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Reclaiming My Body by Javier Padilla

From the October 2020 Issue. Read the rest of the issue here.

I’ve always been a bigger body. Even at my skinniest, when eating involved waiting until midnight after countless hours of re-watching rehearsal videos to nitpick every little detail. Wondering every time if there was a magic trick, a special button, a riddle to detach the notion of my fat body away from my dancing body. I saw this version of myself moving but I only saw limitation, flaws, things to correct. Throughout my training, this version of myself kept popping up. I never tied it to my shape or my weight  because it was a part of my  body and my lived experience. But it wasn’t until I started growing up and seeing what was happening around me that I start to felt isolated because of my size. I was pushed to the back of classes and performances, costumes always felt like a hassle, corrections were few and far between. It felt like I was supposed to be ashamed of being the biggest body in the room. The long lineage of diet ideas and weight loss tips passed down from family added to this. I carried this frame of thought all throughout my training from the hometown studio to my college years. You must lose weight to be a successful mover.  You must lose weight to be a successful artist. This was draining, eating at the very essence of what I loved to do. I had all these people telling me that movement was not going to be a viable option. So I was shoved into all these other areas that I ended up loving as well. Lighting design fascinated me, choreography felt like home. But performing was something I was always taught to be weary of. I loved movement and performing but my body was deemed unsuitable. But why wasn’t anyone supportive of a big body moving?


Carrying this baggage about my dancing body inevitably passed on to my personal life in a slew of negative interactions and uncomfortable moments of intimacy. I started to detach from social situations and found myself isolated both in my artistic community and my personal life. As a male dancer, the idealistic view is that you’re muscular, lean, long, athletic and most likely white. So as a brown, fat, queer boy surrounded by thinner more desired bodies, a lot of doubts kept arising. Why am I not getting corrected? Am I not good enough? Am I not enough? Is my body not desirable? Is my body ugly? My early training was heavily impacted by trying to mimic these bodies instead of feeding my body what it actually needed and craved. Why were we perpetuating the idea that only one body exists when there are clearly different body types in this very room?

College was the first time I felt my training pivot away from aesthetics based training and into actual research and introspection. Suddenly, my artistry wasn’t directly connected to the shape of my body. I experienced a brighter and warmer community willing to accept what my body had to offer. A similar experience emerged in Europe, where for the first time I saw the most diverse group of movement artists. Bodies of different sizes, shapes, colors, gender expressions and beyond. No one was questioning the bodies in motion but instead questioning the movement of the bodies. Conversations of choice making, story telling, and messaging but none of aesthetics. That was the lightbulb moment for me. All this time, I was imposing other people’s ideas and assumptions of my body onto myself instead of throwing them out the window. They weren’t allowing themselves to see the fullest version of myself, my authentic artist body. Me being fat does not correlate to my ability to tell a story, to move, to implode, to be. Me being fat does not make me less of a “male dancer”. Me being fat doesn’t make me any less of an artist.

I wish I had realized this earlier, that my educators had promoted these ideas earlier. My training would’ve shifted from mirroring to experiencing, embodying instead of replicating. My identity as an artist could’ve been developed in a safer and more productive manner, rather than through shaming and finding ways to hide instead of thriving. Last month’s Dancegeist issue included Abra Myles’ “A Room for All” which explores the fat body in a community that shuns us. Towards the end they mention ideas that dance spaces can cultivate to create rooms for fat dancers to exist and thrive. One idea really stood out to me, “Imagine and re-imagine aesthetics by dismantling sameness in performance and class and by challenging the idea that only certain bodies or ways of moving are worth being seen or should be considered ‘professional’ work.” This spoke to my younger self, that young, brown, queer boy who just wanted to feel “worthy” in class. I was constantly re-imagining what my artistry meant to fulfill this mold that would perpetuate this idea of “sameness”. But I was not the “same”. I was bigger and instead of normalizing this, the powers that be decided to hide me, to shield me, to ignore me. My body is worthy of taking space, of performing, of moving, of imploding, of falling, of playing.

For a very long time, my worth was defined by these people’s ideas of what a normal/ideal body is. If you’re reading this and have experienced something similar just know that our bodies are bodies in motion and that is enough. Our artistry is defined by the passion and the intellect that we imbue into our work and not by the size or shape of our bodies. Our bodies in spaces are political, we are sending a message that our bodies exist and that our bodies are here. And we’re not going anywhere else but up. 

More by Javier Padilla

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