These plus-sized artists are redefining what it means to be a dancer

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every little girl wants to be a ballerina. Maybe you only wanted to be a ballerina for like TWO SECONDS but still, girl, come on, you wanted those toe shoes and tutus, I know you did because I did to.

There are a lot of reasons most of us don’t grow up to be professional dancers. It’s an exhausting and demanding life, it’s a career with a definite time limit, and if your feet aren’t archy enough or you’re a few inches too tall or you don’t have traditional ballerina thighs, you usually find yourself basically out of luck in the professional dance world.

Well, rules were made to be broken, and “Nothing to Lose,” a production courtesy of celebrated dance company Force Majeure, is breaking all those “what a dancer is supposed to look like” rules when it debuts next year in Sydney, Australia. Artistic director of Force Majeure, Kate Champion, has teamed up with artist and activist Kelli Jean Drinkwater to create a production comprised of a cast of seven plus-sized dancers, five women and two men.

“‘Nothing to Lose’ aims to challenge the dominant perception of what dancers’ bodies should look like,” states a press release for the performance. “‘Fat’ is a powerful, little world filled with baggage and judgement. ‘Nothing to Lose’ questions the connotations and presents confident, embodied performers through the lens of lived experience, enlivened with text adapted from interviews with the cast.”

The audition notice for the show specifically used the word “fat,” a word some people in the plus-sized community find insulting and triggering, but Drinkwater, who self-identifies as fat, defended the choice of the word:

“You can’t make a simple work about body size because it’s an incredibly complex conversation,” she told the Independent. “I personally use the word fat because I’ve reclaimed it and it doesn’t have any negative baggage. It’s just a description of my body, like tall or brunette. But not everyone is at that point, and we wanted to make it feel like a very welcoming call-out: we wanted people to feel safe to put themselves out there. On the other hand, we’re not shying away from this subject.”

Although the show won’t be staged until January as part of Sydney Festival, it’s already received plenty of attention for breaking ground in the dance community.

“For all we say about there being more representation in contemporary dance, I don’t actually think there is,” Champion said. “Dancers’ bodies, as amazing and skilled as they are, can be quite alienating. We want this show to have a strong visual impact: it’s undoubtedly about the larger body.”

The show itself will focus, in part, on the dancers’ own lives and their relationships with their bodies. It should be noted that the cast of “Nothing to Lose” are not professionally-trained dancers but they all have backgrounds in performance.

We’re currently in the midst of an intense cultural conversation about body politics, and that makes “Nothing to Lose” about as timely and relevant as a dance piece can be.

“Watching these artists discover their inherent physicalities has been an incredibly joyful experience,” said Drinkwater, in a video interview. “I think that’s going to come across really strongly with the audience.”

(Images by Toby Burrows via)

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