Today, we will be discussing the promotion of body neutrality and inclusivity in the professional dance space, led by Megan. Megan will share her experiences in the industry and provide insight on how we can encourage body neutrality across all levels of the dance community. Our goal is to foster a culture where we no longer need to have conversations about body image with our students in the future.
How do we promote body neutrality and inclusivity in the professional dance space?
Welcome to beyond the StEPS
Joining us today is Megan Bone, a professional dancer based in New York City. In addition to her successful performing career, Megan is the founder of Dance from Home, an online company that has recently been relaunched in 2023. The company offers musical theater themed fitness dance and industry workshops, aimed at helping Broadway enthusiasts reconnect with the joy of live performance. Megan strongly believes that the dance space is inclusive and welcomes everyone, and we'll be discussing this topic with her in more detail later in the episode.
Megan: At the age of three, I began my journey in dance as a studio and competition dancer. Throughout my childhood, I also explored musical theater and participated in dance teams during high school. Despite my passion for dance, my parents encouraged me to attend college, so I auditioned for seven different college dance programs. Unfortunately, I was rejected from all of them, but I was able to secure admission into UC Irvine due to my good grades. With a determination to become a dancer, I re-auditioned for the dance program during my freshman year and successfully completed the entire program. While I initially intended to pursue a career as a concert dancer, my interest in musical theater was reignited during my junior year of college. I began training at the drama department and ultimately graduated with a degree in dance, before moving to New York City.
Your persistence was admirable, it seemed like you possessed that determination to succeed no matter what. Did you ever reach a point where you considered pursuing a different path, or were you always certain that dance was your calling in life?
Megan: I consider myself fortunate to have always known that dance was my passion and never felt the need to pursue any other career path. Instead of changing direction, I have always looked for ways to expand upon my existing interests and find new ways to create and innovate within the dance industry. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Our discussion will revolve around the promotion of body neutrality and inclusivity within the professional dance space. Can you explain the difference between body positivity and body neutrality, and why it's essential to understand this difference and convey this message?
From my perspective, body positivity is a movement that is primarily led by marginalized bodies, and as someone who does not identify as a body rights activist, I do not focus my studies in that area. Instead, I tend to lean towards body neutrality, where I acknowledge that my body may fluctuate and have good and bad days. What I love about body neutrality is the concept of separating your feelings about yourself as a human being from your physical appearance. Regardless of how you feel about your looks, you know that your value as a person is not tied to it. For me, remaining neutral is crucial, and I acknowledge my positive and negative feelings without judgment. Ultimately, I believe that my worth extends beyond the way I look.
I think what's truly awesome about Megan Bone is that she values herself throughout all of her experiences. This is something that I try to cultivate in dance and in all aspects of my life. By focusing on body neutrality, we can release the pressure to always be positive or in a good space. Instead, we accept ourselves for who we are.
For those who are aspiring to become professional dancers, there can be many challenges surrounding body image. Some of the challenges that I faced while establishing my career included feeling pressure to maintain a certain weight or body type, being judged based on my appearance, and feeling like I didn't belong because of my body. These challenges can be amplified in a professional dance setting where physical appearance is often a key factor in casting decisions. However, by focusing on body neutrality, we can learn to appreciate ourselves for who we are, regardless of our physical appearance, and cultivate a healthier relationship with our bodies.
Megan: I believe the most significant challenge I faced in my career as a professional dancer regarding body image was constantly being told to lose weight. This has been the case since I was 10 years old. However, as I have grown older and gained more experience, I have realized that my body size doesn't matter. I wasn't a better dancer when I was smaller, nor was I a better dancer when I was bigger. Trying to conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty took a toll on my body, and that was the real challenge. Looking back, I wish I had listened to myself more and less to other people. I think it would have prevented me from putting my body through so much unnecessary stress. In summary, the biggest obstacle I faced was not trusting my own feelings and opinions about my body.
As a successful professional dancer, you have established yourself and your career through hard work. Looking back, you realize that you should have listened to yourself more instead of conforming to others' expectations. What advice would you give to aspiring dancers who feel like they need to conform to succeed and fear not getting booked or missing out on opportunities if they don't? As someone who is now at a more selective stage of their career with offers coming in frequently, how would you advise struggling dancers just starting out?
Megan:I would suggest to that struggling dancer that if someone is trying to change something about you in order to impress them, that is a red flag. You shouldn't be seeking the approval of people who don't love and accept you for who you are. Instead, look for other job opportunities where you can be yourself and surround yourself with people who embrace you. It may not be the exact job you had in mind, but if you are true to yourself, doors will eventually open up for you. It's important to build a strong relationship with yourself based on your own values and beliefs, rather than solely on the opinions of others. Ultimately, if you show up as yourself every day, opportunities will arise that align with who you truly are.
Indeed, the energy that someone exudes and their authenticity can make a big difference in auditions and castings. It's something that can be felt by the people who are hiring, and it can even have an impact on their decision-making process. Being genuine and true to yourself is always important, and it can be just as important as having strong technical skills.
Megan: I think in dance, there's often a fear of things not happening and feeling the need to please everyone to avoid being blacklisted or missing out on opportunities. But that's not true. As a young dancer, I thought I had to people-please all the time, which just left me exhausted and working with people I didn't really care for. It's challenging, but as soon as you free yourself from that, you can find the people you want to work with and who want to work with you. As for techniques to get in a self-affirming headspace, I have a full routine. A big part of it started when I went on social media, especially TikTok in early 2021. I found that creating my own content gave me a creative voice that came from within myself, and that was successful and responded well from other people on the internet. I no longer sought validation from others; the creative energy was coming from within me, and I thought that was really special. So, I always encourage dancers and anyone to create, whether it's video content or anything else. As for my routine, I wake up every morning and journal for 15 minutes. I have a list of things I'm grateful for, and I also set intentions for the day. I meditate, and I also do a physical practice of dance, yoga, or Pilates to get my body moving and connected. Finally, I have affirmations that I say to myself daily to reinforce positive beliefs about myself.
Megan, the topic of inclusivity in the dance world has gained a lot of attention in recent years, and we've been having a lot of conversations about it. In your opinion, what is it about the dance world that creates a culture where inclusivity is such a big issue? Why do we keep needing to have this conversation, and why are dancers affected by this?
Megan: In Western culture, dance was primarily founded on ballet being introduced to America, and Balanchine's works set the standard for what we see as dance in the United States. The bodies that he hired and created work on formed the foundation of the art form, much like any civilization or government. Despite being drawn from other cultures, this is what dance was when it began in the US. Consequently, the root of everything is thin, small, and white, making it challenging to change when that is what dance is built on in the US. This is why conversations about inclusivity continue, but it's worth noting that this is a recent development, and change won't happen overnight.
On the Apolla side, we often talk about how little progress has been made in footwear over the last 50 years. So for us to introduce a sock that can support your foot, it can be a big adjustment for people to accept. It's challenging across the industry, and I appreciate your point because it applies to dance as a whole. It takes time for changes to happen. With that said, do you feel encouraged by the progress being made in body neutrality and inclusivity? Have you seen progress in the professional space since you started?
Megan: I consider myself fortunate to receive a lot of feedback and messages from my followers and community, and I am confident that I am making a positive impact on their lives. However, I cannot say that the area of dance where I work is making significant progress in terms of inclusivity. It's easy to declare that you want to be inclusive on a casting call, but actually hiring a diverse group is another thing entirely. I believe that we are still in a phase where everyone talks about wanting inclusivity, but we're not quite there yet in terms of making it a reality. All I can do is continue to be myself and lead by example. It's a challenging situation, but I think it's alright.
I understand your point. It's difficult to measure how much impact these conversations have and how much actual change is happening. That's why it's crucial to keep having these discussions, even if it gets exhausting. Eventually, something will stick, and that's what leads to change. It's important to share these conversations with decision-makers and leaders who can make a difference.
Do you think it's easier to deal with issues of body neutrality and inclusivity once you've established yourself in the industry, or is it more challenging when you're trying to make a name for yourself? Does success make it easier to navigate these issues?
Megan: I believe it's a bit of both, actually. On one hand, the more influence and power someone has, the more they can drive change, so in that sense, it may become easier to deal with issues of body neutrality and inclusivity once you've established yourself. I feel fortunate to have influence and be able to make a positive impact. However, as you grow in popularity, you become more open to feedback, both positive and negative. In the dance industry, where tradition and aesthetics are deeply ingrained, it can be challenging to be reduced to just your body, especially when people label you as a certain body type. It can take a toll on your mental health, and I had to cut down on the content I was putting out in 2022. I try to stay in my lane, tune out the noise, and not take what others say to heart as much. So, while there may be some advantages to being established, it still comes with its own set of challenges.
Yes, it definitely makes sense and it's something that requires practice. Some ways to deal with it are journaling, meditating, and putting on blinders to focus on what matters. It's important to listen to the people who love and support you and ignore the rest.
Regarding promoting body neutrality and inclusivity, as a studio dancer in the competitive space, what do you think educators and leaders should do to address these issues for kids so they don't face similar challenges in the future?
Megan: I believe that dance teachers should limit themselves to their expertise and focus on their craft. While some teachers may have certifications in certain areas such as strength training or nutrition, it's important to recognize that they may not be fully knowledgeable or qualified in those fields. Instead, I suggest bringing in other professionals who are credible and specialized in those areas to provide advice and guidance. It's also important to consider whether it's appropriate to discuss topics like dieting with underage students. As a dance teacher, the focus should be on correcting and improving dance technique without any emphasis on body image. Ultimately, the priority should be on the art and craft of dance itself.
I believe it's important to create a network of professionals who are certified in specific areas such as nutritionists, mental health experts, and other related fields. This network can be made available to your dancers so that you don't have to provide services that you may not be knowledgeable about. Build a team of experts who have the know-how and expertise, and lean on them for their knowledge. It's important to find local resources and make them available to your dancers so that they have access to the support and guidance they need. In summary, building a network and team of experts is crucial in promoting a safe and inclusive environment for your dancers.
Megan: Children are perceptive and can pick up on everything you say, so as an instructor, if you have negative body image or engage in negative self-talk and expose your students to it, it will have an impact on them. Therefore, I would advise leaders of any dance space to work on their own confidence, positive body image, and engage in self-help work because that will have a positive influence on your students.
How can a young dancer maintain their confidence when there is so much negativity on social media and they are still trying to navigate challenges? What advice do you have for them to feel empowered and be themselves when entering a dance room?
Megan: I always remind myself of the quote "comparison is a thief of joy." Once you start comparing yourself to others, you lose your own happiness. So, I try to knock down that negative thought and remind myself that there is only one Megan Bowen, and there's only one me. It's not egotistical to recognize that we all have unique superpowers. Comparing myself to others is a disservice to myself, and it's not productive to compare myself to someone else in my class, team, or any other situation. I've trained myself to believe that I cannot become anyone else, nor can anyone become me. We all have different things to offer, and I remind myself of that every day. Once I fully embrace this mindset, it becomes easier to show up, do my thing, and then move on.
It seems like you've been mentioning how parents, dance studio owners, educators, and leaders can all play a role in helping children build confidence and resilience. However, ultimately, the only person who has full control over their own narrative and mindset is oneself. Therefore, it's important to strengthen and work on one's own mind and perspective, as this is something that can be controlled, unlike external factors such as the behavior of dance educators, audition organizers, or even one's parents. It's essential to focus on what one can control and react positively to situations, rather than letting external factors dictate one's mindset.
Megan: It's important to acknowledge that everyone's situation is different and we can't simply say that you can control everything. Factors such as home life, upbringing, and environment can vary greatly from person to person. However, recognizing that these differences exist and finding ways to control what you can within your own circumstances is a good starting point. So, it's important to take action within your means and work on strengthening your own mind and resilience.
It's challenging for adults to fully understand and implement the concepts we are discussing, and it's even more difficult for children to navigate these issues as their brains are not fully developed yet. However, it would be irresponsible to have this conversation without addressing some strategies that parents and educators can use to support their children. One crucial step is to limit social media use. I recently saw a discussion online about whether parents should allow their children to have Snapchat, and the overwhelming response was a resounding "no." Despite this, many kids still use social media platforms. I believe that social media plays a significant role in shaping children's self-perceptions, and it can either be a tool for good or for evil. Therefore, it is essential to find ways to protect children until they are mature enough to handle the self-preservation and self-work we're asking of them. What strategies do you suggest for parents and educators to help their children stay safe and healthy in the age of social media?
Megan: I would suggest to parents and educators is to encourage children to use social media as a creative outlet rather than a platform for consumption. As someone who uses social media, I constantly ask myself who I am following and make sure to only follow people who bring me joy and don't make me feel bad about myself. I unfollowed a thousand people on Instagram and now my feed is full of content that makes me happy and engaged. There's a study that shows humans can only actively have authentic relationships with up to 120 people, so it's important to narrow down who you're surrounding yourself with on social media.
For parents who are worried about their children being on social media, I suggest allowing them to create content but limiting who can see it. Maybe only allow family members to follow their accounts. If children are only consuming content on social media, that's where negativity can start to come in. Encouraging them to be creators rather than consumers can help protect their mental health and wellbeing.
That's a really insightful perspective that I haven't heard before. It's great the way you put it. As for the topic of children turning 10, my child will be turning 10 in March, and I'm already feeling anxious about it. I don't want to isolate him from his peers, but I also don't want to expose him to harmful content. It's a delicate balance to strike, and I'm not sure what the right approach is.
Megan: According to another study, which I cannot recall the exact percentage for at the moment, but I can send it to you later, over 50 percent of kids want to become social media influencers, YouTubers, and creators. They aspire to be creators rather than actors or other professions. Parents need to educate their children that being on social media is a creative job, and creators should not just consume content. They can consume content to get a few trends and sounds they like, but the focus should be on creating content. Kim Kardashian shared her approach to managing her kid North's social media use in a recent interview. She lets North create videos, but doesn't allow her to scroll or consume content. This way, she can be creative without being exposed to negativity.
Another point to consider is that parents can disable comments and likes on their child's social media accounts to prevent them from being exposed to negative feedback. This can turn social media into a purely creative outlet for children, without the pressure of seeking validation through likes or comments. However, do you think that social media has an impact on the issues we face regarding body positivity and inclusivity?
Megan: Definitely, I fully agree. Social media can have a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing, especially with the prevalence of cyberbullying and online harassment. People feel like they can say anything behind a screen, and it can be incredibly hurtful. It's crucial to protect children from these negative experiences and turn off comments and likes until they are old enough to handle it. Even as someone whose job is in social media, I would not allow my child to have comments or likes until they are 18.
To clarify, it's important to note that while Megan may have the ability to handle the responsibilities and challenges that come with social media, children may not be as equipped to deal with them. It's important for parents to consider this when deciding whether to allow their children to have social media accounts, and to closely monitor and regulate their usage.
Megan: So, how do you explain to a child that their parents or guardians are not allowing them to use social media? Well, I think you can start by explaining to them that the purpose of social media is to be a creative outlet and to create content, and if they are not interested in doing that, then they can simply follow family and friends. You can emphasize the importance of being a creator rather than just a consumer, and explain that social media can have negative effects on mental health and well-being. It's important to have an open and honest conversation with them and to listen to their concerns as well.
For our StEPS Homework What task or action would you recommend to our audience to promote body neutrality?
Megan: My suggestion for a positive step forward in body neutrality would be to go on social media, such as Instagram or TikTok, and unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. This can include me, you, or anyone else who doesn't align with your values. By cultivating a community that reflects your values, you can positively impact your own self-perception. It's important to focus on yourself and your well-being, so take some time off your phone and journal to understand why you don't feel good about your body. You might find that much of it comes from what you consume, so be mindful of what you allow into your life.
I have to confess something. I struggled with some health issues towards the end of last year, and it turned out to be due to the stress and anxiety that had been building up in me for years. So, when the New Year began, I decided to start taking care of myself by meditating, journaling, and reading books about healthy mindsets and self-care. But I have to admit, journaling has been difficult for me. It sounds simple, but it's a hard skill to master because it requires deep thinking and brutal honesty with yourself. I'm having a tough time with it, and I know others struggle with it too.
Megan: I think that's a great suggestion. Mel Robbins' High Five Theory is a powerful way to start your day with a positive mindset. By giving yourself a high five in the mirror, you can trick your brain into feeling more confident and optimistic about yourself. It's a simple but effective way to boost your self-esteem and set a positive tone for the day. Even if you struggle with journaling, you can start with this small step of giving yourself a high five in the morning. It might feel uncomfortable or silly at first, but with practice, it can become a powerful habit that helps you build a more positive relationship with yourself.
Yes, exactly. It's about associating positive reinforcement with yourself and building a habit of self-compassion and self-love. It can be difficult to break the cycle of negative self-talk, but incorporating small daily habits like the high five can make a big difference in building a healthier mindset. Mel Robbins has a podcast and there's a recent episode titled "The High Five Theory" that discusses this concept. It's also available on YouTube with a title similar to "5 Seconds to Change Your Life." I find her method of the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown helpful for getting things done when lacking motivation or energy. Simply count backward from five and then take action, whether it's delivering difficult news, getting out of bed, or tackling a task you've been procrastinating on.
Megan: I believe it's mainly about training your mind until you truly believe that you deserve calmness and ease. Personally, I have this mindset where I consider myself fortunate in every situation, and I express gratitude for it. If you find it hard to write it down, you can speak it out loud. It's something I strongly believe in, although it might sound a bit silly.
It's not a little thing, actually. These are all simple techniques, and that's what I'm trying to focus on - things that are easy to maintain. I'm asking myself, what are the things I want to do to start my day off right? That's what I'm currently working on, so all of this is very intriguing to me.
Megan: I believe that some individuals associate journaling with the need to maintain a positive outlook all the time, but in reality, a significant portion of my journaling involves expressing all the negative thoughts and emotions that are occupying my mind. I find it therapeutic to transfer these thoughts onto paper, and it allows me to release them. It's similar to arguing with someone, but instead, you're arguing with a piece of paper. There's no judgment, and you're free to express whatever you want. Afterward, you're left with a sense of relief, and it can change your entire day.
Before we started the live stream, I was telling you about my business, Dance From Home. It's a virtual dance studio that provides online dance classes for people to take from the comfort of their own homes. We offer a variety of styles, including hip hop, contemporary, and jazz, and we have classes for all levels, from beginners to advanced dancers. Our goal is to make dance accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their location or schedule.
Megan: Dance From Home is now in its third year and was completely rebranded and relaunched at the beginning of this year. The podcast used to be centered around Broadway themes, but now it focuses on helping people fall in love with fitness and dance and make it a consistent part of their routine. Dance From Home is an online platform that offers on-demand videos to help people enjoy fitness and dance from the comfort of their homes.
To get in touch with me, you can follow me on my social media channels, which are all under the handle @MeganBowen_ (that's M-E-G-A-N-B-O-W-E-N underscore).