How Body Image Can Affect You Mentally As A Dancer With Jessica Spinner

Podcast

July 2, 2021

PTR 93 | Body Image

 

Traditional ballet has always been about beauty and body image. But sticking, so heavily into tradition can cause a negative impact on people. Dancers are taught to have this certain body type. If you don’t fit that picture, it can start to really affect your self-worth. Find out how former professional ballet dancer turned health coach, Jessica Spinner fought through the struggles of body image for her love for dancing. Jessica is the founder of The Whole Dancer where she helps dancers reach their body goals. Join your host, Susanne Puerschel as she sits down with Jessica Spinner to talk about her early struggles with dancing and how that made her the person she is today.

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How Body Image Can Affect You Mentally As A Dancer With Jessica Spinner

Jessica. Thank you so much for being here. I am so delighted to have this conversation with you.

I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Before we get started, everyone, we’re going to dive right into Jessica’s alternative side of her whole dancer mission. I’m going to ask you a few rapid-fire questions. What is your favorite board game?

I like Bananagrams. If I have to pick just one, I like Yahtzee, I don’t know if that counts as a board game but that is certainly one of my favorites.

I love Yahtzee too. It’s not a board game, but who cares? What’s your favorite beverage?

Water or coffee.

What is your favorite movie?

Dirty Dancing.

Shut the front door, seriously? I was thirteen when Dirty Dancing came out and I was still living in East Germany. It was the first time a movie from the United States actually made it into our little bubble of communist thinking. I remember I watched it every day. All five showings I was watching it. That’s how much I like Dirty Dancing.

I’ve seen it a hundred times, if I had to guess.

Exactly. When are you most inspired? Meaning what time of day?

It’s in the morning. I’m a morning person. I have had to shift since motherhood to being productive at night but my most inspired time of day, I would say, is in the morning.

A favorite childhood memory.

I’m 1 of 3 children, the middle child. The poor neglected middle child. I always will remember this one day that for whatever reason, my dad took me to go to Carvel, the ice cream shop that was down the block from us to pick up dessert for the weekend. They had these stuffed animals in plastic bags up around the ceiling. I don’t know what they were hanging from but you know, it was not something that they always sold there. There was this little chick stuffed animal called cookie chick that my dad bought for me on that trip. Just feels special being the only kid there and that he bought me something extra on top of ice cream. I’ll always remember that.

I have three children and I know the middle child syndrome. Somehow somewhat, it always sneaks into the family regardless of how hard you try. How did you actually start dancing? Where did that come from? Where did that live? Did you have to, was that your mission, vision, and purpose?

I like performing for an audience from the time I was little. I started doing all kinds of performing just on my own. I was young when I first went into dance classes, I was three. It was nothing serious for the first almost ten years of my training. That was how I got started. Even in the non-serious years when I was doing a combo, ballet, tap, jazz in 1.5 hours, I loved it. I loved the movement and I was always naturally flexible. I got a lot of featured roles in my little rinky-dink studio to highlight my flexibility.

What changed at thirteen?

You might not see it now but 10 years from now, you will look back, and be grateful for all your little blessings in life. Click To Tweet

At thirteen, the internet feels like it was new at that time. I would look on websites for more serious ballet schools and stuff. I started to figure out that what I was doing wasn’t super professional. We also had, at my rinky-dink studio, the owner brought in a legitimate dancer. At the time, I still didn’t know much about what was legitimate ballet training and stuff but I can see in my memory her dancing and how different it was from what I had previously been taught. I started to figure it out. There was a school that was not too far. It was a 15 to 20 minute drive from my house. We went there and you didn’t have to audition but it was at a serious level. It was good for my age. I seemed to be at the right level for my age though I would say I was quite behind.

I got into the whole summer intensive, every year thing. Since I’m from New York and I was training on Long Island, I still would go into Manhattan and usually School of American Ballet for all of my summer intensive auditions. I really started to figure out what was going on in dance. I was like, “People are so good.” I never considered myself super competitive but I did like the auditioning thing and like getting into summer intensives, I found those exciting. I took off from there. By the end of high school, I always said, “I’m not ready for a professional career.” It was also a compromise with my mother that she needed me to go to college. I went to Butler University and studied dance and arts administration there before dancing professionally.

After you finished your college degree?

I went and danced with the Louisville Ballet and after Louisville, a friend of mine from college was moving to Boston. I had attended the Boston Ballet summer dance program for one year. I always said, “I wanted to live in Boston.” She was like, “Move with me.” I knew I wanted to be back on the East Coast. I moved to Boston and I freelanced there for five years. I had my sights set on a specific company. When I got there, I was taking an open class and the ballet master taught the open class. He was like, “I’m going to get you a job. It’s going to be great.” Of course, when auditions rolled around for that company, he had a falling out with the artistic director, so that one didn’t work out but he started doing his own projects. I was dancing with him a lot. Opportunities still came up in Boston, even though it wasn’t my intended plan while I was there.

Probably a better path?

Mostly. It’s one of those things when you look back and you’re like, “That company probably wasn’t the best fit for me.” This ballet master was quite supportive and certainly helped my development as an artist quite a bit.

Sometimes that’s missing when we get into big company settings, for example, that doesn’t exist anymore. When we look backward and connect the dots perhaps that was a blessing more than anything else.

When I look back, I see a lot of those situations which I often tell my clients, “You might not see it now but I can guarantee in ten years you’re going to look back and be like, ‘It all made sense.’”

It’s having that faith that things always will work out for us.

100%.

When did you hang up your pointe shoes and why?

I was 27 and initially, I was like, “I’m injured.” There was an injury component but I had gone through recovery from the injury and was healed and given the okay to go back to dance. I had moved back home so I was in Long Island. I was taking an open class in New York, mostly at Steps and it was a grind. I felt like I was not going to ever get back to where I was. I wasn’t going to get better than I was. I was still having a lot of pain that would come and go. I largely think now that the pain was the mental health struggles manifesting physically. I was so exhausted from fighting with myself for so many years.

While I love dance, and I can certainly look back on my dance journey and think of a lot of great memories and experiences, and obviously, I’ve met tons of incredible people. Some of them are still friends today and things like that. It was a struggle for me and largely it was the body image and feeling that my body was not right for ballet. I always thought I needed to be smaller than I was. That thought process started around 13, 14 when I was in that more professional setting and I got a comment from a teacher there about my body. I took that with me through my whole dance journey. That was fourteen-ish years of not feeling great about yourself and feeling like you’re fighting with yourself mentally and physically. I was burned out and done. I couldn’t do it anymore, at least not without some support and I didn’t see options available at that time.

Thank you for sharing that because I find it so interesting that our body protects us in a way and sends us these signs like, “You got to heal on a deeper level before you can do anything else.” I had these experiences so many times in my life that I would even go so far for me personally, that most of my injuries were because I was not in a good mental state during my entire career. That was always my 2×4 knocking me over the head and saying, “You got to deal with some other stuff here. Stop pretending everything is all right.”

That’s also something we don’t often see in the moment but it can be very clear when you’re looking back and you’re like, “Oh.” The timing of those things.

Also, who wants to look that deep right now? It does bring up a lot of goo and slime that is not nice to deal with. If you’re not really used to it, if you’re not in an environment that furthers that work on yourself, then that’s a hard first step to take. The Whole Dancer, tell me all about it because it is so important that everybody that has anything to do with dance knows exactly what stories are true and not true. Also, having the power in themselves to decide what is best for them and being able to choose from a place of love. I want to dive into this because it is such important work and I wish that everybody would be open to that so that when they get out of that industry, or even while being in there, you can enjoy being a dancer and not disliking every single part about yourself.

I started The Whole Dancer in August of 2015. It was because of my own experience. When I started thinking about it, I was like, “I don’t know.” I think it was only me who was like having this major crisis all the time. I’m pretty sure I was the only one and everyone else was fine. Nobody else was having a hard time with body image. Nobody else was struggling with food as much. No one had as much self-doubt. I reached out to 50 dancers who I knew from over the years.

PTR 93 | Body Image

Body Image: Dancing starts to feel like a grind. You have that feeling that you are never going to get back to where you were. Then you start having mental health struggles.

 

Some of them were still dancing professionally, others weren’t and I had this whole questioning around, what was your experience? What were your struggles? What came up for you around body image? What came up for you with confidence and self-assuredness? Did you feel like your journey was balanced? There was so much consistency across the board. Some of it was shocking for me because some of these dancers were the ones I would look at and be like, “She is perfect. She has absolutely nothing to worry about. Her body is perfect. She has great technique. She’s moving forward in her career. She gets positive feedback from people.”

When you think about it, for those people, oftentimes, the struggles are all right there. I knew something was missing for dancers. For me, especially when I was starting it back in 2015, it was like, “We need this greater attention to self-care, balance, and wellness because nobody is putting any attention there.” That’s where it started and it’s evolved over time but that is always at the root of it. It’s just knowing that dancers need to give themselves some deeper love, care, and attention beyond pushing in the studio and just working harder, being more disciplined, and having more control over things. I think those are the conclusions we come to whether they are told to us explicitly or whether it’s like, “This is what everyone else is doing. Everyone else looks like they’re being super disciplined and controlled and stringent in their plans, so I probably have to do that too.”

Why do you think that in 2021, we are still talking about the same issues? Why have we not gone and changed how we’re teaching dance and how we’re running companies? Why is it still the same attributes that they went through when I was going through school and that was ‘84 to ‘92? This is a large amount of time and I still hear the same things and the same stories. The same beliefs have been shared over almost 40 years. Where do you think is the nugget that we’re missing here?

I think that largely the problem comes from everyone saying and seeing the tradition of ballet and so much of it is beautiful and transcendent. A lot of that beauty stems from tradition. There’re also these deeply ingrained, painful, and harmful approaches to things that have been allowed to perpetuate in the name of tradition or with tradition as an excuse. It’s like, “This is the way it’s always been and everyone looks great on stage, so it’s working.” The finished product is what they want.

Change is so much harder than following the same structures. I agree and I don’t think we’re asking questions. I don’t think that the entire industry is a safe place to ask deeper questions. It is the either-or mentality where I believe there should be and in between everything that we’re saying. I feel that could change quite a bit if people would be more open to see and feel different things and try and fail. Make a mistake. Make 10, make 20. This is how we learn. That was never something that was even allowed. Don’t even say the word.

This is interesting because I was looking at a thread in a dance teacher Facebook group where someone had shared a recent article from Dance Teacher Magazine about working without a mirror. The person who posted was like, “What do you guys think about the possibility of working without a mirror?” I went and read the article. I’ve read another article about not using mirrors and I find it very interesting, largely my thought process around it is the impact that it has on body image, how there have actually been studies done that show that dancing in front of a mirror has a negative impact on body image. I understand the value of a mirror but I went through this thread and I read the comments. I wondered if people had read the article because the writer had brought up the body image piece.

Maybe 1 out of 20 people had mentioned that aspect of things. Most people were just like, “We have to have a mirror.” “Of course, we’re going to go back to having a mirror.” It was about Zoom classes not having a mirror and now are we going to go back to everything? Having a mirror? Everyone was like, “Yes, we need a mirror.” I wrote and I was like, “What about if we change the way or reconsider the way we’re using the mirror? What about if we think about the way or the impact that the mirror has on body image and how we might approach that or conversations we might have with students and dancers to shift the thought process around body image as it relates to the mirror?” As you said, nobody was asking questions. Everyone was just like, “No, we’ve always had a mirror. We have to have a mirror.”

Do you remember we were standing on bars like, “Can I trade places with you? My mirror makes me look fat and I don’t think I can take it today.” The energy that we spend on trying to make ourselves feel better when we looked in the mirror and how fixated I still see people being on the mirror.

Every week I have conversations with clients about fat mirrors.

They’re terrible. I don’t like the mirrors. It’s not only about the fat mirror but we’re depending on an image of ourselves versus having that image come from inside of us. I don’t know how many times the mirror or the perceived image helped me back on stage to achieve that goal. You couldn’t feel. I was looking and checking versus letting go and actually expressing. Do you know the book Who Moved My Cheese?

It sounds familiar but I’m not sure.

It’s about change and adapting to change. It’s a very cute story about two mice and two little people about their emotional state and how they adapt to when somebody moved the cheese away. The mice were just like, “I’m just going to go and find something new and where could we go?” Completely open-minded and just going with their instinct. The two people let fear get in the way. They went back to the cheese station that was empty over and over again, blaming everybody on the outside that somebody moved their cheese. “I am entitled to having this because I’m here and because it’s me.” It’s almost being extinct because of their resistance to change. There was a recent posting of yours that I so loved. I’m paraphrasing. You said that before we start anything else, we got to look at where you’re at with self-love. Let’s dive into that a little bit because I absolutely love it. I couldn’t agree more. What tangible things could we give the readers? How do you get there to accept yourself in an environment that does a lot to you and letting you know that you need to fight against yourself?

For a lot of dancers, it is connected to body image and there’s a lot of work that can be done to improve there. I’ll point to an article that I wrote for Pointe Magazine that you guys can check out, it has three body image boosting tips which have some of my main go-to for clients. One of them being reframing the way that you are viewing what you perceive to be your flaws. I always use the example of thighs because that was my big flaw. Rather than seeing them as big and something I needed to change, what if I saw the power that they gave me for jumps and the power that they gave me for dancing overall? Reframing in that way can be really useful. If dancers have a body story that they are holding onto from the time they were young or from many instances over the years of experiences that they had, I highly encourage rewriting that story.

That process can be highly emotional because some of these experiences were traumatic, but when you can write them down and dissociate from them and then choose to create a different story around your body and what you see, that can be a positive path forward. The last one is more of a meditative experience or action that I think dancers benefit from first thing in the morning you’re laying down already. Just put a hand on your heart and a hand on your stomach. Do some deep breathing and send some gratitude to your body, even just for waking up that morning and taking you through your day in your life.

Those are some body image boosting tips that I come back to a lot. Beyond that, really giving yourself some time during the day, whether that is through a skincare routine, a body care routine, rolling out, self-massage, or going and getting a massage if and when that’s an option. Also, exercise and movement that’s not about dance but rather, finding some opportunity to move your body, whether it’s for fun or because it feels good. Stretching first and in the morning and things like that. Creating those opportunities to, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, tell yourself that you are worthy of that time and attention can help a lot.

These are a few things, but what else is self-love? We talked a lot about the physical. Skin care, body care, stretching, exercising outside of the classes in the studio. In your opinion, what other layers are there for self-love?

A lot of it comes down to how you are viewing and treating yourself. We, as dancers, create this experience of external validation and this need for external validation and it comes from the time we’re very young. Rather than seeking out that external validation, you can think to yourself, “What is it that I want this person to say to me to make me feel validated?” Start saying those things to yourself. We are very in need of this external validation and it’s not just dancers. This is most people. It’s not always something that those outside people are going to give to you. You’re left then searching, seeking, and feeling as though you’re not worthy because this person hasn’t said to you the thing that you want them to say to you. You can’t will them to do it, so you have to start validating yourself by saying these things to yourself. The more you say them to yourself, it’s the kind of thing that in the beginning, you can be like, “I don’t know.” You don’t believe it, but the more that you do it, and the more that you affirm that you are worthy, the more you do in fact start to believe it.

Your body protects you. It gives you signs when you have to heal. You need to listen to your body before you can do anything else. Click To Tweet

Two things. When I look at self-love, I would’ve never thought that taking a weight of factor off looking for validation from the outside is something that counts as self-love. Yes, many people are like that but in the entire performing arts scene, it is a heightened state because we look in the mirror to get validation. We wait from our peers to get validation that we did it right. We look at our teachers and there is the slippery slope when we unlearn so much to really look, love and believe ourselves. We’re putting all of that power into somebody else’s hands and if they can’t give it to us, we go into eating disorders, abusing ourselves, and shopping sprees. Some people start drinking, smoking, you name it.

It is so imperative to understand that dancers are not fighting against themselves. It’s something that I heard over and over again, “You are lazy. You need to fight against yourself.” When we hear this as little people, “Fighting against myself turned into so many other things.” That was so stuck in my subconscious that anything and everything I did was fighting against who I was and who I wanted to be. That’s why I feel this kind of self-development, loving yourself and knowing what you great at is so imperative. It’s the first thing anybody should know. We know when we’re born. We just unlearn and we’re being told differently.

Dancers sometimes also struggle with authenticity because we are trying to fit into someone’s box for us. Beyond the physical aesthetic, you try to be something and be what you perceive to be whatever your area of dance is. Perhaps the ideal ballet dancer or whatever you perceive that to be, which may or may not be in fact to be true to who you are. When you’re not living in your true self and embodying who you really are, it’s very hard to love this inauthentic version of you. That’s a big piece.

There always will be friction because you’re not aligning with yourself and deep inner herself. Maybe not in the beginning, maybe not in the first ten years, but later down the road, that will come clear and will get loud quickly. This is why we’re seeing in the mid-20s to mid-30s, where particularly women implode or explode. All of these issues are surfacing because we have pushed down everything that we weren’t allowed to feel for so many years. The earlier you can understand that the teacher in the studio is there to teach you how to move your body and everything else, you go and find a specialist. You find somebody that is specialized in nutrition for dancers. You find somebody that can coach you on high-performing habits. You find somebody that gets your mindset into place because of the generation of teachers that is out there, and I’m saying this with so much love and grace, it is not your fault. We are keeping these old beliefs that have served a generation that was completely different. It is not serving this generation anymore.

It’s not that it has to be the teacher’s role to be the mindset coach, the health coach, and the high-performance coach. They certainly don’t, but they do need to be aware that those people are out there and refer their students to them and say, “Maybe this person could help you with this body image struggle that you’re going through. Maybe this person can help you with your confidence and auditions that you’re struggling with.” Teachers should be aware of what resources are becoming available to dancers so that they can advocate for them because there are still some dancers who think working with someone outside of the studio is admitting some weakness. We need more champions for support outside of the studio so that dancers can see, “By working with this person, I’m going to show up with more confidence. My dance training is going to take me further because I’ve also paid attention to my mindset.”

Let’s go into this a little bit more because I still hear you. It’s this mindset that the dancer commits to know everything and we’re not allowed to show any kind of flaws or weaknesses. We can’t even say, “I don’t know that.” Even if you may know something, “I’m not an expert in this so, therefore, I can’t tell you.” Not understanding that the times have changed that being a dancer nowadays doesn’t mean you’re that one hand that walks down that one lane. That was good in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we have come so much further that the cheese has literally moved to a completely different place and we’re still going back to that old station and trying to find the cheese, but it’s not there anymore. If this wants to be a sustainable art form, it is so imperative to say, “This doesn’t work. I don’t know this. I need different coaches.” When I started my self-development journey, I had like 3 or 4 coaches for every different aspect of what I had to learn and let go of because they were experts. You won’t hire a business coach if you want to learn how to sell stuff. Don’t go to your ballet master and ask them how to structure your nutrition during the day because they don’t know.

They might try to tell you what to eat.

They are telling to eat sometimes or those stories that are out there are horrendous. They’re ongoing and that makes me upset.

That was one thing that shocked me because I was like, “There’s no way dance teachers are still talking about what dancers should eat.” Like telling you, “Don’t eat too much at Thanksgiving,” but 100%, they are.

Just have tea over Easter, don’t eat the bag or two. The worst thing is that I’m still dealing with that kind of mentality. It’s still so deep in there. If I want to have chocolate, I’ll check if my size four still fits. Which they don’t and I struggle with that too.

I work with a lot of retired dancers because it’s deeply ingrained. It has a big long-term impact. The relationship to food is huge.

This is where we have to understand and I know that when we’re young, eager, and hungry, we’ll do anything and everything to get there. To be loved and seen. We forget about these long-term effects. You got to pay a lot of money to undo all of that stuff. You may want to consider not taking all of that heavy stuff on because it is really hard to let go of.

It can have long-term effects that I think as a young person, you don’t even consider or give much weight to cause you to think, “I’ll deal with that later if it’s an issue.” Dancers see this goal like, “I need to get the job. I needed to get the paid contract. I need to get the promotion,” and are willing to sacrifice because it’s such a short career. We have all of these thought processes that justify it for us or we allowed to justify it and don’t necessarily consider what long-term damage can be done.

Fighting for our limits. Do you have a coach?

I have a business coach. I’ve had a business coach on and off from the time I started The Whole Dancer.

It’s imperative. It cuts so much time out of your learning curve. It gets you into a network that you otherwise don’t have the tools to get into. There are so many things that we can analyze on ourselves. Particularly as dancers, we’re so good at looking at ourselves and picking out all the things that are not working and not good. “This course didn’t do so well and I had 20 out of the 21 spots in my course filled.” We forget to look at all the great things that we’re doing every single day. As an entrepreneur, I know that is so imperative for your survival.

For me, a big shift came after I became a mother as well. What can I actually accomplish? I had to celebrate those accomplishments. That’s another thing that I think dancers don’t necessarily consider that there are seasons in life. This is something I talked to dancers about with the body piece as well. Your body is supposed to change over time and things happen in life that will cause physical shifts. The sooner you can be accepting of that fact and the sooner you get to a place of loving yourself regardless of physical shifts and changes, the more joy you’ll have in life.

PTR 93 | Body Image

Body Image: There’s this dancer. She is perfect. She has nothing to worry about. Her body is perfect. She has great technique. She gets positive feedback from people. But what people don’t see is that her struggles are all right there.

It’s that change piece again. I know what felt like to me when my first child arrived and what happened to my body. I doubled my body weight basically. I remember how depressed I was. Do you mind sharing a little bit about how it was for you and letting go of these expectations of high performing? “I need to get all of this done while raising a tiny little newborn.”

With the body piece, I stayed pretty good because I was in luckily quite a stable place with body image by that point. I stayed pretty good with the change. Towards the end, it was a little hard, partly because and it’s funny, but body comments, especially pregnant women talk about this all the time. The unsolicited feedback and advice and stuff. It wasn’t even my doctor but one of my friend’s doctors had said to her, “There’s no reason why a woman should ever gain more than X number of pounds in pregnancy.” My friend said that to me and towards the end of my pregnancy, I was like, “How much have I gained?” For a moment, I was like, “I can’t believe I gained more than what this random doctor, who’s not even mine, said women should gain during pregnancy.” It affected me a little bit.

Luckily, I was in a good place mentally as far as body image and mindset go that I could be like, “This guy doesn’t know anything about me. That’s a random and arbitrary number. That’s not even what you read in the books.” I was able to let it go but it’s amazing how those things can still make you take a pause. After my daughter was born, I was like, “This is a different body than I was expecting.” It’s very different when you have the baby in there. You’re like, “I’m supposed to be this person. I’m housing a child.” When the baby comes out and it’s like, “This is not going as quickly as I thought it would for me, how I expected.” There’s the whole hormonal factor that adds a layer or 2 or 3. I had to give myself a lot of pep talks and the purpose my physical being was serving at that time.

The fact that I don’t have to change if I don’t want to but there is no timeline for my physical shifts, post-partum. That took some change and some mindset awareness. I had to give myself a lot of pep talks that it was all going to be okay and it was all okay at the moment. I had this very specific role. As far as business, I had planned out content and stuff to be released for the first few months but then I had put some very unrealistic expectations on myself as far as what I would be accomplishing after that period of time. I was like, “The reality versus expectation here is very different.” I had to pivot and say, “What is the best I can do right now?” As you and I talked about, sleep deprivation has been a big challenge for me throughout out.

As my daughter gets older, it’s been a journey with sleep. I had to also give myself some understanding that if I am completely sleep-deprived, there is only so much productivity I can expect even within the time that I had available. It was a big shifting of expectations. It’s only probably in the last months that I have started to feel like I’m gaining momentum again, which is nice. It’s exciting and I still am spending much less time on my business than I was prior to having my daughter but my productivity within that time is magnified quite significantly, which is like, “We really can.” When you’re forced to get something done in two hours that you might spend ten hours on previously, you’ll get it done in two hours. That’s been my new mantra. Just get it done and do your best.

You’re very focused on what is very important. “What are the 2 or 3 things I need to get done today?” Everything else is being released. We, as dancers, we’re really good at talking ourselves into the 10, 12-hour days because that’s what we’re used to. We almost feel guilty if we could do all of that in three hours. I felt that for the first time in my life when I had my first son, I became a woman and I couldn’t handle them because it was never, prior to that allowed to be a woman and look like a woman. I’m now okay with, “I am a woman and I love my squishy parts.” I’m not there yet but I want to get there. Maybe they’re going to go away again, who knows. Having this realization that, “I will not be that little girl forever,” even though perhaps my job wanted me to do or this is what I needed to look like in order to be cast for all of these roles that you have to be nothing in the half. That was in that a struggle for me in all three pregnancies.

A lot of dancers go through delayed puberty and that can be a big struggle. A lot of times, they’re going through it as they’re trying to get a job or when they’re in their first jobs and it is rough. It is a challenge of getting to a place of self-acceptance and then when you become pregnant, that’s the whole other physical shift in womanhood, for sure.

Thank you for sharing all that because we don’t often talk about that piece particularly. We’re supposed to be those princesses and those pretty human beings and the swans and the fairies but we’re women to start with. What does that mean in that kind of industry? We need to talk about it, so there is no shame around it. We can stand on our two feet and say, “I’m not a fairy first. I’m a woman.” I’ll put myself into that mindset to look like it all the time. If you could go back to your sixteen-year-old self and you would exactly know everything that you know today, and you would be able to go back to her and spend an hour with her, what would you tell her?

Mostly I would say, “Your body is exactly perfect and enough as it is. It and does not have to be smaller. You need to eat enough food to nourish yourself.” I would say a lot in an hour and hopefully, it would get through there. The relationship to food for me was such a big stroke. Food and my body were the biggest struggles for the whole of my dance experience and career. It’s the right thing to say to her that, “Food is not the enemy. Your body needs to be loved and cared for and then you’ll enjoy dance. You’ll go even further in your dance career and goals. Try to find that peace with it, hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

I would tell her something like that too and many other things. Where can we find you? What’s next on the agenda in your future?

I’m starting a series on Instagram Live with some pro dancers where they will share their experience of balance and how they have created that for themselves from student to professional, how things have shifted. This will be a little Wellness Wednesday series on Instagram that I’m looking forward to. In May 2021 I’m going to be hosting a Rewrite Your Body Story Workshop. It will be an interactive coaching workshop around this whole changing the narrative that you have in your head around your body, what you think it should be, or what someone told you it should be, so that you can get to a place of true confidence in your body. For many dancers, that translates to much greater confidence than dancing. Those are the big exciting things I have coming up. Anything else, head over to TheWholeDancer.com and you can sign up for the email list there, and then you’ll hear about everything that’s coming up in the coming months as well.

I love playing brilliant ID time, meaning that nothing is off the books. Anything is possible. If you have all the time and resources at your hand, what’s your big dream for The Whole Dancer?

I want to start to be part of some major shifts at ballet companies, university dance programs, and pre-professional training programs. More of them would benefit from having some ongoing support, resources, workshops, and interactive things for their dancers. That’s an area I’m planning to put some focus on.

Being there like being visible and not just coming in once a month like, “If you have a problem, why don’t you go and talk to them?” People won’t admit that they have a problem. Not as dancers. We don’t have problems, no. Jess, thank you so much for this. I was so thrilled.

This is a great and fun conversation. Thank you.

You take good care, everybody. Thanks so much for reading.

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About Jessica Spinner

PTR 93 | Body ImageJess Spinner is a former professional ballet dancer turned Health Coach and founder of The Whole Dancer. She supports dancers in reaching their body goals through one on one coaching and her online course, The Dancers’ Best Body Program. For more on Jess or The Whole Dancer visit thewholedancer.com

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There is a better way to pursue ballet at the professional level. Instead of dancers pushing beyond their body’s limits, there is a healthier way to train your body, your mind and your spirit to soar. To become the best at your craft, you must be healthy. The mentality of surviving to make a performance perfect is an old paradigm that needs to change. As athletes, dancers must thrive in order to shine and connect with their audience. This new approach, leads to fulfillment, strength and longevity. It allows you to give more of your heart and soul on stage, creating an unforgettable experience that moves your audience. And that’s the whole pointe. 

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