteem, because it shows that you’re taking ownership

of yourself.

9. Explore other areas of creativity.

Broadening your horizons to include other forms of expression can be helpful when you’re going through an “awkward” phase. Join your school’s art club, audition for a local musical-theater production, or learn to play an instrument. All of these activities will contribute to your artistic development as a dancer, while taking the focus away from your physical being for a while.

Latest Posts

Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo courtesy of Brittany Conigatti

Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti

Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.

Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.

The cast of Annie Live! poses for a group photo. The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search