Trigger Warning: This story is about body dysmorphia and weight loss.
Almost every dancer who didn’t grow up tall or skinny (as the dance industry would prefer) keeps a mental notebook of horror stories in which an influential authority figure makes a smug comment about her body that changed the course of her life.
Alexandra Patrick, a 30-year-old freelance dance teacher and choreographer from Dallas, Texas, knows this well. One of only two black girls at her local dance studio, Patrick hit puberty earlier than some of her peers and developed curves faster than her classmates. When she struggled with a position in ballet class, her teachers said, “It’s only because your hips aren’t made for it.” On her first day of college classes, she approached a teacher to get her in for the class and she was immediately told, “You and I both know you’ll never be a ballerina.” Unsure what to make of her noticeably frizzy hair and muscular, curvy body, another dance teacher told her : “You are my little wild woman. I want you to look like an animal.” That repeated micro-aggression and belittlement has inevitably taken a toll on Patrick’s confidence. But because she loved dance more than anything, she did what she had to do to continue pursuing her dream.
“I just loved the act of dancing, the performance, the rehearsals, the pain, literally every part of being a dancer was my identity, so it was tough when people assumed I had to play basketball. No, I’m a dancer,” Patrick said to Jezebel. “Then they said, ‘Well, hip-hop has to be your favorite.’ Actually, I liked lyrical and contemporary. I was constantly being labeled and boxed based on what people were seeing — not even based on my performance, but based on my shape.”
After decades of being treated differently both as a woman of color and as a person in a body that didn’t suit her “Status quo,” Patrick had internalized the message that her body just wasn’t made for the dance industry: if the industry didn’t make room for her, she would have to shrink to fit. Her weight jo-yoed to the extreme. She auditioned So you think you can dance three times and never made it. Eventually she stopped dancing altogether. For years, she had to watch the girls with long legs, washboard abs, and gorgeous extensions – the ones who were labeled as elegant and graceful (which they were often white) – book the gigs she dreamed of. Then Lizzo came.
As a musician, Lizzo was a pioneer of body positivity in every sense of the word. She has spoken openly about slamming away haters who said she wasn’t fit enough to get through a performance or who were visibly uncomfortable with a woman in a black, size-neutral body who described herself as “beautiful” and “sexy.” .
Lizzo also caused a stir in the dance industry by hiring a group of “Big Grrrls” — her oversized or curvy backup dancers, most of whom were also women of color. She created opportunities for women who were previously systematically excluded from the commercial dance world because of their size or body type, regardless of their talent. Now, with the premiere of her new Amazon competition reality series, Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, the idea that women of all sizes can be both incredible dancers and sexy is getting a huge new platform. In an industry where there’s often only room for one symbolic “big girl” on set, former and current professional dancers say this type of body diversity is life-changing for women. Long overdue, the show reframes the narrative for women who have been repeatedly vilified for daring to look anything other than the lean, muscular body type historically called the “ideal” candidate.
“I never thought I would ever watch a TV show where I could be in this room with these girls,” Patrick said. “This show allows me to be in a new fantasy world where I can think, ‘Yeah. I could do that.’” In other words, it changes everything.
“We’re fat and we’re pretty and we know what it’s about,” says Lizzo in one of the opening lines of the new reality series, which debuted on Amazon last month.
The show follows thirteen dancers as they compete for a spot on Lizzo’s dance crew, which includes a chance to perform alongside the Grammy winner on the Bonnaroo stage. During the competition, dancers perform freestyle solos, learn original choreography, and are challenged to see how quickly they can pick up choreography in high-pressure environments. Oh, and they keep doing the splits and throwing back handfeathers like it’s nobody’s business. Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls is a show about dance and a refreshingly upbeat one at that, but it’s also a show about the body.
Elena Rovito, a 27-year-old psychotherapist from Washington, DC who also teaches Brazilian Zouk dance on the side, said one word came to her mind when she first heard about the show: Sure. Rovito, who was actually tapped to audition for the show, recalled Jezebel at an audition she once went to for Disney, where she only spotted one other plus-sized girl in the room out of thousands of contestants.
“On the other hand, if I walked into an audition room full of girls like the ones on Lizzo’s show, I would just feel safe. I would say, ‘Okay, I’m home. These are my people,” she said in a phone interview.
Rovito noted that growing up, there were very few plus-size figures in the media to look up to who weren’t there for comic relief, let alone plus-size women of color. But there is a stunning range of women and bodies in Lizzo’s series: the majority of the women are women of color and every single one of them has a plus size body. While Rovito says institutionalized racism and fat phobia are inseparable, seeing these women — women who resemble her — being celebrated in popular media is a triumphant start for more plus-size bodies to be in the spotlight . “I’m grateful that Lizzo was the one who pushed that message in people’s faces and said, ‘We’re here and we’re not going anywhere,'” she said. “You can’t beat us anymore. You can’t hide us in the back. Fat girls are here and we are here to stay.”
Like Rovito, Meagan Pravden, a body-neutral former professional dancer, was searched on Instagram to apply for the show. after she was completed Coming out of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders training camp because of her “sturdy” physique, she couldn’t believe a show on a platform as massive as Amazon, heralded by an artist as critically acclaimed as Lizzo, was imminent her and wanted her exactly as she was. “I didn’t feel like I needed to lose weight. I didn’t have to go on a diet. I was received as I was,” she said in a phone interview. “It was something I had never experienced in my 33 years in the dance industry. I never felt like I could show myself for who I am.”
Pravden always felt that in order to start a team or book a gig, she had to fulfill the stereotype of a casting director. Sometimes that meant being the short haired girl, the redhead, the Hispanic dancer, or the taller girl. Some auditions even listed height and weight requirements. If she did not check these boxes, she was instructed not to appear. Now, Lizzo’s series gives women a blueprint to follow – proof that women of all sizes can can dancing at festivals and appearing in music videos. “What Lizzo does… we’ve never seen that,” she said. “I never saw the women who were cast on this show as they had those opportunities in Los Angeles.”
The trickle down effect of the mere existence of a show like Big grrrls not only helps women heal old scars by a racist and ableist dance industry. It also helps young girls to accelerate their own dance career. It’s a huge wake-up call for the dance industry to take a closer look at its own internalized prejudices and have those tough conversations about the often unhealthy body image it’s been glorifying for decades.
Amanda LaCount, a 21-year-old dancer, choreographer and body positivity influencer, told Jezebel she was kicked out of her local dance studio as a child because her body type “didn’t match the vision” of the studio director. She also didn’t have a single role model in the dance industry who looked like her. A decade later, she has appeared on the cover of dance spirit magazine and even performed with Lizzo, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. LaCount knows that as a “fat person” people will assume she’s not sexy enough to dance behind a rapper in a music video; she also knows that she is sexy, and thinks that Big grrrls show the world how sexy all bodies can be.
“All of these misconceptions about taller bodies come from the cliché and assumption that healthy and fit equals skinny,” she said during a phone conversation. “Unfortunately, many people do not understand that health is not a quantity. Dancers are athletes and yes we need to take care of our bodies because our bodies are our instruments. But when people see a fatter body, they automatically assume we’re unhealthy and lazy.”
Above all, LaCount wants everyone to see Lizzo’s show and remember that these dancers aren’t talented “for big girls.” These women are talented, period, and you will only see more of them in the future.
https://jezebel.com/lizzo-s-watch-out-for-the-big-grrrls-is-ripping-dance-1848752037 “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” is Dance’s obsession with tearing tiny white bodies to shreds