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The Fat Dancer “Controversy”

A scene from Nothing To Lose

Dancers from Nothing To Lose

I’ve written a few past posts about fat dancers and was inspired to write again on the subject by a show in Australia featuring a cast of obese dancers.  What caught my interest, aside from the obvious fact of how unusual this is, was the director’s comment that such a show shouldn’t be, but is, controversial.

 

In my area there is a popular feminist dance company called the Dance Brigade. It’s talented director, Krissy Keefer, while not fat, does have an atypical body type.  She’s short, stocky, and muscular.  Just because her body is not that of a typical ballerina, her dancing is controversial.  Just what is this all about?  Why is it controversial for more than one body type to perform dance?

 

Human beings move naturally to music.  We do so with grace, or we don’t, and it has nothing to do with our shape, size, or even our physical abilities.  Yet the majority of people in our society are astonished to see great dancing in a fat body and embarrassed to find themselves as mesmerised by the movements of the fat dancer as by the more familiar lithe dancer body.

 

Even worse, derisive laughter is a common reaction, no matter how good the dancer.  Derision is a tool that keeps people in their place through shame.  So it’s all the more impressive to see the existence of a show like  Nothing To Lose, where the dancers are unabashedly comfortable in their bodies.  Take a look at this video and notice if you have a reaction, positive or negative.  It’s interesting to look at the root of that reaction and question it’s history, influence, and how much of it is culturally imposed and how much is pure artistic appreciation.  Have fun!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Who Wants to See a Fat Dancer?

Well, if it’s a good dancer we’re talking about, almost everyone. For many people the obvious answer is well, duh, what does weight have to do with dance skill?  But for a lot of people there is a huge prejudice against even a few extra pounds on a dancer.  Even today where fat people are hardly an unusual sight, many if not most people still believe there is no such thing as a good dancer who is overweight.  Of course I’ve got some great clips to illustrate my point, but first let me speak from my experience in the realm of partner dance.

I have danced as a leader with tiny slender women who follow like a mac truck.  I have an old shoulder injury, so when I lead I’m careful about the partners with whom I’m willing to dance.  I look at skill, not size.  A follower who resists can injure me no matter what size she is.  Someone who follows skillfully can weigh 300 pounds and be a breeze to lead.  People don’t suddenly lose their ability to follow when they gain weight.

Size not only has no voice in the skill of partner dancing, it also is not an indicator of athletic ability, contrary to popular belief.  This hip hop dancer certainly lacks the classic toned dancer body, but can you doubt his level of fitness when you see these moves?

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My second example is a belly dancer.  Extra flesh is actually traditional in this genre because Middle Eastern standards of beauty differ from America’s.  It takes a pretty high level of fitness to master this core strengthening dance and (to my eyes anyway) it looks good on a fleshy body.

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Dance has long been plagued with unrealistic standards of “beauty”.  Professional dancers have to have not only talent and skill, but the right look as well.  People who dance for fun, however, come in a wide range of body sizes and types.  I love to see people of all sizes and shapes take to the floor for the sheer joy of dancing.  Anyone can be an outstanding dancer, especially if they start now and don’t feel the pressure to wait until they lose weight.  You might lose weight just by falling in love with a physical activity and adding movement to your life.  Or you might not.  In either case, you’ll feel better and you’ll be more fit both physically and mentally.  I encourage everyone who loves even the idea of dance to just do it and not let any idea of what constitutes a dancers body get in your way!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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