Dance Made Me Hate My Body (& Made Me Love it, Too)

I wonder if other girls remember the day they got fat, because yes, in a time where body image is so heavily influenced by the media, it is something that happens overnight; one minute you’re a happy little girl, and the next you’re one who only sits a certain way because she’s afraid her stomach will roll over her pants.

Sixth grade, the year I got fat, in an international award-winning tap routine.
Sixth grade, the year I got fat, in an international award-winning tap routine.

I remember the day that I got fat. I was in sixth grade, and all of the little girls in my dance class were in one of two jazz small groups. When my group, “Havana Nights,” was in our lesson, the other would sit in the waiting room, snacking and chatting and having fun; except one day, the they decided it’d be more fun to talk smack about their classmates who were in rehearsal, and I was one of their targets.

The rest is pretty easy to piece together—people gossip, and it got back to me exactly who slammed me for being too fat for their dance class (side note: that bitch eventually got hers; one year her high school’s senior prank was putting goose shit in underclassmen lockers, and guess who’s locker got hit?). From there on out, getting ready for dance meant a set of sit ups before leaving the house, strategically placing the elastic band of my tights so nobody saw where it pressed into my belly and not drinking anything for a few hours beforehand so I wouldn’t bloat. In hindsight my dance prep was super exhausting.

The body hate kept on going into high school. I never suffered with anorexia or bulimia like some dancers do, but that didn’t keep me from envying the girls who seemed to never hit puberty, or who didn’t need to wear a sports bra so the strappy backs of their leotards weren’t obstructed, or who didn’t need to pay as much for costumes because they managed to squeeze into child larges. I hate that so many of my memories dancing were plagued with worrying how my stomach looked doing the dance moves.

17 years old, award-winning soloist, but still not feeling okay dancing inside of myself.
17 years old, award-winning soloist, but still not feeling okay dancing inside of myself.

There’s something romantic in knowing all of my body positivity came from my first and truest love—dance. It’s especially pleasing because for so many girls (me included at certain points of my life), dance has been the very thing that makes us hate our bodies. As a dancer and a woman, I am not unique in struggling with body image.

It has always been hard to be a dancer (or woman, for that matter) who loves their body—I will never forget being a child watching Center Stage and seeing Maureen, a beautiful ballerina, make herself throw-up because she didn’t like what she saw. I don’t really remember what I did with that image. I remember being really affected by it, like hey I feel you there, sister, but it’s upsetting that I wasn’t more affected—a dancer hating their body just seemed so normal, so ordinary, so run of the mill. And now, in a world of Dance Moms drama and InstaFamous dancers with flawless silhouettes, we don’t even need eating disorder storylines to feel like shit about ourselves—the standard for dancer perfection is everywhere.

I hope every day that everyone gets to have the kind of revelation I had in college. I spent most of the college search process looking for a school that had a smaller student population but still managed to have a nationally competitive dance team. I am so unbelievably lucky that I found Assumption College when I did, when its team was at its peak and when I was going to learn some of the most important lessons of my dance career.

After a second place finish at NDA Nationals, loving life and loving my curves.
After a second place finish at NDA Nationals, loving life and loving my curves.

Like I said, my team was pretty competitive on the national scene. We might not be dance team ‘famous’ the way some huge schools are, but we’ve brought home some pretty high national rankings. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of dance teaming, all of my body shaming bullshit fell by the wayside. Maybe it was because practice was so hard that I literally didn’t have time to think about what I looked like in the mirror, or maybe it was being surrounded by such beautiful, talented, badass girls whose bodies looked a lot like mine. Maybe it was that I was put in a way more mature dance environment, and I started to see that I couldn’t possibly hate my body, the very thing that made it possible for me to turn for days and days or spin with my leg pulled up by my face (or, you know, bring home a second place trophy from nationals). I’m not really sure; I think it’s a combination of all three of those things. I realized that thick, muscular thighs helped my jumps have power, and a solid tummy held my core in place. My body was pretty freaking beautiful because it let me do some pretty freaking beautiful things on the dance floor.

I’ve always hated that I started feeling fat because of something that someone else said; it made me feel embarrassed. But now I realize that’s how it goes for everyone—we don’t start hating our bodies because we have some intrinsic damage that forces us to not like ourselves. We start hating our bodies because society tells us to, whether those messages come from a magazine, or a TV show or the models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. But now it doesn’t really matter that I let someone else’s opinion of me dictate my own. What’s important is that my love for myself came from dance, something that lives deep inside of me. I guess that’s all any of us can hope for.

5 Coed Teams to Watch at NCA Nationals 2015

nca 5 teams to watch

Guys! I’ts that time of year! National Cheer and National Dance Alliance Collegiate Nationals! Words cannot describe how excited I am because I’m finally writing about the national competition that my team attends. How freaking cool is that? These are the teams I’m so excited to see, and I get the honor of seeing them in person.

Since I attend NDA nationals and have, yaknow, my whole college career, it hasn’t just been about the dance for me. It’s been about cheer, too. So, I’ve decided to count down the five teams I’m most excited to see at NCA nationals. These are all co-ed teams (although some might have all girl counterparts), mostly because co-ed is really exciting because the guys are so strong and can throw the flyers pretty much anywhere they want… like last year I saw for the first time a basket toss where a dude was the flyer. What?! I freaked out.

All of these teams were selected because they’re either legendary, or generally have really awesome sportsmanship– some of them even have both. Although I had my little stunt (haha, pun totally intended) with cheerleading my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I really don’t know much of the technique of it all, but I sure do know which teams get me pumped up and which teams make me say wow. And that’s what cheerleading is about, right?

1. The University of Louisville Cheer IA, Small Coed IA

What would this list be without the Cards? They lost three stunts in small coed last year and still won. What? That’s how amazing these kids are. And their routine in Cheer IA was nearly perfect– the only problem was that OSU’s routine was more perfect. Something that will always have me cheering for Louisville, though, is how much I freaking respect their coach, Todd Sharp. He’s a legend in the spirit world and such a class act. It’s hard not to get behind a team that he coaches.

2. Oklahoma State University Cheer IA, Small Coed IA

Just like I couldn’t post this list without Louisville, I couldn’t post it without OSU. They’re perennial favorites with the Cards, and it’s always so exciting to see the two teams go head to head yet again. OSU has some of the cleanest tumbling I’ve ever seen, and it blows my mind apart, and I can’t wait for them to blow my mind further. Fun fact about OSU: whenever I think of them, I think about the time I saw one of the boys on their team carrying around a stick that they all slid their national champion rings onto, and it was one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen.

3. Stephen F. Austin State Cheer I, Small Coed I

What’s really weird about SFA is that they are so much better in smoed than in large, which for whatever reason, doesn’t tend to be the case for other teams. Does SFA just spend more time on this team? Or what? Either way, I’m obsessed and am dying to see what they do this year in smoed. These folks kill it with energy every freaking year.

4. Navarro College Junior College

Do Navarro students just study cheerleading all day? Because holy crap. They are UNREAL. It’s so weird because even though they’re in the junior college division, this team could totally hold its own in DI or DIA. Like, they’re a total dynasty and have owned junior college for years. Unlucky ducks for the other folks in their division, huh?

5. Texas Tech University Cheer IA

Okay, okay, I admit it– one of my favorite parts of TTU’s cheer team is that the boys on it are the prettiest male cheerleaders at the entire event, but that’s not the whole reason why I love them! TTU is such a strong contender in cheer IA, and I love every year being able to see them get closer and closer on OSU and Louisville. I hope I get to see them creep up on those two teams even further this year. Nothing like a super close competition to get your blood rushing, am I right?

Who are you all excited to see cheer at NCA Nationals? Are there any kickass all girl teams that you think should be highlighted? Let me know!

4 Teams I LOVED at National Dance Alliance High School Nationals

nda high school post

Okay. I admit it. I’ve never watched NDA high school nationals before; but since I’ve had so much success writing about UDA Collegiate Nationals and the National Dance Team Championship, and since I loved doing so so much, I figured I’d tune into varsity.com and see what I can see!

Being real here, NDA High School nationals didn’t blow my mind. What did blow my mind is seeing the pictures and videos from the event. More than any competition I’ve followed or been to, this one seemed to bubble with spirit and sportsmanship and pure love for the sport. My team used to have a pretty close connection with the coach of Texas Tech Pom Squad, and their coach, Erin Harold, was in attendance at NDA this past weekend, and her report was so heartwarming. She posted a Facebook status talking about how inspiring it was to see teams there to work hard and cheer not only for themselves, but for everyone. Reading that kind of stuff gives me all sorts of feels, because that right there is what dance is about.

Now onto the teams I loved. I’m not super familiar with pom and kick, so even though I watched and was really impressed (especially with kick), I didn’t really feel super confident commenting on them. But the jazz and hip hop? Boy did I have stuff to talk about. Let’s go:

1. Sachem High School East Medium Varsity Jazz; Medium Varsity Hip Hop; Large Varsity Kick

This team won in jazz, and that’s really notable, and they got third in kick, which is awesome but I didn’t watch it, and honestly I can’t remember much from their jazz because their hip hop was. freaking. killer. I loved every second of it. They were buck, their choreography was spot on, they were clean, their costumes were great, their showmanship was all there. This routine could’ve easily held its own at a UDA competition, no questions asked. Check out this pep rally routine from 2014 that knocked my socks off:

2. Lake Central Centralettes Large Varsity Jazz; Large Varsity Hip Hop

What a lovely jazz routine! The they got seventh in hip hop, which is always commendable, but let’s talk about their jazz. They also got awards in jazz for technical excellence and superior showmanship, both of which were well-deserved. Their choreography was great and I was super into the costumes, too. Here’s a video of their jazz routine I found on YouTube. It says it was published a year ago, but maybe it’s older? I’m not sure. I’ll I’m sure about is you should totally check it out.

3. Tesoro High School Small Varsity Jazz

These girls have INCREDIBLE technique and amazing super-human turning powers… Turning powers that are a little familiar to me, actually. Can someone who is more familiar with California tell me how close Tesoro High School, located in Las Flore Cali, is to Fullerton College and Mount San Antonio College? Because all three schools dance a check of a lot alike. Which is totally fine; there is definitely nothing wrong with that and I’m not insinuating that I think there is something fishy going on. It’s just that I compete against Fullerton and San Antonio and it’d be interesting to keep an eye on Tesoro to see what batch of dancers the two schools will get come the next year. BUT… back to their dancing. They had great technique, great energy, and their choreography was textbook NDA and flowed incredibly along that stage. However, I wasn’t crazy about the costumes. I don’t personally like velvet pants, mostly because I don’t think they look good and all they do is scream “we are hiding any potentially bent knees!” But all in all, wow. I loved this routine. Here’s a pep rally routine from a few years ago because, ugh, even their game routines are unreal.

4. Marquette Mystique Small Varsity Jazz; Small Varsity Pom

I don’t get it. They only got seventh in jazz and eleventh in pom. It makes literally no sense to me, because I though their jazz routine was incredible, and I didn’t watch the pom, but I think that the technique they showed in jazz proved they could do well in pom, as well. Maybe NDA was just going a little crazy? I’m not sure. It seems as though every year in Collegiate Nationals there’s a crowd upset, and maybe it’s the same with high school, too. My disappointment aside, I think they were one of the cleaner routines I saw, I thought they had pretty nice technique, and I thought they had a whole lot of heart, which is so important. Keep doing what you’re doing, Marquette, because it’s going to happen for you! Check out this video of their pom routine from last year.

Who did you guys think were awesome? Who did I leave out of this list? Let me know in the comments below!

And then it hit me.

I talk a lot about my writing on here (I’m mean… I want to grow up someday and become a writer or do something with writing and media, so I guess it makes sense), but I’ve never really shared about dance. My first love ever. The way I first learned how to put my heart on display. My team.

acdt 1415

So here it is.

I grew up dancing. It was something my sister did, and I don’t even think I asked to sign up for it—my mom just threw me in there. I’m glad she did.

Dance was sort of just an activity for me until I was in sixth or seventh grade—that’s when the gross, intense love affair began. I poured myself over YouTube videos with amazing dancers, I danced in my yard and in the teeny tiny section of tile floor in my living room, I saw dances in my head as I listened to music. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing moves and started being moved.

And then I went to college, and started on this dance team that was nothing but DII Open eighth place at NDA nationals. We didn’t really have a ton of skills and w12e didn’t really have a ton of technique. But we had a lot of heart—we had a lot of girls who weren’t just doing moves, but being moved. At the end of that first year we were second place.

We became the kind of team that went to the gym together, that could run an eight-minute mile and had lines from muscle definition down the sides of our legs. We became the kind of team that never stopped pushing and that could do a lot of pirouettes and that had really high leaps. But maybe we’d lost our heart. I think somewhere on our journey that second year we started just doing moves again, and things started to unravel and I started to fall out of love.

At the end of that year our coach gave up. He left the school, he left (what was left of) us all alone with our hands shaking and our eyes closed and our stomachs in knots because we didn’t know how to lead a team alone. And so we stopped moving altogether.

This final year new people have joined us, and we’ve started moving again. People have come back to us. And we’ve learned that if we get knocked down the only thing that keeps us there is if we stop moving.

My team got the choreography for our nationals routine this weekend. For anyone who doesn’t compete at the national level in college (dance or cheer), I can tell you this: choreography is like trying to hold yourself up when just the tips of your fingers are gripping the ledge. What makes it is if you believe the tips of your fingers are enough.

A few counts of eight into the dance. Our formation changes. My favorite line of the song is coming, and I look to my right and to my left.

The three girls I started this journey with.

And then it hit me.

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And it hit them, too. I could feel my tears coming. Sophie started crying. Michaela’s eyes were red. Ericka was looking between us all.

I’m so thankful for them all, because this year I’m not doing moves—I’m being moved.