It’s easy to say that everyone is beautiful, despite what standards and expectations might be in front of us. It wasn’t always as easy to fully believe that my body is beautiful just as it is. Finding that belief within myself took time and seemed so far out of reach, because how I viewed myself was distorted by unrealistic expectations. The majority of my dance training was centered around striving for perfection and measured by what the body could produce for a specific teacher, choreographer, or audience. While my introduction to dance was through interpretive and expressive movement through the lens of places of worship, the majority of my dance training was informed by eurocentric expectations that glorified thin, white bodies. My large black body was seen as something to be fixed or a potential hindrance to feel included in many dance spaces. The expectations did not always necessarily confine beauty to one way of moving, rather it often placed it on a hierarchy in that the most esteemed beauty could only be found within the crevices of movement styles informed by ballet. No matter how much I tried to “tuck it in”, “pull up”, or “elongate”, my body was not built for that illusion of perfection. I would learn very quickly that not only was this quest for beauty as a dancer not achievable, but also not sustainable. Aside from the obvious blow to my self esteem, it would normalize rejecting what my body needed in order to obtain a false sense of hope that hard work would result in acceptance in spite of my body. I knew deep down that my body would never be white, thin, lean, or able to execute every single movement that was revered as “advanced” or “professional”. So, I tried to compensate for the lack of beauty with other traits that were received well, but often came at the expense of my well being. I know that my longing for this certain aesthetic of beauty was causing more harm, by inducing more pain and exhaustion on myself. This eventually led to my disdain for the art form all together, slowly chipping away my motivation to be an active participant in the various spaces I once loved.
The moment I started to move my body in a way that solely served me, divorced from trying to reach the aesthetics others had set, my outlook on beauty changed. I spent so many years focusing on the mighty efforts of my body that seemed to produce little results. Once I let go of that effort, I realized that beauty cannot be confined to simple definitions. It is relative to each individual eye. We all see the world through our individual perspectives, and it is impossible to expect that everyone would view beauty in the same way when looking at an external source, in this case, a dancing body moving throughout space. More importantly, seeking external validation through what others deem as beautiful could not sustain a healthy relationship with moving my body. Regardless of style, genre, intention, or setting, dancing for the sake of approval and then using that approval to define what is beautiful led to endless disappointment. I began to develop a foundation of appreciating the beauty of my body through improvisation informed by embodied awareness. I focused my attention on movement motivated by feelings and sensations I was experiencing in my body. I developed ways to be more intentional about simply noticing what was happening when I chose to move my body in a certain way without judgement. I used my movement practice as teachable moments to connect to larger themes in my life, rather than trying to create arbitrary goals that were rooted in external validation. I also had to do some deep exploration of how my body was heavily colonized by the expectations of whiteness, leading me to further investigate other forms of movement that connected to my natural lineage. I had to rediscover how my body actually wanted to move, regardless of cultural expectations and traditions imposed on me.
I realized this dancing body was beautiful when I turned away from the mirror and trusted that my body knows what to do in space. I knew when I closed my eyes and listened to a kind, soft voice that silenced the negative self talk. I knew when I realized that comparison suppresses exploration and curiosity. I knew when I accepted that all bodies are different and all bring something unique to the floor that cannot be erased. I knew when I accepted that this big black girl was allowed to take up space and that the only requirement of having a dancing body was a willingness to move. I knew when I embraced honoring the needs of my body first, instead of putting it through hell to accomplish performing a specific position or pose. I knew my body was beautiful when I embraced my body for what it is and all of the things it has done to sustain me.
My body is beautiful because it moves. I don’t have to contain it or define it. Beauty is in me and all around me. Correlating beauty with moving “correctly” or having “good” technique, caused me to feel disembodied from myself when I was dancing. I had spent so many years forsaking how things felt in my body, because I was conditioned to believe that neglecting what the body needed was a sacrificial act to achieve beauty. Truth is, beauty cannot be achieved. It can only sustain itself when it comes from within. Beauty is sustained through self love and care. What the body looks like is only a glimpse of what the body has been through and what its true capacity for expansive exploration. This body has certainly been through a lot, but she’s beautifully resilient and eager to move unapologetically.