Dear Emma,

I’ve become so used to wearing warm up layers during classes and rehearsals that I’ve grown nervous about taking them off and revealing my body. What do you recommend?

 – 19 year-old pre-professional male ballet dancer, SA.

Dear Dancer,

 You’d be surprised at the number of your colleagues who also struggle seeing their bodies next to “naked” in the ballet studio with that unforgiving mirror glaring back at them all day long. Once upon a time we were more modestly clad, so hours in front of the glass were not so confronting. (For a good example as to how our dress has changed, I recommend you watch the Royal Ballet’s Youtube video Ballet Evolved: How ballet class has changed over the centuries.) I don’t think it is a coincidence that as our studio wear has become more revealing, tight and elastic, our technique has become cleaner and more extreme, without folds of cloth restricting movement.

 We work differently when we wear layers than when the body is revealed. It’s the sensory feedback and appearance of what we wear or leave uncovered that subtly but significantly affects our dancing.

 For the pulled-up ballet aesthetic with its tightly closed fifth positions and fast batterie work, bare ballet tights are definitely the thing with a simple leotard, or t-shirt for men, or a unitard, which makes you aware of how level your hips, lifted your waist, relaxed your diaphragm and dropped your shoulders are. Layers on top of this, which conceal your body or give the wrong sensory feedback, can subtly disturb your technique.

 However, in other choreographic styles or genres of dance, layers of fabric or even naked skin can be liberating and provide feedback that can be more helpful to the quality of movement. Floppy fabric helps you find softness and fold in the joints for some contemporary work, while bare legs lend themselves to developing a raw physicality appropriate to other contemporary styles. How you dress and present yourself should be appropriate to the class and desired outcome.

 In some cases taking off your warm-up kit is simply a matter of respect. Dancers can appear blasé and arrogant if they don’t shed the sweat pants for a teacher. And most teachers and directors are well aware when dancers are trying to hide themselves under their woollens. Look at it like this: while you may not intend it, hiding your body is sending out a message that you want to be left alone and ignored.

 Honesty about your body is the most important thing as a dancer. You have to take off those layers so that you can see your body and learn to accept it. If you’re used to wearing layers, taking them off can be scary at first and you’ll probably invite a few comments from your colleagues. Don’t worry. The novelty will pass quickly and you’ll be left to work the way you should.

 Keep in mind the image you see in the mirror isn’t the whole truth. It is a projection of how you see yourself. In addition, you are only seeing two-dimensional static shapes, and dancing is multi-dimensional movement. The people around you see your energy, emotion and quality as you move through space.

 Once you accept the skin you’re in you can truly dance to your fullest.

 So I suggest:

 1. Firstly find yourself ballet kit that you like and that makes you feel good! There are plenty of wonderful brands out there to choose from.

 2. For ballet classes and rehearsals (which aren’t of that long drawn-out, patience-requiring kind) dress as minimally as appropriate – sometimes girls have to wear tutus or skirts for rehearsals and boys might have to wear vests or jackets to get accustomed to the costume.

 3. Stop judging yourself in the mirror (or comparing your body with others around you). Take a look occasionally to check lines and alignment, otherwise, dance freely and fully and glory in your wonderful body and the movement it makes.

 Pictured above is of the Australian Ballet's Amy Harris, photographed by Taylor-Ferne Morris.

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