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KIDS OR PARENTS – WHOSE DREAM IS IT?

The impact of parents’ behaviour in the dancing scene is on on my mind every time I am watching kids dance at competitions. I do of course know that there are amazing parents out there and kudos to you all for the gallant efforts you put in to enable your child/children to dance. It has come to my attention though, as it has for others too I’m sure, that amidst trying to achieve the best possible results for a young child or couple, some parents, and dare I even say it, teachers, lose site of what is important.

No one would have been more obsessed with dancing as a child than I was. I loved everything about it, I thought about my lessons constantly,  I practiced everywhere you could imagine, dreamed of Blackpool finals, dancing congress, travelling the world and watched videos every free moment I had! The enthusiasm our young dancers demonstrate is to be encouraged and I think it is fantastic when I see a child utterly in love with the hobby of their choosing. Unfortunately, as with many strongly competitive hobbies, the child is potentially at risk of being pushed incredibly hard, to the point where the child no longer finds it enjoyable, or even more heart breaking, where they begin to identify with a self that is idealised and fictitious. One example of this is could be that a girl may grow up to think she has to be a certain weight to be liked or beautiful. There has been many a talented dancer, who has given up the art entirely, not because they lost the love to dance, but just because everything else gets too much.

A big concern of mine is when I see parents or teachers acting in quite frankly, a disgraceful way toward their child/student. Behaviour far from what we would consider respectful and encouraging. I understand different cultures have different values and ideas of what is acceptable, but it is hard for me to believe that some of the behaviour I have witnessed, regardless of culture, would not be having some negative effect on the child.

I’ll give you an example of something I saw at a competition recently. A teacher, which I also had good reason to believe was also the mother of the boy, was helping the young couple warm up. It was a juvenile couple, and I would have thought under the age 10. Within 5 minutes of the warm up, this child was being yelled out, subject to aggressive pokes and having his arms being pulled into position all because he apparently was not doing it well enough. Now personally I don’t think this behaviour is necessary under any circumstance, but imagine how this child felt walking onto the competition floor. Even if there were accolades and congratulations after the dancing was finished, what price did this little boy have to pay? The image of what I saw that day hasn’t left me, as it is just totally unnecessary and uncalled for. The boy was old enough to be spoken to, in a positive way, about how he could improve his dancing should this teacher have felt the need to do so that day. Who really wanted to achieve the results that day – the child or the parent/teacher?

Less traumatic examples, but equally as damaging, is with the impact of social media and the dance world. We have now embarked on a world that is completely different from previous generations growing up. Social media has the power to place huge pressures on kids and it’s something every parent needs to address. As adults we can also be victims of social media pressures and the feeling that we always need to be more – just imagine how this might affect young ones. Our industry is already very particular about body image and I think these demands together with social media could result in immense pressure. This is not restricted to body image either, as social media tends to highlight every amazing success, great result, fantastic experience and brilliant lesson. Kids must be made aware that what they read, is not the whole story!

I don’t say that social media doesn’t have it’s benefits in dancing, such include documenting your dance career, assistance with partner searches and sharing your experiences with others near and far, but bear in mind it is a powerful tool and could potentially be a big burden for kids. It cleverly and deceptively creates an ‘ideal’ of what their dance journey should be like, rather than just enjoying whatever their particular path looks like. And what happens when the results are not great, and the child just wants to move on? We as adults, face these issues too, so imagine how much kids can be affected. We do want to encourage young dancers to fulfil their potential, let them love what they do and know they are supported, appreciated and valued. I would never say otherwise. I Just believe it wouldn’t hurt to be a little mindful in how quickly we post everything and to think twice about what is shared. Talk to children if you see any signs that something may be affecting them. Reassure the kids that whoever they are, they are enough. I am comforted in the fact that despite any behaviour we may see, all parents and teachers are there just trying to do their best by their children.

 

TALKING BODY IMAGE WITH CLAIR GLEAVE

As I sat across from this talented young lady, I was moved by her confidence, her maturity and passion for how she is living her life. It’s awe inspiring to see a young woman with her eyes so wide open and displaying such enthusiasm for the projects she is embracing. So refreshing! 

Clair is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and about to grace the stage in the theatre production “Bring It On” at the Southwark Playhouse this summer. As a side project, Clair has taken to directing and producing short films on subject matters that are close to her heart. Her release of “Body Love”, captured my attention with it’s strong and powerful message. A message that certainly needs to be reinforced in world of the arts. This video is brilliantly choreographed, performed and produced and I would love every dancer to really give thought to their self love. The truth is we do not have control over what others say to us, but we can change how we feel about ourself.

After spending a short time talking with Clair, it became very clear that we have a shared passion to generate awareness of body image issues. Only when you are fully content and at peace with who you are, will you truly flourish. This not only makes the world a more loving, kinder place, but it enables you to also enjoy the journey.

Please enjoy this fabulous video and read on for the full interview with Clair to learn about what inspired “Body Love” and her views on some challenging questions about body image in dancesport.

Your video “Body Love” was so moving, would you share with us what inspired you to do this video?

It was a thought I have had over many years to create short high quality films combining acting and dance. At first I didn’t know what they were going to be about, that just happened by coincidence. I always had a love for contemporary dance and have spent hours upon hours choreographing at home over the years. After having the idea to do these films, I started researching and watching various types of videos on you tube, and I came across this song used by someone at a dance competition. I knew immediately that this had to be the song for my first video as I could relate to the song. I slowly started to choreograph it over time, I didn’t want to feel like I had a deadline. Then I was on a photoshoot with this really amazing photographer, and I said I had this idea for this video and asked if she would you be interested in filming it? She said she would be really up for it, and so everything just aligned.

Is the video about your personal story?

Before the video came out, I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t post this as I didn’t want it to come across as a personal story. It’s not about my story, although I could relate to some of these issues. Its purpose is to make people think about these things in society, for people to think why do we think like that, why are we like that and to be more accepting of who they are. 

You have mentioned that you will be doing more videos. Where do you see the future of these videos going?

I want to keep creating high quality content with a good message in each video. I want to keep expanding, keep working with new people, different choreographers and film makers and hopefully the platform will continue to grow and with that I can make bigger and better videos.

Having been around dancesport growing up, do you think there are difficulties around body image in dancesport?

I think there is a pressure to be of a smaller size in ballroom dancing, but I wouldn’t watch a competition and think the dancers are scarily thin. They are more muscular and toned. But it poses an interesting question that if someone was of a larger size dancing, would people say something? Or would they not get marked?

It’s a very real issue in acting and something that is discussed quite openly. At rehearsals, people share their experiences from drama school and talk about the pressure to look a certain way for castings. Often you won’t be casted for a role as perhaps you don’t look right for the part, but it’s something you have to learn to not take personally. From my own experience, and the majority of other peoples, there is a pressure to be smaller in acting. I think that the answer is more complex in dance as there is a sport/athletic component, that may not necessarily exist in a lot of acting roles. For example you may dance better as a couple if you are lighter, or have a better weight ratio, but do you act better if you are a few pounds smaller? I don’t think so. 

It is a difficult area in dance, I know as a teacher I find it a hard topic to discuss, as a certain physique is important for the physical demands of the dance as well as the look, however, at the same time I believe we need to keep it in perspective.

I feel though, if we start having these conversations it will make people think.

Yes very true. Like many things in life there is no black and white answer, and bringing awareness is the best way to tackle the issue. Have you personally had experiences of someone telling you should change your body for your career?

Yes then I was 21, an important figure in the acting industry told me that I should lose some weight after watching my show reel. Being so passionate about acting and what I do, if someone says you will have a better chance if you lose some weight, then that is what I was going to do. That year I lost quite a bit of weight through food restriction and exercising. 

Were you happy with the changes, did it make you feel good to lose the weight?

It felt good to have that control, even powerful in a sense. I think as actors, and this probably also applies to dancers, there are a lot of things that are out of our control, eg what audition you get to choose if you get that job or audition and there is so much rejection, I feel to be able to control something makes you feel much better. After about 6 months, I realised I was unhappy and to be in the place of that much restriction, you mentally have to somehow keep that going.  The way you do this is to tell yourself “you’re too fat,” “you’re too big,” “you need to lose weight,” and basically be negative about yourself. After awhile that took its toll and I realised I don’t want to think about myself this way anymore, I don’t want to feel not enough. 

It’s amazing that you had the consciousness to be able to see that, there are many people who wouldn’t be able to see it. 

Yeah many don’t see it. Obviously there are degrees to how much these issues are impacting on your life. Something just changed in me, and I realised that this is not how I want to think or feel. From a young age I had been thinking I need to smaller, I want to lose some weight, so it’s always been there, and then when I was told to lose weight for my career, something just flipped.  

Your focus on weight as a teenager, where do you think that came from?

I think that it’s a mixture of the environment and the person. In society, models are very small and very skinny, and it’s almost like there is a self worth on your size. Personally there was also a feeling within myself of not being good enough. I felt like I would have more self worth if I was smaller. 

Do you still have similar thoughts? I recently read the book ‘The Power of Now’ and love the concept of thoughts not being real and are just there doing their best to sabotage you.

I’ve read that book and love the concept as well. They are just thoughts – they are not real, they are not you, literally just thoughts in your head. I think it has a lot to do with society and that self worth is based on how you look and the size you are. I guess acting and dancing are very similar in that they are both very competitive, and this can encourage feelings of not feeling good enough. I’ve done a lot of work in this area to get where I am now. 

Having a positive mindset or view about yourself  is so important to those in the world of dance. It is so physical and to have the energy to dance, you must be eating enough. You must be fuelling your body enough. Affirmations and being in a real good mental space can make such a difference and it will make you dance better.  

Nutrition and mindset are closely linked and both equally important for maximum output. Poor nutrition can lead to fatigue, stress, poor concentration and mental fog, all of which is unlikely to do your mindset any favours. So food restriction in order to control weight could be doing much more damage than is first recognised. 

You can feel a difference. I remember feeling a difference on a day where I didn’t eat so much, I couldn’t concentrate. I remember at certain times thinking I need to eat as my brain couldn’t function. Now that I am not restricting myself, and eat regularly through the day, I notice a big difference at rehearsals. I’m much more present and the difference is immense. A dancer who is under fuelling themselves, is going to struggle much more at competitions. 

Needless to say dancing a competition fuelled on red bull, chocolate and sweets is not the ideal combination!

For sure, and often finished with alcohol at the end of the day! (Laughing). 

Many thanks to Clair for taking the time to talk to us about her video “Body Love.” It’s amazing to see a young woman so driven to share such an important message and empowering others. You can see Clair on stage in “Bring It On” at the Southwark Playhouse from August 2nd to September 1st.