A Personal Journey… and the struggle with weight… even for a man.

There is so much pressure in ballet when it comes to weight. But the stereotype isn’t just for women/girls. There is a ton of pressure for men/boys to also have the right body proportions. From obsessive workouts to the right muscle tone, weight is constantly being evaluated. I think the first time I really became paranoid about weight was when I was measured for my first custom ballet costume. This paranoia was reinforced when I had to fit into another person’s ballet costume. And the third time was when a teacher made a remark that was something along the line of, “Aren’t Asians supposed to be super skinny?” Yup. This was only supported by teachers making general comments like, “Someone ate dessert last night.” While walking around the room. Or, “You probably had too much for dinner since you can’t close your fifth.” And for some reason that became normal.

Naturally, I am not built super thin, I am barrel chested and have broad shoulders. My body also puts weight on really fast. I can literally gain weight just by looking at cake, Just kidding. But, seriously, what I eat the day before drastically effects my body. So, unfortunately, like most dancers who feel the pressure of weight control, I did the most stupid thing anyone can do. I started skipping meals and when need be, purging. When a ballet that required white tights came around… the eating habits would get worse and worse. Still, to this day we don’t really talk about weight or nutrition, though it has gotten better, the pressure to be the right body still exists. Whether schools verbally enforce this or not, it is seen by who they accept and who is employed by a company. And for me, it became an obsession. When my Aunt who was a nurse asked me about my weight, I just said that I was working out really hard. A friend commented on my clavicles and ribs showing through my chest and I just said it was because I did a high amount of cardio. So, I started wearing oversized clothes and multiple layers, avoided photos, and then just said it was “genetics”. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t like withering away, I was still strong enough to lift girls and dance through ballet. I was just managing my weight the wrong way.

Back in the day, which wasn’t that long ago, they didn’t give you the resources needed to get it under control. Or at least propose healthy eating. At best we had the Dancer’s Body Book by Allegra Kent, which is horrible… Published in the 80’s, this book really was the only “dancer diet” resource available. The diet is restricting and really only geared towards petite naturally thin women.

What they didn’t tell you, is that by starving yourself, you mess up your metabolism, your kidneys, your skin and your overall health.

 

only good one copy
Yes… I know I should have turned out my standing leg, not winged my foot and pointed it. Pulled my back leg up, and not taken this picture with a disposable camera. 

 

Even after my ballet career ended, weight was a big paranoia for me. At first, I would eat everything in sight. Literally. But, the minute I saw myself gaining weight the paranoia set in again. Additionally, I joined the world of fashion, and at the time it was trendy for men to be underweight and the trend manorexic was in. So, I made sure to stay underweight at all costs; smoking, cutting meals, and cardio. It wasn’t until CJ pulled me aside at the club and said, “I can see your ribs and spine through the back of your shirt.” My response was an unhealthy, “Oh that’s good, that’s normal. I thought you were going to say I had a hole in my shirt or you hated my outfit.” Around the same time, I noticed I was getting major headaches, having body issues, and was constantly tired. This led to a slew of health problems, some permanent.

So, I started putting on weight and being healthy.

When my dad passed away I put on a ton of weight, over time almost 50 pounds pushing me over, much over, the 200-pound mark. It really hit me when my doctor marked me as obese on my 2015 physical. At the same time, I started this blog and the Instagram and created the character fat panda. One, to avoid writing using photos of myself, and Two turning overweight into something funny.

I got my weight under control but still wasn’t happy with how much weight I actually still had on me… don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be my ballet weight skinny (125), but I wanted to be in a good weight category. (Mind you I stand at 5’10 and a half”)

It’s been a process, starting back in March on my 30th birthday… I mean you all know. I started going back to ballet classes and the gym. It has been a process, but I can finally say I am back to a normal healthy weight. It has taken 7 months, and the process has been slow.
weight loss

I went from being a 27″ to a 34″, and now to a 30″. I went from being an extra small shirt to a large, and now I am back to a small, but prefer a medium. But finally, in a place where I am comfortable… I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy, and I messed my body type up completely while dancing and constantly feeling the pressure of weight. I am not writing this for an applause, but simply to remind everyone that weight, body dysmorphia, and ballet pressures are real issues, even for boys and men. And, that there are major long-term consequences for taking shortcuts and giving into the pressures of the ideals.
——–

READ TODAY!!! (If you haven’t already subscribed, or you want to subscribe for cheaper… click here to save!!)
COVER 7 aballeteducation lisbet copy

 

Advertisements

Notes on Body Types…

Firstly, before I start my long, and much-needed blog update on body types, I want to say, “Thank You.” The amount of support and followers and all of that has been mighty overwhelming. I am pleased to also say that this week I got to send out eight checks to students around the US to go off to their summer programs. I am not going to list the students out of respect to their financial situations, the fact that they are minors, and the way others will view them at their summer courses. Scholarship applications will be open again January-March 2017. Hopefully, with all of the sales throughout the year, I will be able to help more students!!! Thank you. To help support this scholarship fund click here. I have been really overwhelmed by the amount of e-mails I have been receiving and promise to get a better handle on the influx of emails. My friend Edgar has jumped in to help me at the warehouse, so I have more time to answer emails. Also this week the shop is going to have 8 new shirts added… Kind of excited…. So, a big thank you. Also sorry that I am going to have to start watermarking like crazy… people have been stealing and trying to sell my work… sooo everything is going to have these SUPER UGLY watermarks from now on…


proportions of ballet

Now, onto Notes on Body Types…

I have talked about the ideal body type… (click here to read that one) and height stuff… (click here to read about that) and how body type effects casting… (and this one)

Now it is time to really talk about body type and how this all factors into the big picture of ballet. Classic body proportions in art has been determined by 8 heads, the idea that if you take the height from top of the head to chin, the rest of the body proportionally you add seven heads… In fashion the standard is 9. The body of the female ballet dancer follows that of a fashion… but more compact… While the ideal female model is 5’9″-6’1″, the ideal female ballet dancer is 5’4″-5’9″; but with the same proportions.

ballet body types

In ballet, however, we make exceptions to the rules of proportion based on height… So here I have drawn this random, kind of awful sketch of body types…

A. The ideal body type in ideal proportions. Usually includes hypermobility in the joints,a narrow pelvis, an average torso and long extremities. (basically, like every Russian girl) They can be any height, they just carry the ideal proportions of ballet…

B. The shorter torso girl in ballet, is usually on the shorter side, and their body type is slightly more athletic, this body type was more common, but unfortunately we are seeing less and less of it. These bodies are still in proportion but compact.(aka, Ashley Bouder, Leta Biasucci etc)

C. The tall girl… They usually have elongated torsos, but are on the taller side of life. (aka Teresa Reichlen, pretty much everyone at PNB, etc)

D. The broader body type, there is room in ballet for a wider body type and we see it on women like Carrie Imler, Kathleen Breen Combes, Sara Mearns… By no means are these women fat, or large- their body types or bone structures are just broader. This body type is actually one of the more common American body types.

These four body types are the most common in ballet. Very rarely do we see a body type outside of these four. Does this mean that if you don’t fall into one of these categories you will never be a professional ballet? By no means, it just means you have to find the right company for you. This means you have to find companies who have your body type in the corps.

Now, within these four body types there are tons of variations… High arches, hypermobility, a meatier arch, long toes, the list goes on. That is the wonderful side of individuality and genetics… But unfortunately, there are some curses when it comes to ballet. The first is flat feet. Without the arch, it is harder to complete a line… It isn’t impossible. You can cheat bad feet with bangin turnout, or really strong toes. It isn’t impossible. Just means you have to work differently. Another curse in ballet is being knocked kneed.

knees and ballet

a. Knocked knees, this is a really hard curse to overcome in ballet. It changes the line of the body, and changes the shape of the muscles.

b. Hypermobility is key in ballet, but can also be a curse if overstretched and not properly trained.

c. Bowlegged… pretty common in ballet, because it is usually combined with hypermobile knees. It just means you have to be more in tune with your body while landing from jumps.

So, with all this talk about body type… There is a reason behind it all… BODY LINE

notes on body line

All of these factors really only come to play when talking about body line. The line of the body is the key to ballet. These lines are created by the negative space of the body. It creates the shape of arabesque, attitude, and even the space between the fingers… It is all relevant. It is probably why teachers yell to keep the focus of your eyes, because even that completes the line. Everything in ballet is determined on body line. For example, if you point your foot parallel to the ground and were to draw a line from your ankle, through… the line should un-waiver and hit at your big toe, or your toes should be below the line… It is how you can determine whether or not a student is ready for pointe, or if a student might be more successful en pointe. The wing in a foot creates a more curved line, and a more flexible instep creates another curve. The longer the foot, the more length it gives a dancer in their legs… The list goes on… The more curves your body makes, the more lines and the more interesting negative space can be created. Dancers with hypermobile backs, or hypermobile hips allows for endless possibilities when it comes to shapes.

Now, the body type can also be altered by muscles as well… If your body is prone to building muscle, then it can change the shape of the body. If your body is in perfect proportions, but you have tight tendons and closed hips (no rotation or turnout) well… that is going to be another obstacle to get over.

If you are a thirteen-year-old girl, and you are freaking out because your body is changing, don’t worry- every girl in ballet goes through it. It is one of the scary things in ballet, is that nothing is ever certain… just like injuries… So… I can now answer questions that have been written in (condensed a bunch as well):

Q: My body has changed a lot now that I am sixteen, and I don’t have a “good” ballet body, what should I do? I don’t know how drastic your body has changed, but if your body type isn’t the ideal ballet body, and you aren’t getting into summer programs, and you want to dance there is are hundreds of dance careers out there… Teaching, choreographing, writing, production, administration, and development/fundraising. You don’t have to give up on ballet altogether. Additionally, there are other genres out there… ballroom… contemporary… modern… post modern… broadway.

Q: I am very hypermobile and don’t know what to do? It means you need to take tons of pilates classes and cross train in a pool. Don’t stand in first with your ankles apart, and don’t grip the hypermobility as well. The majority of dancers out there are hyperextended in the knees… it just means you have to work smart.

Q: I have short legs, will I still be a dancer? Ummmm… no one can say if someone is going to be a dancer or not be a dancer… It is very hard… and the ballet world is very fickle… If you have short legs and a long torso that is hypermobile, you actually might have a stellar arabesque line…. So, there is no answer to that…

Q: I diet, I cross-train, I dance every day but can’t lose weight… what should I do? So, if you are doing all of those things, but you aren’t losing weight… it could be that you are overdoing your body and you’re are exhausting your body. Sometimes, dancing every day is a bad thing… especially for young girls who are pre-teens. During puberty your body is already going under a lot of stress because of growth plates and tendons… add over stretching and constant physical demands of ballet… your body might be exhausted. It might just be best to take a break for 10 days, let your body readjust and start again… Also, you could be starving your body… which is TOTALLY NOT GOOD… dieting doesn’t mean starve yourself…. despite popular belief…. you actually have to eat quite a bit as a dancer, but you have to be fueling your body correctly throughout the day to prepare you for the dance load you have that evening.

Okay then… hope you enjoyed… don’t forget to follow me on facebook and instagram… This week’s instagram theme is: BAD GIRLS OF BALLET: kicked it off this Sunday with Carabosse from “the Sleeping Beauty”

carabosse costume design

 

When in Doubt… Turn Out

when in doubt turn out ballet turn out

“Turn-out. Turn-out. Turn-out.”

“Use what you have.”

“I don’t see you even trying.”

“What was that? That wasn’t even ballet.”

All corrections we may have heard. Turn-out in ballet is the most important thing. I remember a teacher once asking me, “Is it more important to have straight knees or be perfectly turned-out in a tendu?”  My immediate response was something like, “Have straight knees so you can lengthen the muscle and work correctly.” I was then told I was wrong. Now as a teacher, I realize what she was talking about. In ballet, the most important thing is turn-out, it is the thing that makes ballet so difficult, and separates ballet from the rest of the classical dance forms. Turn-0ut is the outward rotation of the hip joint. The goal is 180 degrees (90 degrees on each leg).It is based on the stance in fencing. So, turn-out is the one thing that defines ballet. If you have biscuity feet, you can kind of hide it by turning out. But, what makes turn-out so amazing is that by properly rotating the leg from the hip, and using the muscles and tendons properly, it changes the shape of the leg. Which is why turn-out is the most important thing in ballet. Unfortunately, if you don’t have close to perfect turn-out… ballet might not be for you…

And no, it isn’t about just standing there in a nice turned out position… It is about dancing 100% of the time turned out. ABT’s Zhong-Jing Fang at the Prix de Lausanne. She won in 2000. Unfortunately, she is still in the corps… but that is some killer turnout.

Dancing turned out all the time puts a ton of stress on the legs, and can cause the ligaments to overdevelop and compensate for other ligaments. So, it is really important to get into pilates, or go swimming. Turn-out is ten times more important than body proportions because turn-out is the first deciding factor for the potential of a ballet dancer.