To be a Fat Dancer
- OnStage Canada Columnist
So here’s the thing: a combination of genetics and a love of chocolate have made me overweight. I use the word “fat” in the article as a descriptive word, not meant to be self-deprecating in any way.
I am also a dancer. I’ve been a competitive tap, jazz, and ballet dancer since I was 5. I took some time away from training after I graduated high school but I’ve never really stopped dancing, I just channeled it into Musical Theatre.
It’s sort of a weird juxtaposition to call myself a “fat dancer” because dancing is notoriously a fit profession and the ones who are specifically fat tend to live in their own category (see: Big Ballet). So to call myself a dancer in a semi-professional/community theatre world sometimes scares me.
When I walk into an audition or the first rehearsal with the whole cast, I know that I am being judged on my looks long before I slip on a pair of character shoes. That’s the case with every single actress who auditions, from ingénue to ensemble. There’s no hardship in walking into an audition knowing who you are and what they’re looking for and whether you can work together. The challenge, for me, comes from blending.
More often than not, I live in the ensemble – and I love it – it’s my favourite place to be, but being in an ensemble is very uniform. For dance-heavy shows, especially old classic musicals, every dancer looking and sounding the same is essential.
I stand out. That’s not a boast, that’s a statement of fact. People look at the odd man out, whether it’s the girl who just tripped in the kick line, or the girl who’s twice the size of any other dancer on stage. Step one when I started dancing in this environment was to figure out that if I’m going to stand out, I better make it count. I work hard to know the steps as perfectly as I can, and have the brightest smile I can – when the occasion calls for it. I will never give them an excuse to fire me because I don’t know what I’m doing. Step two was to decide that if I’m going to pursue my passion, I need to be at my best. I will always be a big girl no matter how much training or dancing I do, that’s a fact of life. But musical theatre is what I do and the number one thing I’ve learnt in performing arts is: confidence sells. It’s my job to convince every audition panel or new group of dancers that I belong here.
This was inspired by an article I recently read about the discrimination fat women face in the theatre community (specifically about Tracy Turnblad, the pleasantly-plump leading lady of Hairspray). It talks about the lack of roles for women and the lack of tack some people have when it comes to judging other women. Essentially it comes down to people seeing you for your body more than your talent.
Like I said: every single woman walks into an audition and is judged on their appearance; it’s a tragic by-product of pursuing a career with your body as your main tool. The problem I had with the article is that it pointed out the inequality but didn’t offer any solution.
My answer to being judged as fat rather than a dancer is this: get over it.
I know who I am, and I love what I do, but I know that I am not always going to be what directors are looking for. I stand out. I’m good at what I do but I will never be uniform. If I want to keep doing what I’m doing, I need to be the one to make it happen. If I need to audition for 100 shows before they let me dance, then that is exactly what I’ll do.
I know it’s hard – I don’t ever mean to belittle the struggles actors face in the casting process – but I’m of the mentality that if this is what you’re going to do then you need to do it. Play to your type and don’t take no for an answer. My type – and this may be something I’ll talk about later down the line – is that of the Fat Dancer. I’m big, I dance, cast me.
Photo: Kalyn West, Ryann Redmond, Jennifer Geller, Taylor Louderman. Credit: Carol Rosegg