By Gillian Ebersole

Picture a ballerina. Her petite frame features long, slender limbs with a small torso, facilitating extreme flexibility. Arched feet and dainty hands complete the look.

I am a ballerina. But what I just described? That's not me. According to ballet standards, I am far from petite. I gain muscle mass easily and quickly (the anti-long and slender) and what little flexibility I have comes from constant stretching. 

I have danced since I was three years old.  I am now 17.  So over the years, as my body began to grow and change, I began to realize the harsh reality of the dance world.  As I gained muscle and my body matured, the dancers around me remained petite and slender. Girls obsessed over staying thin.  My teachers began to ignore me.  My confidence plummeted.

The studio where I practiced only contributed to my increasing despair. So I made the decision to change dance studios in January 2014. I moved from a prestigious program to a family-run place. I feared I would lose my credibility as a dancer.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

I'm happy to report that in aesthetic sports like dance, there can actually be dancers that eat full meals for dinner. Who never ration their food. Teachers who celebrate various body types, encouraging the differences between us. There are teachers who advocate for cross-training; who know the benefits of gaining strength and endurance by doing activities outside of dance.

All this time, I thought that a smaller studio and a less prestigious dance program would limit my opportunities, but I have spent more time on stage in the past year than in the previous seven years.  And being introduced to a new way of thinking about my body, while eliminating the negative influences that were detrimental to my love of dance, allowed me to stay in love with ballet.  

And just as my view of dancer “body types” changed, the professional dance world began to change its view too. Muscular, powerful female dancers are now gracing the stage. The rise of Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theater soloist, marks the forefront of this new way of thinking--that dance is not a body type. Dance is a movement.