The Pressures of Dancers

The Pressures of Dancers

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The Pressures of Dancers

The typical idea of a dancer is that they are tall, slender, full of energy, and lucky because they dance with all of the “stars”. Much of this is true, however, what many people do not think of are the many hardships that a dancer goes through in order to achieve their high status in the dance world. It takes much hard work and determination along with good direction to become a dancer. However, nothing good comes without a price. Dancers often times have many pressures put on them which can lead to physical and emotional damages. These damages occur through the pressures from the media, parents, teammates, and the stereotype that society has placed on dancers.

One of the hardest pressures that dancers have to get through is the pressure from the media. The media places harsh, rigid, and false ideas of dancers on to the mass public. Constantly bombarded by commercials, magazine ads, posters, etc., the idea of being thin and beautiful is what the society thinks of as the “norm”. The truth is “these ads portray women who have a weight way below average, and have no imperfections” (Karyn p.1). Many ads are airbrushed to give the models the look of being flawless which many women and girls do not realize. Since that look is “virtually impossible to achieve” many dancers will develop an eating disorder feeling that “it is their only road to achieve this goal” of being thin (Karyn p.1). When thinking about it, the whole point of a commercial is essentially to sell happiness. If selling happiness is the goal and the use of models is prevalent in the commercial, then it can be concluded that the only way to achieve happiness is to be just like the commercial by having the product being advertised and looking like the person advertising it.

These pressures from the media ads can lead to eating disorders. For many women and girls the “ideal image portrayed becomes an obsession and results in an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia” (Karyn p.1). With the constant nagging to be thin, the dancers feel that if they are to be in music videos on television, they have to measure up to this false image of a woman.

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The one fact that seems to be often neglected or not mentioned is that “today’s model weighs 23% below the national average” (WAC Stats). Why does the media try to force an idea of a woman who is only about one fourth the average woman? The problem is that the society allows these views to be pushed on them.

Along with the pressures of the media there is also the pressures of the teammates that are on the team with the dancers. Teammates can be just as cruel to their fellow dancers as their competitors.

Many times dancers feel threatened, pressured, or pushed by their teammates. Often times there is an unspoken hierarchy that is established amongst the team. In this hierarchy there is a captain of the team and the person who goes along with every thing that the “captain” says. The captain is however chosen by the popular vote not by talent or any qualities that make a great leader. From class-to-class, week-to-week the leader can be changed just as quickly. It just depends on who the dancers agree with more that day or like best that day. If a dancer should disagree with the way the team is being run, they may face some problems from their teammates. This includes them being pressured to do things they would not normally do such as go against the instructor or the choreographer.

When on a competition team it becomes crucial for every person on the team to be at the same level and up to the same par. Knowing the dances immaculately or having the moves down to crisp and precise movements is the work that the dancer has cut out for them. When in practice, if a dancer does not have these things yet, they will be persecuted mercilessly by teammates’ taunting. They will be pushed to get the moves or be faced with being put in the back or be blamed for any failure the team may endure throughout the course of the competition year.

During competition, dancers get more pressure from their teammates than anyone else. There were times before competition when my own teammates would get on each other’s cases for no real apparent reason. The pressure that my own teammates would put on me backstage was so tremendous that any normal 13 year old would break down and collapse before going on stage. Even though the dancers are together most of the time in class and develop relationships with each other out of class, once competition comes, it is every man for them self. Many dancers feel the sudden pressures of dance as Bender said, “ I no longer feel as though I am competing with them, but I am competing against myself,” this is why when there are faults made, from human nature one will blame another in order to feel as though they did no wrong (Lessons p3). When going backstage after or before a performance, all that can be heard at times is the sound of bickering girls on the edge of annihilating one another due to the intense stress put on them to win the competition.

As teammates, the dancers are supposed to be there for each other and help guide one another to becoming better and more professional dancers, however, this is not always the case. When I was on the Stars competition team back home in Sierra Vista, Arizona, I was one of the smaller girls and this caused a problem. The problem was not that I was small but that some of the girls on my team were bigger than me, and they sometimes felt some animosity toward me. There were times when we were trying to decide on costuming and they would get defensive with me because some of the costumes would fit me and not them. With this problem, I was constantly the target for anger. When a teammate was having a problem with their weight or felt that they were having a problem with their weight, I was the one looked at as being overconfident about my looks and then would receive a lashing out at for it. Because of this, I personally always felt on edge when going to class because I did not know who was going to have a problem that day or who I was going to offend by wearing my somewhat revealing dance wear. By feeling this way in class, I was not able to always be at my full dance potential because the constant stress of having to be on the defense would get in the way. Teammates and dancers always feel the need to show each other dancer up otherwise they themselves will not get ahead.

When in class, fellow dancers were big influences to the dancers and cause pressure on the dancers to be perfect. Also in the class there is the added stress of the teacher or instructor. The teacher can be even more intimidating to the student because they are adults whom the dancer is to respect and obey.

The teachers are the ones who lay down all of the groundwork for the dancers. They teach the dancer to dance, develop better dance skills, how to perform on stage, how to move when walking, how to smile, how to dress, what facial expressions to make, etc. When a performer does not get any one of these things, they are held back for special attention or are not allowed to progress to the next level. This sometimes leaves the dancer with the feeling of being a failure. Teachers are hard on their students because they want them to achieve but sometimes “instructors can be too hard on the students or take it to the extreme” (Pederson).

By attending J in Jazz Dance Studio, I was one of the lucky girls who had the teacher who had nothing but dreams for her students and was the best to her students. Unlike many of the studios in town, my teacher was wonderful in every way and the nicest person anyone could ever meet. Because Julie was so nice, many girls came to our studio after leaving their previous studios. I remember sitting in class and hearing the horror stories of how some girls were hit on the back with a toe shoe if not standing with perfect posture and other girls were subjected to mandatory weigh-in for competition even though that is not a mandatory factor in the competition rules. These are some extremes that put too much pressure on the dancers to be perfect. “Dancers are supposed to have fun and do it because it is their passion,” is what Julie Pederson had to say when in the interview. Dancers are to do what they love and be expressive with their emotion through symbolic movements. To be the perfect stereotypical dancer is not the point to dance.

With these teachers pushing their students hard, the dancers sometimes fall prey to eating disorders. Even if a dancer is thin, with the constant weigh-ins and push of the teacher to be thin in order to fit into a costume, the dancer can fall into the trap of looking at themselves and never being satisfied with what stares back at them in the mirror. With the teachers pushing so hard it is no wonder that “there is a positive correlation between unhealthy weight loss techniques engaged in by the dancers and their perceptions of the teacher as a source of pressure” (Bottamini p1). This statement means that teachers are a source of pressure and they are related to the unhealthy habits of the dancers. One teacher said, “… as teachers, we are more tolerant to their needs,” if this is true than why are eating disorders so “prevalent in the world of ballet” (McQuay p2) (Bottamini p1)? The truth is that since there is an “unspoken philosophy that in order to succeed, they must be physically and mentally tough,” “dancers will go to the extreme, unhealthy measures in order to achieve the ideal ballet body” (McQuay p2) (Bottamini p1). However, as I have shown, this can all be traced back to the pressures the teachers put on the dancers.

After the dancers get through the pressures of their teachers, it is off to the auditions and competitions. This is where some of the worst pressures are because the dancer has to beat out many other good dancers.

Like any profession, there is much preparation done to be sure to attain a job. The bad thing about dance is that no matter how hard the dancer trains, there are more dancers than jobs. This is where the emotional factors take place. At this point many dancers may feel as though they are failures if they do not make it. The problem is that “two hundred dancers could audition for an opening that may not even exist” (McQuay p3). With such high expectations for themselves, the dancers may start to feel the need to be perfect. This also leads to the problems of once again turning to eating disorders to attain the perfect body, which they feel may help them get the job.

The attitude that the dancers feel towards one another during competition is a roller coaster of emotion. At one moment they may feel that their teammates are their best friends and the next moment they may feel as though they are their worst enemy. The pressure and stress that the competition puts on them is so intense that it can cause for these strains on their relationships. There was once, right before a competition, a time when one of my teammates pulled me to the side and started to tell me all of the things she felt were wrong with me. This caused for a huge disaster later in the competition. The problem was that the pressure built up so much that she had to take it out on someone. After she told mw how she felt, along with the stress I already had, I felt that it was impossible for me to perform let alone compete. When it came time to perform, I had a real hard time because the girls whom I was on stage with did not want me there. Or at least I felt that they did not want me there. To be on stage with someone whom does not like you and you then in turn do not like yourself is hard, especially when performing is defined by the way one carries them self and shows emotion on stage. Needless to say, that competition lacked the heart that my team usually had while performing and that caused for us to not even place in that competition.

Though the stresses of competition are mighty hard, the stress and pressure of parents are even fiercer. The parents at times can be the most problematic for dancers.

Parents can cause a lot of pressure for their kids. Always telling them how to dress, how to do things, etc. For dancers, this is the same for them but on every level of their existence. When asked what were the pressures put on dancers, Julie Pederson quickly replied, “Parents, parents, parents. Parents are both one and two on the list” (Pederson). In the article, “Psychological Price of Overachievement,” by USA Today, they say that there are parents who push their kids too far. The pressure sometimes builds so high that the dancer becomes unhappy and feels the need to do whatever it is to keep their parents happy. This can include developing an eating disorder, such as bulimia, or depression. As a dancer I saw all of these things first hand. Being backstage all that is heard is the voices of the few parents who are just telling their kids over and over that they need to be the best and perform the best out of the whole group of 100 or more people. When the parents would finally leave, many of the girls backstage with me would get so nervous and anxious about their performance and pleasing their parents that they would then go vomit in the bathroom. The sad part about all of this is that many times the parents may not know that their kids have these problems. Julie Pederson said that she hid her eating disorder form her parents for years. How healthy can this be for the dancers?

Often times, dancers get stuck under the category of being overachievers. The problem with overachievers is that they end up not liking what it is that they are trying so hard to do such as dancing. These children become unhappy and often doubt their abilities, which can lead to a feeling of being a failure or not good enough to be out there on stage. These feelings lead to depression. The children who are being pushed by their parents may “doubt their abilities and find that success often does not bring happiness” (USA 15). These children may feel that they are never good enough because of the extremely intense pressure they feel from their parents. When there is such pressure dancers feel that they have to prove themselves over and over. The dancer can reach a point where even “when they reach their goal, it seems as though they’re faced with the prospect of having to prove themselves all over again” (USA 15). I personally experienced this state of mind with a fellow dancer while competing. We had won gold at regional competition but all she could think of was how she messed up or how she could have been better. Immediately after, she thought of how we all needed to improve for the following performance or competition. She never seemed to be able to be satisfied with what she accomplished.

Pressured dancers often have a misconstrued ideal of the perfect dancer and what their abilities are expected to be. The pressure builds so much that they re-evaluate all of their abilities and feel as though they are never good enough or that they have to keep appeasing their parents. Even when they are successful, due to the stress that was added from their parents, they are never happy and feel as though there is always improvement that needs to be made. The girl on my dance team always felt as though there were always improvements to be made. The stereotype of a dancer is often glamorized by the media but is really put into effect by the parents who think that is the true dancer. Parents need to be aware of how hard they are pressuring their children and remember that the well being of the child is more important than any ideal or thought or dream they have for their child.

Dancers have many pressures put on them yet they seem to excel and go beyond the call of duty while performing. If the dancers are not happy, however, they will fail at what they do well. People need to be considerate of dancers and learn the tell tale signs of problems that they may develop. As anyone going through pressures, they too go through them. Dancers have many pressures put on them it is just hard to always tell because they are masters of performing and persuasion. What they do need, however, is to have guidance in their lives and get rid of all the unnecessary pressures that are inflicted on them by the ignorance of others.

Works Cited

Bottamini, Ste-Marie. School of Human kinetics Faculty of Health Sciences University of Ottawa: Eating Problems in Female Athletes. 11/18/02. <>

Douglas, Lord C. “ Book Reviews.” Library Journal April 1 2002: Vol.127 p132, 2p

Karyn, Leah, Gina, Evelyn, & Melissa. Eating Disorders And The Media. 5/11/99. <>

McQuay, Jana. “Dance, Study, Sleep, Dance, Study, Sleep.” Lessons the Journal of the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence. Vol. 2 (2001): p. 14-17.

Pederson, Julie. Personal interview. 11/20/02.

WAC Stats. Facts About Women. 11/18/02 <>

“Psychological Price of Overachievement.” USA Today Magazine
April 1996: p. 15

Works Consulted

Bottamini, Ste-Marie. School of Human kinetics Faculty of Health Sciences University of Ottawa: Eating Problems in Female Athletes. 11/18/02. <>

Douglas, Lord C. “ Book Reviews.” Library Journal April 1 2002: Vol.127 p132, 2p

Grover, Dale. “Answers 4 Dancers.” Dance Magazine March 1 2002: p 1-2.

Hamilton, Linda. “ Becoming a Dancer: Gotta Dance!” Dance Magazine July 1 2002: p 1-5.

Karyn, Leah, Gina, Evelyn, & Melissa. Eating Disorders And The Media. 5/11/99. <>

McQuay, Jana. “Dance, Study, Sleep, Dance, Study, Sleep.” Lessons the Journal of the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence. Vol. 2 (2001): p. 14-17.

Pederson, Julie. Personal interview. 11/20/02.

“Psychological Price of Overachievement.” USA Today Magazine
April 1996: p. 15

WAC Stats. Facts About Women. 11/18/02 <>
Personal Training. 11/19/02
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