Uptown Women Have No Bodies

Very annoyed. Many of my friends and family are crazed Dancing With the Stars watchers. So, I figured I’d let them know about the PBS special America’s Ballroom Challenge, a televised event that occurred at the Ohio Star Ball in November last year, in Columbus Ohio, which I attended and in which my teachers competed (and made the finals!). Anyway, the first half of it aired a few days ago. I asked everyone what they thought. One person exclaimed that obviously Dancing With the Stars must have unearthed the best-looking dancers and it was really hard to watch such homely people, even if their costumes were lovely. Another remarked that the beautiful ballroom gowns often conflicted with the dancers’ not so beautiful faces. Another said she couldn’t believe how fat most of the Latin dancers were and she’d never wear such a tiny costume. Another said she thought when the Latin dancers “squoze” their back muscles, the fat protruded, and she wouldn’t do that so much if she was them. (Because Latin dancing isn’t about really moving your body or anything…) I honestly have yet to hear one person tell me what they thought of the DANCING.

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion on representations of the body in contemporary dance at the Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea. All of the panelists, who were either choreographers or dance scholars, were total theory heads and I understood about a half of one percent of what they were saying. But one female scholar, was all too clear when she snidely remarked, “Well, up until recently dancers didn’t even have bodies, not to mention brains, and uptown they still don’t. Instead they have anorexia and bunions and nicotine addictions, since there’s no way you can remain 108 pounds without one.” Of course she was talking about ballet, and I don’t think she was talking about Jose or Marcelo or Angel. It was hard not to laugh at the way she said it, but the comment stung since I’m such a ballet lover, not to mention a petite woman. I assume the audience was filled with modern dancers, DTW being a modern dance theater, and I felt like everyone was looking at me as the representative of bodiless, brainless, male-dominated women – none of which I am just because I’m thin.

After thinking about it, I remembered that this scholar was tiny herself – couldn’t have possibly weighed over 108, if even that. And many of the critics of my fellow Latin dancers are large themselves. I guess it’s a form of female self-criticism to be most harsh on other women who seem to embody the physical problems we find in ourselves. Still, it bothers me that a female dancer’s worth seems to revolve around her body. It makes me feel like, what’s the point of working so hard on contracting and expanding my pelvis in Samba and my upper back and hips Rhumba if I’m just going to be the little spidery-limbed Balanchine girl.

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