Body neutrality within dance
Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator
Feeling comfortable in our own skin is hard, but dance is one way we can express ourselves freely
In 2015, the concept of body neutrality began to emerge in contrast to the concept of body positivity. Body positivity advocates for a world where all people should have a positive body image despite what anyone else says. However, body neutrality proposes that people should focus on what their bodies can do for them rather than what they look like. It requires a state of mindfulness and listening to the reactions of your body, whether it is saying to eat more, less or to take a walk.
Shiny Huang is a dancer with the Mac Dance team and has danced for nearly her whole life.
“There’s definitely been instances where I don’t feel comfortable dancing in my own body, especially with the perfect body type and shape that has been discussed within the dance community . . . It was definitely more challenging during my time in high school when I was beginning to be conscious of how I looked physically and when I was dancing competitively, I would often compare my own body to other dancers which would emphasize the flaws I saw in myself,” said Huang.
This “perfect body shape” differs among each dance style. In ballet, the ideal shape is slim, long-necked, short torso and long limbs. This is where the divide between body positivity and neutrality exists. Body positivity would advise one to do whatever it takes to feel positive about how they look. However, this can be interpreted as forcing your body to fit that specific ballet mold. In body neutrality, one accepts that their body can move and express itself without idealizing that body type.
In a dance studio, there is a huge mirror in the front where you can stare at everyone and everyone can stare back at you. You might end up comparing yourself to the person next to you — their form is a little better, the costume fits them just a little tighter or their arms are just a little longer. Similarly, in life and in our university career, we can find ourselves constantly comparing our grades, extracurriculars and even the way we dress to our peers. What we don’t see is the constant swirling of similar thoughts and comparisons going through their heads.
“I think maturing in my faith has also really helped me to love my body as it is. Being a Christian, I learned to really put my identity in God and to focus on what's in my heart rather than letting myself worry about what's on the outside,” explained Huang.
This concept of body neutrality focuses on a personal mindset. One can’t change the way others think and it takes a lot to conform our personal mentality that has been shaped by constant external pressure implemented over our entire lives. However, people shouldn’t let this stop them from expressing themselves.
“Dance has always been an outlet of mine, when I'm stressed and needing a break from studying or feeling sad or feeling down from a bad day . . . a way to, I guess, tell a story or to just let my body move however it wants to or needs to. And since I’m not the best with my words a lot of the time, I think my body does it for me whether it’s for someone else to hear or to feel or just a reminder for myself,” Huang explained.
Dance isn’t for everyone but finding a way to release that internal stress and express oneself is important for anyone’s personal journey. What works for someone else may not work for you, just as what worked for you in the past may not work anymore. It’s all about listening to your body and keeping an open and ever-evolving mindset.