It can be hard to stay body positive when you grow up in a dance studio.
There’s always people who think that it is okay to critique other people’s bodies, to comment on their weight or to tell them they need to shave any visible trace of body hair. I started taking dance classes when I was in kindergarten, before I had any idea what it felt like to be self-conscious. When puberty hit and my body began to go through a series of physical changes, I couldn’t help but feed into some of the body-shaming that other dancers threw around.
After I got my first period, I would nervously anticipate the imminent week every month during which I would have to show up at my dance studio in little more than tights and a leotard while menstruating. Dance attire is purposefully made of thin material that conforms to your body to make it easy for your instructor to see the technique of your movements. But that same lack of coverage means that every part of your body is on display at all times.
I would walk into class convinced that everyone would be able to tell that I was on my period. Would they be able to see the outline of my pad through my leotard? If I wore a skirt or shorts over my leotard, would everyone know that I was trying to cover any potential leaks?
Add to that anxiety the one that came with managing cramps and bloating, while wearing compressive, tight-fitting clothes, and it was a monthly nightmare for me.
I noticed on multiple occasions that menstrual pain altered the fluidity of my movements or hindered my endurance during across-the-floor exercises. But the reality was that for as painful, or uncomfortable, as the week was for me, it was never enough to warrant any slack being cut. Menstrual pain was not treated as a legitimate reason for feeling fatigued or being off your dance game.
The world of dance tends to value appearance over comfort. When recital time rolled around, my dance instructors would advise my class to go commando on-stage to help minimize the bulk and the bulging of our costumes. Dance costumes are notoriously itchy thanks to the abundance of glitter and sequins that typically adorn the bodices. The thought of forgoing underwear and having that irritating fabric brush right up against your skin sounds unpleasant enough, but having to worry about your period leaking straight through your costume on-stage is an even worse thought.
On most recital weekends, not only am I worried about nailing down the routine, but because of how taboo the subject of menstruating is in the studio, I’m also worried about tampon strings peeking out of my leotard or not having enough time to change menstrual products in-between dance numbers.
I’m not sure whether I’ll ever be totally comfortable with dancing while on my period. The potential for leakage will probably always be at the back of my mind and dealing with menstrual pain may never get easier. But if I have learned one thing over the course of my dance career it’s to never feel ashamed for getting my period. Menstruation is difficult for all dancers to manage. There aren’t many period related issues that I can encounter that another dancer before me hasn’t already experienced. Embarrassment over a natural bodily function shouldn’t prevent someone from feeling confident in their body, whether on the stage or in the studio.