This Woman’s Ballet Teacher Told Her To Lose Weight, But Her New Job Is The Best Revenge

October 01, 2019

If you’ve ever taken a dance class, you’ll know that it can feel very daunting — especially to someone who may be new to the art form. Beyond just trying to get the moves down, dance communities haven’t always been the most inclusive. In ballet, especially, there has been an intense focus on body size and a seriously unfortunate history of body-shaming.

According to Pointe Magazine, being body-shamed or called out for your weight while in class or while rehearsing for a role can cause dancers to feel “emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed.” However, the magazine says, it’s common — which maybe isn’t a good thing?

The magazine also calls out toxic behaviors — like a teacher comparing your body to someone else’s, connecting your weight to how much you love to dance, or giving you a goal weight to reach. Gross.

In fact, some dancers (like this one writing for The Guardian) have heard their teachers utter remarks like, “She’s good, but she’s big.” (If you’re wondering, this particular dancer was a size eight). According to the same dancer — who ended up leaving dance because of the various pressures — very few ballerinas wore anything above a size four.

So it’s not shocking that some dancers are still enduring this sort of body-shaming and body policing.

Dancers left and right are being cut from performances because of their body size. And this sort of thing affects the entire dance community.

The emotional Facebook status was posted by a dancer named Alana Grant. She wrote, “Yesterday I went to a dance audition in London and I was cut after the first round…. The casting director told me why I was cut….The reason I was cut in the first round was that I was overweight, too big for a dancer. I was genuinely gobsmacked.” Sigh. 

She wrote, “I know I’m not teeny tiny, but as a 5’9” tall woman of dress size UK 8-10, I was shocked and upset. The woman said it as if she was doing me a favour and that if I “sort out my body I might get a job.”

Reading this makes us want to scream internally. But, it gets worse.

The woman told Alana she wouldn’t want to see her in “hot pants on stage.”

She raised another interesting concern, questioning, “How can people get away with saying these things to other human beings? If it was a job interview and you didn’t get the job because you were fat, the company would be slammed.”

She felt “humiliated” getting the feedback in front of her peers and spent the ride home sobbing and the next day in tears.

Kosta Karakashyan, of Dance Magazine, found her story appalling and shared Alana’s post.

He was shocked to receive a message from an acquaintance berating him for sharing the story.

Kosta says the message was from a man letting him know Alana had also auditioned for his company.

Kosta says the man sent an angry-red-face-emoji and wrote, “How could girls as fat as her ever expect to be lifted in the air by another dancer?”

To make it worse, he added, “She should lose some weight before she even thinks about whining.”

“I gave it my all to try to understand how another performer could be so insensitive and clueless to the power dynamic at play here,” Kosta wrote. “Meanwhile, we’re constantly comparing our looks and abilities to those of other bodies around us every single day.”

The answer to her and Kosta’s plea asking to change this, comes in a beautiful story, from a dancer, who has also experienced body shaming.

According to a piece in Health Magazine, one dancer named Jessie Diaz tells her tale of how she overcame that very same body shaming in ballet, taking that negative experience and letting it catapult her toward amazing things.

But it wasn’t an easy road to get there. Not everyone feels like they can reclaim their love of dance after being body-shamed, so we’re happy that Jessie is paving the way. We’re so happy to hear this because no one should be made to feel excluded from something they love.

So, who is Jessie Diaz?

According to Health, she’s always loved dancing — and started taking ballet at the age of 12, but was told that she didn’t have the “typical dancer’s body type.”

As she puts it, “I was auditioning for the next level in my ballet academy, and I got accepted. I was so happy, but my head dance teacher advised me to lose weight.”

Not cool, right?

Of course, this hit her pretty hard. She was going through puberty, so her body was changing.

Sadly, she thought that her ballet teacher must have meant well and cared for her future in ballet.

Unfortunately, Jessie — in an effort to lose the weight — started doing something drastic.

She began skipping meals — to the point of fainting, all to fit the ideal weight of a ballerina.

And her mother, naturally, freaked out and pulled her out of dance.

Jessie says her mom (bless her soul) drove her to the ballet studio, and screamed at everyone: ” “Nobody tells my daughter to lose weight! My daughter is beautiful!” And much to Jessie’s dismay, she pulled her out of class. Even though we understand why, Jessie felt like her life was ruined.

Her mother was right to recognize the warning signs of an eating disorder, which are all too common among dancers.

According to the website Eating Disorder Hope, “Ballet is an art form that revolves around the body, and it takes a lot of practice and dedication.”

Other factors to consider are that practices are often in front of mirrors and “dancers uniforms are often leotards, and costumes are form-fitting, so there is added pressure to be thin.”

Women, especially, are suppose to look like they are floating when lifted by male ballet dancers.

At that point, Jessie quit dancing.

She described dance as having a sort of stigma attached to it after being shamed in ballet class, since it wasn’t so open to all body types. And we can’t blame her! If you felt like you weren’t wanted somewhere, or if your body wasn’t good enough or deserving enough to take part in something, it might be tempting to quit.

And she didn’t return to it until college — almost a decade later.

In fact, she rediscovered dance during a freshman party where a dance crew was performing.

The crew asked her to join their dance crew — and she did! Instead of focusing on her body’s size, she tried focusing on its capability, which helped to reframe dance in a whole new light for her. Think about it: Our bodies can do some incredible things.

Still, she sometimes felt a bit uncomfortable in her body. It’s hard to undo years of shame — and we understand how any of us might internalize those messages.

And that’s because body positivity is a journey. It’s non-linear, imperfect, and not easy.

She explains body positivity in such a clear way: “It isn’t something where any negativity just ends, and suddenly you feel completely confident.”

Can we get an amen? When we try to become more body positive, we have to reframe our thinking and catch ourselves when our minds repeat the same self-hating patterns. And that’s not easy!

A little while later, Jessie got married, and then got pregnant and gave birth.

Unfortunately, Jessie had a complicated birthing experience: “I had a really great pregnancy, I really didn’t gain a lot of weight, and my doctor was super proud of me. But my delivery was so painful and so complicated that I spent a week in the hospital after with my child.”

But her body positive struggles continued, as is normal for many people who give birth.

She told Health that after giving birth she really struggled, which led to some not-so-great (but totally normal) thoughts about her body: She says, “The next month was super hard on my body and I just felt really defeated. I was just really hating my body. I felt like it quit on me.”

But Jessie — because she’s a badass — didn’t give up on herself. Instead, she turned to blogging as a way of moving through her body struggles.

In college, she used to blog about fashion, dance, and plus-size lifestyle, so her husband awesomely suggested she dive back into it.

During her maternity leave, she returned to blogging and shared some pictures and videos of her dancing in the past. Among the responses: “It’s so great to see a plus-size dancer, you’re rocking it.” We love that she was encouraged as a plus-sized dancer (even though part of us wishes that there weren’t a delineation in the categories of plus-size and straight size).

Blogging about her past in dance helped her feel better about herself, but she admits feeling a bit defensive when people referred to her as a plus-size dancer.

Remember — it’s all a journey.

She admits feeling defensive when people commented on her size, but then she thought about awesome comments like, “I wish I could dance like you!” This dose of encouragement helped her feel better — and to see herself as someone who danced just as well as anyone else in a smaller size.

She told Health, “I realized my body is letting me dance in a way that feels great, so I should thank my body for allowing me to have rhythm and for allowing me to move the way I do.”

So, guess what Jessie did? She started getting back into dancing.

While dancing, she started posting Instagram videos — and her confidence grew and grew. This led her to found the brilliant — and totally inclusive — organization Curves with Moves. It’s a dance company that inspires women through affirmations and enthusiasm as well as good ol’ dancing. And we love this idea!

Jessie became an advocate for other plus-size people and dancers.

She didn’t think there enough plus-size dancers in the community, so she wanted to be that voice.

Her Instagram followers grew and grew, so she knew that she was striking a chord that needed to be struck. She says, “So I just started becoming an advocate and I found that there weren’t a lot of women and men who were dancing in the plus-size community.”

Her dance classes took off.

But she never really labeled them ‘plus-size or ‘body-positive’ until she realized that really resonated with people.

She says, “I realized there were a lot of people who wanted to dance but were scared of being the plus-size girl in the room. So I created a safe space where women can dance and not feel judged. It turned into such a phenomenon and I have such loyal, loyal class members that come to every class and bring friends.”

Her dance classes grew and grew in popularity…

…thanks to the unique way she ran them.

She describes them as one-third body-positive affirmations and encouragement and two-thirds dance. And we’d say that formula is pretty genius, because when we step into a room where our bodies are on display we want to feel safe, loved, and encouraged.

Jessie says her classes start with conversation, then some movement, then dance, and then affirmations in the mirror.

We have to say that we love this idea. It’s so beautiful to know that somewhere, in some room, a group of people who are passionate about dancing are creating a sacred bond with their own bodies. Could anything be better?

Jessie believes that affirmations are central to body-positivity and self-love.

She repeats them every single.

She says that she uses affirmations all the time — she writes them on her mirror and she repeats them back to herself regularly. In her affirmations, she tries to stay positive, reframing scary things like aging. Instead of thinking, “I can’t believe I’m 31,” she’ll say, “31 is going to be a big year for me!” We couldn’t agree more with this approach. After all, thoughts are things!

And guess what? The affirmations (along with her hard work and vision) worked. Jessie is super successful.

We’re so happy she’s out here inspiring every last one of us to dance our butts off, no matter our size.

According to her website, she’s worked with huge brands —  Lane Bryant, Reebok, Target and Dia&Co. She’s also been on Good Morning America, WWE and Bronx1. That’s a big deal! Her body-positive dance classes, which are hosted in NYC, are still ever-popular. (But she also offers virtual dance classes).

In a world where dance can feel exclusive and even shaming, we need classes like Jessie’s.

While disordered eating is one of the biggest risks faced by dancers, women in general, are victims the biggest victims of the illnesses.

 90% of people with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, are female.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, ” Secrecy and shame are part of the disorder, and women may not seek help. This is particularly true if they fear being forced to gain unwanted weight or stigmatized as an older woman with a “teenager’s disease.”

If you, or someone you know, has shame and guilt about eating or become hypercritical of perceived physical imperfections, you’re not alone.

Dance Magazine documented a common exchange among ballerinas, which included a corps member at a prominent company complaining she was so hungry she felt faint and the dancer next to her feeling jealous.

“In shape for us is being hungry,” the dancer revealed. “Eat nothing and see how far you can go.”

The magazine agreed to allow dancers anonymously how weight gain can get them fired “while thinness can help them advance.”

“Ballet has long idealized a sylphlike physique. The fixation on thin became amplified in the 1960s when Balanchine’s preference for long and lean ballerinas promoted a thin aesthetic that influenced other companies worldwide,” the outlet explained.

The consequences have led to the unhealthy promotion of anorexia, which is often denied by ballet companies.

An extremely thin weight, however, is not sustainable for the demand of today’s athletic chorography.

“Extreme thinness often leads to individuals cannibalizing their protein stores, which results in losses in strength and power, and, in my experience, increases their chances of injury, particularly stress fractures,” American Ballet Theatre physical therapist Peter Marshall told Dance Magazine.

While strength is being pursued, upon hearing Emily Molnar of Ballet BC’s thoughts, you’ll see the lack of body inclusion is still rampant.

“Don’t get me wrong. Ballet is a visual art form, so we’re not talking about anything goes here,” she says before adding she seeks women “comfortable in her own skin.”

Former New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer, who revealed her battle with eating disorders in her book Dancing Through It, blames our “entire culture right now” for glorying extreme thinness.

She wrote, “As a mother, I dread the day when my children learn that people will judge them on their appearance.”

She calls her sport, “a visual, voiceless art form where the line of the body is crucial and under a great deal of constant scrutiny.”

While Ringer says there are dancers breaking stereotypes, she is quick to point out they are the exceptions.

She says these dancers, without a doubt, have faced daily struggles to succeed and maintain positive self-confidence, and it’s a battle they “probably would have preferred not to fight.”

She wants audiences and people to understand that “ballet dancers are not collections of bones and muscles from one beautiful pose to the next.”

Ringer’s reflection on having a body as an instrument raises the point that, there is a required thinness in the ballet world to be uniform. However she says, “thin for one body type is emaciated for another.”

We’re applauding her bravery and speaking up so much.

Liz Hurt also talked to Dance Magazine about her disordered eating.

Hurt says she knew she had a problem when her cat’s food started smelling good.

She says her views about eating disorders use to be extreme, like someone who never eats, weighs less than 100 pounds, and has to be hospitalized.

So, to Hurt, her “behavior didn’t fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder.”

“I began to use my vegetarianism as a way to write off eating a healthy amount of food. “Oh, I can’t eat that” or “I’ll meet up after dinner” were frequent responses that came out of my mouth in my early 20s. Vegetarianism had become my excuse. It was a socially acceptable way to get out of eating,” she reveals.

New York City-based dietician Kelly Hogan, has done extensive research on the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating.

“Disordered eating may be more likely to happen in those with certain personality traits, like perfectionism,” Hogan told Dance Magazine. “It’s also more likely if you already have other emotional turmoil going on. Recent review studies and surveys on disordered eating have found that most women exhibit disordered eating behaviors at some point in their lives.”

So how common is disordered eating? About 75% of women have engaged in it at some point in their lives. Dancers are three times as likely to have experienced disordered eating patterns.

Calling an eating disorder helpline can provide you with the support, information, and guidance you need to start on the road to recovery from an eating disorder.

“Hotlines are often the first step you take to seek help when you think you have an eating disorder,” according to Bulimia.com.

The staff members on the following hotlines are thoroughly trained in eating disorders and can provide support or direct you to the proper treatment resources.

Here are a few contacts:

National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

You can call from Monday–Thursday between 9 a.m.–9 p.m. EST, and Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. EST.

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Eating disorders have an awful way of making someone feel  so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. You can call day or night, and can talk about anything.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

This hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon.

Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664

This hotline is for to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area.

Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207

This eating disorders helpline offers treatment referrals nationwide. For those ready to seek help, this is the number.