By Juli Goetz Morser
For Vashon Center for the Arts
Body image. Body shaming. Eating disorders. These are difficult issues commonly experienced by dancers and athletes pressured to conform to particular physical and aesthetic standards, and often affecting others who live in a culture focused on appearances. Yet open and public conversations about such sensitive topics are not so common.
Vashon Center for the Arts has collaborated with former professional ballerina Connie Flachs to present “Shaping Movement: An Embodied Conversation on Dance and Body Image,” a panel of dancers and therapists designed to illuminate these cultural problems — the expectations and isolation; the deconstruction of damaging status quos and need for compassionate community — that play out in ballet, modern dance, hip hop, and intersect with race, gender and sexuality.
Part of the Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA) lecture series, “Talks on the Rock,” the event will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 24, at VCA.
The idea for the panel, which will include an experiential aspect, began with the musings of VCA Executive Director, Allison Reid. Her commitment to bringing more regional dance to VCA and the Vashon community has led to partnerships with Seattle Dance Collective and Whim W’Him Contemporary Dance, as well as performances by Gansango Music and Dance and Kinesis Project Dance Theatre.
“Our growing interest as a performing arts center in the evolving issues that the dance world is facing has become a topic of numerous conversations amongst our staff,” Reid said, “Understanding subjects like body image and racial diversity within the dance world is part of the work we must do as an organization to help our dancers and to move forward and grow. It seemed like an excellent opportunity to invite professionals in the field of dance to Vashon and hold an event that could shed light, educate us, and start a dialogue with us, and most importantly, our community.”
Thanks to a recommendation from Olivier Wevers, founder of Whim W’Him, Reid was introduced to Flachs, who co-founded Grand Rapids’ Better Body Image Conference, and soon the two were making plans for VCA to bring the event to life.
Flachs chose panelists who not only address the topics professionally but also share their personal stories “to help people better understand body image in dance and the rest of the world; to know they are not alone feeling uncomfortable in their body; to see how racist and patriarchal views have shaped and promoted certain appearances, and to leave knowing how to connect with resources in their area.”
Panelists are drawn from a range of practices. Josh Spell has danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) from 2001 to 2011 before becoming a clinical social worker. He’s helped patients with eating disorders and now consults as the therapist for the PNB school and Whim W’Him.
Executive Director of PRICEarts and founding member of PRICEarts Never Ending Work dance project, Noelle Price is an adjunct instructor at Cornish College, a presenter at the Dance Educators Association of Washington conference and co-chair of the Black Alumni Advisory Council at West Michigan University.
Monica Van Winkle is a dietitian specializing in sports and wellness nutrition, and the nutritional management of eating disorders. She’s trained physicians at Swedish Sports Medicine Program, worked as a sports dietitian for the Seattle Mariners and the University of Washington Athletics, and is the sports dietitian for PNB and Seattle Pacific University.
Dani Tirrell is a Black, trans-spectrum, queer choreographer, dancer, movement guide, part-time lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Dance, curator of Seattle’s Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, and creator and host of several online talk programs.
Erica Lynette Edwards danced with The Joffrey Ballet for 15 years before founding Cultivating Better Tomorrows, a consulting company that “reshapes the dynamics of performing arts communities to produce environments where all can thrive.” Committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, she facilitates results-driven workshops focused on reflection and knowledge building.
Like many of the panelists, Flachs’ personal story informs her professional drive to help fellow dancers and anyone wrestling with body image. The daughter of two professional dancers, Flachs began ballet “late in life, at age 13.” After intensive training at Massachusetts Academy of Ballet and Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, she joined Grand Rapids Ballet Company, where she danced for eight years under the direction of Patricia Barker, the former renowned PNB principal ballerina and James Sofranko, a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet.
During her last two years, Flachs co-founded the Better Body Image Conference “to help create cultural and social change in the way bodies are viewed to improve mental, physical and social health.”
“I needed a community to talk about body struggles and find resources for healing and acceptance,” Flachs said. “The conference showed me I wasn’t the only one struggling and that allowed me to keep showing up in the studio.”
Fortunately, the dance world is cracking open, she said, with more companies performing a variety of styles and movements, and that makes room for different bodies. But she stressed that change also needs to come from the top down.
“Dance is both athletic and artistic,” she said. “A lot of artistic directors want dancers to be healthy, but they need to widen their view and that means committing to a true balance of health and aesthetics.”
Flachs added that there is plenty left to explore in the fields of dance and therapy, including taking a look at corporate influences.
“We are in a tough world between the industrialized food system pushing cheap food and diet culture pushing weight loss,” she said. “It’s not surprising that people are struggling with body image. The panel will be a great conversation starter about these topics that need to be talked about and examined.”
For more information and to purchase tickets to the talk, visit vashoncenterforthearts.org.