The professional Ballet world is known to be very unforgiving of appearance and body shape for both males and females, often forcing dancers to feel pressurised to look a certain way from a very young age. Over time, these standards have become ingrained in the Ballet industry with the ‘Ballerina body’ often being more and more unattainable each year as dancers are expected to have flatter turn out, lift their legs even higher, and perform as many as ten pirouettes or turns consecutively, all whilst maintaining a traditionally low weight. This has led to a variety of mental health issues, eating disorders and eating-related problems, and has subsequently made countless numbers of dancers feel that Ballet is not, and will never be, for them as they are unable to fit the traditional Ballet mould. Here at UEA Ballet, we have all struggled with battling against the Ballerina body stereotypes, experiencing first-hand the pressures to try and fit in, whether we have danced our whole lives or only for a few years.

The reason that we dance is because we love it; we love the freedom, the rush of adrenaline, the satisfaction of improving or getting things right. Without these feelings, the essence of dance would be lost and so in order to remind all of our members that Ballet is for everyone no matter what you look like, we launched our first ever body positivity campaign called ‘Love Your Leo’. The aim of the week-long campaign at the beginning of February, was to ensure that our members felt comfortable, like they belonged at the barre, and that they knew that Ballet truly is for everyone regardless of size, gender, race, religion, sexuality, or whatever the Ballet industry has traditionally looked like. In order to celebrate all of our members, we began a social media takeover where, for the two weeks leading up to the campaign and every day of the week itself, we chose to focus on specific professional dancers who were standing up and making a change. We looked at people such as Misty Copeland who is fighting for changes both for the acceptance of a more athletic body shape within Ballet but also for equal opportunities for dancers of colour, along with male dancers like Wayne Sleep and Erik Cavanaugh who are continually demolishing similar standards that are held for men. Along with this, we asked committee members from multiple clubs, UEA Sport and SU staff to have a photo with our whiteboard declaring why they support our campaign, and during our Saturday classes at the end of the week we asked each of our members to write a positive note on a post-it which they then stuck all over the mirrors. Our main aim was to fill our classes and social media pages with encouragement and positivity to really enforce the idea that dance is about so much more than appearances and the notion of being ‘good enough’.

Additionally, we decided that through the campaign we would raise money for two incredible charities who do a lot to offer support to those with eating disorders or eating related issues; BEAT is ‘the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders (…) or any other difficulties with food, weight, and shape’ whilst Eating Matters is a Norfolk charity offering help and support to those within Norwich and the Norfolk area with eating related problems. To raise as much as we could, we held bake sales at our classes, we asked for donations to our Just Giving page, and our committee signed up to the challenge of being sponsored to wear a leotard around campus and to lectures to promote our campaign. Over the course of the week we were able to raise more than £100, however our fundraising is not over yet! On Friday 8th March, UEA Ballet will be holding a stall in the Hive as part of International Women’s Day where we will be celebrating our campaign with the hopes to raise even more money for our two chosen charities. We have been overwhelmed with the response that such an important campaign has had and we would really like to thank all of our fellow Dance and Gymnastics clubs, UEA Sport, and UEA SU for all of the continued encouragement and support you have given us. We, of course, would also like to thank our members who are the most important people to us; you have all been utterly amazing, and we are so proud to have a club so filled with love, positivity, and care towards one another. As a result of our hard work, we were chosen to be the Sportspark’s ‘This Girl Can Event of the Month’, we were featured in the Square newsletter, and we won the Athlete Angel Social Media Award for ‘Best External Campaign’. We hope that this campaign has shown that Ballet really is for everyone and we plan to continue raising awareness of some of the unspoken issues within dance and spreading positivity throughout university sport!

Photos courtesy of UEA Ballet.