Dance is Hard, but supporting Your Classmates Isn’t
Written by Samantha Parr, founder of Dancer for Dancer
All too often, I’ve seen extremely talented and gifted dancers quit because of conflict with classmates or not feeling like they belong to a community. All too often, I’ve seen dancers be kind to one another, and then turn right around and talk poorly of each other.
That is exactly why I started Dancer for Dancer. For the girl in the back of the room who hangs her head low out of low self esteem. For the girl that eats alone in the hallway between classes. For the little boy who is ridiculed by his classmates at school for being a ballet dancer. For the dancers who watch their “best friends” spread rumors about them when they aren’t looking. For the person who started dancing as an adult, and who might feel like they don’t belong to the greater dance community. I started Dancer for Dancer to create a place where each and every dancer feels like they belong, because I’ve felt and seen what it’s like not to.
When I was 10 years old, I noticed the older girls at the studio comparing each others’ bodies and talking about their own bodies in degrading ways. I wondered, why are those girls comparing the size of their legs? They’re just legs!
When I was 12 years old, I told my friends that I would be entering a ballet competition. My excitement of entering was not met with the same level of excitement from some of my peers. They gave me a curt “that’s cool,” and soon I began to hear the flood of hurtful rumors.
When I was 14 years old, I attended my first summer intensive away from home. I realized that the “more talented” dancers (you know: the YAGP final round winners, the Grishko brand ambassadors…) quickly found each other and formed a posse, while the rest of us (including me) were left to become friends.
After witnessing and experiencing it all, I came to terms with the fact that very few dancers genuinely support each other. In an activity where dancers spend so much time together - dancing together, eating together, travelling together, performing together - so many dancers feel alone. We call ourselves the “dance community,” but sometimes that seems like the farthest thing from what we experience.
On top of this, there seems to be some sort of unspoken competition between dancers. This sort of constant comparison causes us to feel isolated from each other, even in a room full of other dancers. It goes a little like this: If the girl next to you does two pirouettes, you have to do three. If the girl next to you looks thin, you must become thinner. If your friend auditions for a certain summer intensive, then so do you.
Dancers can often get caught up in this sort of unhealthy and negative comparison and lose sight of the true reason why they dance. In other cases, dancers can develop mental illnesses that can prevent them from dancing their best. It is important that we realize the importance of mental health in dance, as well as the prevalence of mental illness in dance, and do our best to support our friends who are struggling.
It’s also no secret that dancers are perfectionists. We’re always striving for the archy feet, the hyperextension, the 180 degree turnout, the quadruple pirouette, all while having the prettiest smile, the clearest skin, the longest legs, and the most unique leotard collection. It’s basically impossible for anyone to have all of those things. But that’s the reason why dance (and specifically ballet) is so awesome - because we’re all different! If we all had the most perfect turnout, legs, and jumps, it would be boring, wouldn’t it?
At Dancer for Dancer, we are focused on creating a safe space for dancers to talk about issues, such as competition, mental health, and racial discrimination through monthly Zoom calls. We are focusing on creating a community of dancers who are not afraid to stand up for themselves and others, and who are committed to spreading positivity in their own communities. Together, we can reform the dance community to be one that is full of compassion, empathy, genuinity, and strength.
Be an advocate. Be a fighter. Be a friend. Be a Dancer for Dancer.
5 Ways To Be a Dancer for Dancer:
- Compliment someone on their leotard or hairstyle
- Invite other classmates to hang out with you in between classes
- Hype up your friends in class or rehearsal
- Support other dance studios in your area by attending their performances
- Follow @DancerForDancer on Instagram to join the community!