When my daughter first started dancing at age 5, I wasn't really sure if the idea of being on stage and performing was going to become a passion of hers or something she did for a season until she found another activity to participate in.
I was secretly hoping she would pick the second option and try something that did not require me to do make-up and be responsible for the perfect bun.
A dance mom, I am not.
But after her first performance, we both knew that dancing was in her blood. Now, at age 9, she continues to move across the stage with style and grace and a sense of confidence I don’t see in other parts of her life.
A sense of confidence that almost didn't come to be when, for a split second, I almost chose to listen to the wrong message.
It was after one of her ballet classes, while a group of moms was chatting about their daughters' long lean legs, one of the mom’s turned to me and said, “Are you sure you should encourage her to dance (referring to my daughter)?”
Slightly curious about what this very nosey and seasoned dance mom was implying, I took the bait and asked what she meant by that comment. “Well she doesn’t really have a dancer’s body, and she is just going to continue to get more muscular and bigger," she said "It seems like she is built more like her dad. Maybe she should try softball of swimming.”
Fortunately, the studio that my daughter dances in is full of all types of bodies and skill levels, so this one mom’s perception of what a dancer should look like was not the belief of the majority. It was certainly not the message I was going to buy into.
She is a great dancer. Period. “Dancer’s body” or not, she can move in ways that many of us can’t, and that is what should be celebrated.
So last week, when a video of 15-year-old Lizzy Howell, from Milford, Del., started making the rounds, I was again reminded that we still have some work to do when it comes to truly accepting girls and women’s bodies for what they are capable of doing, regardless of their size.
This now viral video shows Lizzy effortlessly doing 11 fouettes in a row before ending the sequence with a series of pirouettes. Rather than focusing on the sheer talent and amazing skills of this gifted dancer, what so many people have chosen to focus on instead is the size of her body. One article even starts their lead with this statement: “A plus-size teenage ballerina has been dubbed an inspiration.”
Lizzy has been making headlines all week about what the media is describing as “going against the stereotypes” of what a dancer’s body looks like. And she is getting quite a bit of attention from the body positivity movement. Yet I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we approached this video with one simple thought in mind: she is just another 15-year old doing what she loves.
She is a great dancer. Period. “Dancer’s body” or not, she can move in ways that many of us can’t, and that is what should be celebrated. That is what should be applauded. Her grace and style; elegance and talent, is what we should notice and comment on.
'It shouldn't matter how much I weigh, the only thing that should matter is my passion for dance.'
And the good news is that it’s obvious lots of people are noticing how mesmerizing her dancing can be. The video that appears on her Instagram account has been viewed some 206,000 times with 1,750 comments ranging from “she’s so good,” to “amazing—you are so inspirational, best dancer in the world.” Lizzy has also acquired 63.2k followers on her lizzy.dances account.
She has been so inundated with friend requests on her personal Facebook page that she started a community page called Lizzy.dances for people to stay up-to-date on her dancing adventures.
And the message she is sending on social media is one all of us need to hear.
“It shouldn't matter how much I weigh, the only thing that should matter is my passion for dance,” she says. “I like being a role model to others, especially to younger girls struggling to find themselves. I don’t like being called a ‘plus sized’ dancer because if I can do everything anyone else can, why should I be categorized differently?”
Just in case we need one more reason to love this brilliant 15-year-old, she has recently been named an ambassador for Dancing for You, an awareness campaign for dancers with disabilities. Lizzy speaks openly about her struggle with pseudotumor cerebri on the groups Instagram feed with this inspiring message: “Not only do I suffer from pseudo tumor, but I have severe anxiety, which has caused me to go into depression. Dance has been a way to release this anxiety and make me happy. I will be going into my 8th production of the nutcracker, my 11th dance recital this year and, my 4th NYCDA convention. I haven't given up and neither should you!”
Dance on, Lizzy.