I grew up dancing. I absolutely loved it, and, until recently, I was sure that I would sign my future children up for dance classes. Now I’m conflicted.
I understand that I’m most likely years away from parenthood, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about how I want to raise my children. I want to make sure that my children are not beholden to traditional gender norms. My sons will never hear the phrases “man up” or be told not to act like girls. My daughters will not be labeled tomboys or girlie girls. There will be an absence of labels in my house (if I could, I would completely do away with the gender pronouns, but I doubt that will happen).
I always thought that I could enroll my kids in dance classes (if they wanted them) without compromising the feminist values I hope to instill. I don’t think that this is impossible, but I do think it is and will be very difficult.
Dancing brought me a lot of joy. It was an opportunity to be active, it was an opportunity to learn and practice skills, it was an opportunity to make friends. I still feel very passionately about dance, and I love going to watch performances whenever I can.
But, dancing also caused me a lot of pain. While there were times when I felt powerful, beautiful, and strong, there were probably more times where I felt weak, stupid, and less than everyone else.
Dancing made me even more conscious of my physical flaws. I was never as skinny as the other girls in my class. I always had to have a bigger sized costume than everyone else, and I never felt comfortable wearing the stomach-revealing costumes everyone else was fine with (I want to note hear that I was a size six in a class full of size twos and lower. It’s not like I was what most people consider fat. I just wasn’t a stick).
Dancing as frequently as I did (up to 5 days a week) really fueled my eating disorder and unhealthy habits. I was constantly making myself throw up or adding in extra workouts to try to keep up with the girls on my team. I never did, and I just made myself sicker and more injury-prone in the process.
I know this isn’t the case for every dancer. There are girls who are confident and comfortable enough in their own skin that the size differences don’t bother them. But I was not one of those girls, and I think those girls are pretty few and far between. I never came across someone who didn’t participate in the body bashing that went on in the studio. It’s absolutely awful to know, without a doubt, that you are the biggest person in the room and have a size zero girl proclaim that her butt is huge. Seriously? All I could think when I heard that was, “if your butt is huge, then what does that make mine?”
I don’t want my children to deal with this. I know that I’ve talked about female experiences because those are all I have experienced, but I know there is pressure on boys to have a certain physique as well. Not to mention all the taunting a boy will undoubtedly receive because “dancing is for girls.” While I refuse to uphold patriarchal norms in my house, I know other parents will reinforce them.
I know that every activity has problems. I know that I will not be able to completely shield my children from the patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean that I have to throw them headfirst into a pool that emphasizes a certain body type and shames others, enforces gender stereotypes, and often objectifies women and girls.
I don’t know what I’ll do if my kid asks to take dance classes. I don’t want to put a flat-out ban on dancing or it’s cousins gymnastics and cheer leading. Maybe I can make my child so strong that they can withstand the waves of the patriarchy, and even change the way people in the classes behave. I’ll figure it out. Hopefully I have plenty of time to do so.