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February 25, 2014

Dancers Take Back Ownership of Their Art

Dancers Take Back Ownership of Their Art

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week and we’re excited to share insight from dancers at Saint Paul City Ballet about being themselves and embracing their bodies for what they help them do – perform their art. This two-part series will take you through the background of how “Taking Back the Tutu” came to be and share statements written by the nine dancers at the Company.

An introduction by Brittany Adams, Social Media Coordinator, and Dancer at Saint Paul City Ballet Company:

The concept “Take Back the Tutu” came about during a small meeting of some of Saint Paul City Ballet’s dancers and board members. After discussing our progressive year in which we had become an artist-led company and successfully put on our first full-scale performance, we were brainstorming ideas that pertained to the “new” us. Some words that came up were: empowered, courageous, community.

We began to look ahead, wondering how to further reach our audiences and show them who we were. We talked about “Take Back the Tutu” in a number of ways that all came down to one basic concept – breaking down conceptual barriers that come with our art. We began to feel that we could really do something to empower our community and other dancers by sharing our thoughts on what it is to be healthy and happy when the tradition of ballet often involves a certain “look” or body type. We are a diverse company. We come in all shapes and sizes and we all have something different to say about what it is to be a dancer and happy in our own skin. To “Take Back the Tutu” is to be empowered to take ownership of our art and throw away the idea that we have to look a certain way to wear the tutu. Our journeys are different and what we each chose to share is as unique as we are. Please enjoy our reflections; we hope they inspire you to take back your own tutu!

Dancer Reflections:

Amber: “Jolie laide” is a French term that translates to “oddly beauty.” In her book, On Becoming Fearless…in Love, Work, and life, Arrianna Huffington explains the concept as, “They (women who embody jolie laide) radiate a kind of magnetism that goes beyond their specific features.” And, “A hint of imperfection enhances a woman’s appearance and makes her more interesting to look at…in the end, she is more alluring, more captivating, than conventional beauty.” Realizing this truth has helped set me free and has given me peace. It is my soul radiating through that makes me beautiful and nothing else. I can exercise endlessly, eat in an unsatisfying manner, and be as physically “perfect” as society wants me to be in an attempt to be accepted, but this is just a lie, a trick, to keep me from being the amazing being I’m meant to be. The power each of us possess scares that which suppresses us, so it tries everything it can to keep us from realizing it, but once we accept our inner beauty and worth we are free to be ourselves and allow passion to rule our lives instead of fear. That’s where magic happens.

Shamira: I’ve been dancing ballet since I was three years old, but had never given much thought to my body until high school. In high school, my body image became directly correlated to how confident I was with myself and with my dancing. I became fixated on what I thought was healthy. I ate only healthy foods, and at times I also restricted how much food I ate in an unhealthy way.

Once I graduated from high school I took two years off from ballet to concentrate fully on college. Without dance I was no longer focused on my body image and healthy eating, I gained weight and lost a lot of muscle. That didn’t bother me until this year when I decided to return to dance. At first, it was a shock to see myself out of the shape I had been in the past and once again I struggled with my confidence. However, as the year has progressed I’ve been gaining my strength and technique back while eating healthily without restricting how much I eat.

As this year has gone on I’ve realized that my body is not what makes me who I am as a dancer. In the past, I was choosing to focus so much of my energy on my body to make me happy rather than believing in myself. So now I choose to be happy and proud of my body and treat it right to keep my mind and body strong and happy.

Shannon: My whole life I’ve been a ballerina. I’ve seen the ups and downs of everyone’s body image in 29 years. Living life in front of a mirror and in front of the public eye where everyone is judging you can really take a toll on a person. What I’ve learned through experience is that the dancers who make a career out of it are the ones who worship their bodies. We need to listen to our bodies and eat if we are hungry, rest when we are exhausted, and take time to heal when we are injured. The older I’ve gotten, the stronger my body has become with cross-training and nutrition. The overall mental mindset of the body I have and what I can create with it is so fulfilling compared to the frailness I could be. You can’t be fierce and frail at the same time. I’d rather be fierce.

Preston: There are days that my body frustrates and confuses me, and there are days that my body empowers me to do great things. No matter the frustrations, I need my body for the work I do on a daily basis. In my work, my body is my temple and my canvas. If my body is neglected, my body refuses the art it produces.

In the production of my art, I find that my body becomes my best friend. We fight, I push its boundaries, it provides me with the realities that it must abide by, and I listen. Without the proper care, my art suffers, but most importantly, my body suffers. My body may provide me with challenges in pursuing my best artistic processes, but I love it. I love where my body can take me when I listen to it and respect it.

Watch for more statements from this amazing Ballet Company on Thursday (2/27). And if you’re available, join The Emily Program and Saint Paul City Ballet for a presentation about body image on Friday night (2/28). We’ll leave you with this quote until then, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else”. Judy Garland

Photo by ©Caroline Yang. To see Saint Paul City Ballet images daily, visit

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