Dancing and lifting

Dancing and lifting

Linda asked me to write a post about my dancing background, so I will happily oblige as it is one of my favourite topics! I have met quite a few female lifters who used to (or still do) dance, and it’s interesting to consider how the two complement each other.

Early days
I started dancing when I was five years old. I did ballet and jazz and then took a few years off, before taking it up again when I was 11. I competed pretty seriously in jazz and, despite being told on numerous occasions that I was too old to take up ballet again, I made it to the top level of the Borovansky syllabus.

My teacher encouraged me to audition for the West Australian ballet, but I had no desire to be a professional ballet dancer. The ballet environment is incredibly bitchy and you are constantly chasing perfection. The movie Black Swan really isn’t an exaggeration. I was dancing up to eight hours a day and barely eating 1000 calories. We were not allowed into class without our full uniform, with perfect faces and hair. During exam preparation, you repeatedly perform the same routines while your body is scrutinised from every angle.

The jazz world was just as bitchy and superficial. I felt like we were faceless entities. I was in a performance troupe of about 20-25 girls, and we all had to spend hundreds on identical costumes, the exact same shade/length of fake tan, hair pieces and fake eyelashes. I remember countless Friday nights spent in sleepover-style dress rehearsals, where we would have to start the routine again every time someone made a single mistake. Our feet would bleed and girls would often collapse from exhaustion.

During this time, I had terrible body dysmorphia. In class, we wore nothing more than a leotard. In an average concert, I’d be in 10-15 items which meant a lot of quick costume changes. This meant I spent a lot of my adolescent years wearing very little clothing – or nothing at all – in front of a room full of bitchy teenage girls. Sounds like a dream! I was scarily thin but felt like a whale because of the snide comments from other girls. There were girls in my class that were hospitalised due to anorexia and banned from dancing until they reached a certain weight, but they were still let into class. Anorexia is such a normal part of the dance world that you are looked at strangely if you don’t have some kind of eating disorder.

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Don’t get me wrong, I loved dancing with all my heart but it was incredibly taxing on my body and mind. I started hip hop when I was 15 and I enjoyed it so much more. While it was initially difficult to abandon the strict posture which ballet required, I loved being able to move in a much sexier way. We could wear whatever we wanted, were allowed to dance with our hair out, and no one gave a shit about your body fat. I also met my best friend at hip hop class!

I quit ballet when I was 17. The training regime was too intense to sustain and I was worried about my weak ankles – it was really just a matter of time before I broke one dancing en pointe.

I dropped jazz when I was 20, but kept up with the occasional contemporary class until I was about 22. I started lifting weights at around that time and ultimately had to choose one over the other due to time constraints. Hip hop is the only thing I’ve stuck with, as I don’t need to be super technical or flexible to do a class. If I take a month off, it’s easy to slip back into it – whereas I definitely wouldn’t be able to do the same with jazz or contemporary.

From when I was 11 to 17, I danced four or five days a week for several hours. I was a major nerd so school was always my first priority. Given the amount of time I devoted to studying, I had no time for anything other than my dance classes.

When I started university, I kept up with three dance classes a week. I was also teaching three days a week, so maintained my flexibility. I danced in what I would loosely call a “professional” capacity, doing corporate shows and club nights which were mostly choreographed routines but occasionally freestyle podium-type gigs. I have to admit I didn’t appreciate how awesome my life was at the time – I got paid loads to do what I loved more than anything else.

When I was 17, I auditioned for the Moulin Rouge and they told me they would have accepted me if I wasn’t underage. They told me to come back to the next audition in two years, but I never did as I wanted to pursue something more academic. Sometimes I think about how different my life would have been if I had indeed moved to Paris to be a can-can dancer!

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Currently
These days I dance once or twice a week. It’s hard because all the classes I want to do during the week don’t finish until 9.30-10pm. Unlike in Perth, where I just had to drive the five minutes home, commuting in London means I don’t get home until around 11pm. I typically only have one night off during the week and sometimes I just really want to sit on my butt!

I only do variations of hip hop these days. I’ve lost a lot of flexibility (partly due to weight lifting and partly because I don’t spend nearly as much time stretching as I used to) so would be very hesitant to step foot in a more technical class.

I used to be featured in a million videos on YouTube but it’s probably a good thing they’ve been taken down. These days, you can find a lot of my routines from Saturday classes here.

I’ve done a lot of cool workshops with famous choreographers but most memorably was with Yanis Marshall. If you haven’t seen him dance, well, prepare to lose the next hour or two of your life watching his videos 😉

Relationship between lifting and dancing
I think my dancing background definitely helped when I first started lifting weights. I was able to pick up things like correct squat form and hip hinging very quickly. I can understand pretty quickly if I’m not performing something correctly. My flexibility also helped in executing certain movements, and my balance helped with single leg exercises.

Sadly, lifting weights has made my muscles a lot tighter. I used to be able to do the splits in every direction but now I can only do them on the right leg. I used to be able to do a lot of backbends, flips and so on that now make my back spasm if I even attempt them!

Lifting has also changed the shape of my body. To me, this is a positive, but from a dancing perspective it is mostly negative. Considering I was already considered “big” back when I was dancing full-time (I was almost always the tallest in my class, which usually made me the heaviest), adding an extra 15kg to my frame isn’t making it any easier to do partner work. This is another reason I’m quite hesitant to dance ballet or jazz again.

Lifting weights obviously takes a large chunk of time out of my life, which I would otherwise likely be spending in dance class. Strangely enough, I can be content with dancing once a week, but I feel antsy if I don’t lift at least three days per week.

One thing many people ask me is if I would allow my own daughter to do ballet, knowing exactly what it entails. I think, if I was to have a daughter, I would allow her to do whatever she wanted but be there to support her during the inevitably difficult times.

martha graham

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I can’t believe I’m admitting this on my public weight lifting blog, but if I had to choose between dancing and lifting, I would choose dancing. It has been a part of my life for such a long time, I honestly can’t imagine living without it. Nothing else relaxes me or makes me as happy as dancing does.

Have you ever been a dancer? Do you successfully maintain two separate physical hobbies?

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