BEIRUT: “Lose 30 Kilos and come back; we’ll hire you then.” That was the response of a choreographer to an overweight woman after auditioning at a dance competition in Beirut.
Weight and height measurements continue to stand as a barrier against passionate women who aim to become professional dancers. Women dancers who apply to auditions are generally expected to weigh between 35–45 KG with a minimum height of 165 cm.
“When recruiting dancers, my colleagues still look for skinny tall women supposing that they are fitter and thus, better dancers,” said Vera Jurdi, a dance teacher and choreographer at the Russian Cultural Center, adding that these standards are mostly applicable in ballet.
Lea Al-Hajj, a young and avid dancer, is one of many who did not meet those standards.
Although her dreams of dancing were bright and colorful, her path into the field was dark and filled with challenges because of her body shape.
“The number of auditions I got rejected at because of my weight, made me question my passion for dancing,” Al-Hajj told Annahar.
“Whenever I walked into an audition I felt strange looks directed at me,” Al-Hajj explained, adding, “without saying anything people used to imply that I don’t belong here.”
According to Maha Sbaa, a psychology scholar at the University of Bologna, focusing on a women’s physical appearance rather than how her talent, enthusiasm, and energy affects her dancing potential.
“Being placed in a judgmental environment and constantly reminding someone of their insecurities is harmful on a psychological level and reflects negatively on the performance,” Sbaa explained.
Beyond the people’s looks and implications in auditions, Al-Hajj also experienced a series of repetitive hate comments over social media that at some point got her to quit dancing for a while.
“I had people commenting on my dance videos and constantly stating that I should quit dancing and find myself something else to do,” she told Annahar while explaining how it hit her a while later that she is quitting “a passion for life.”
Shortly after, Al-Hajj took the negative comments and started thinking of ways to break the stereotypes around a dancer’s body.
With major dedication, she was able to become a Hip-Hop teacher and performer.
As a dance teacher, Al-Hajj runs by the belief that every woman should be able to dance freely without being judged and discriminated by body-image.
“One of my goals is to create a dancing platform where women can feel free and confident,” she told Annahar. “I believe that my role is to remind young girls of the value of their talents and passion.”
The concept of tall and skinny female dancers is absorbed in the industry to the extent that some dance institutions only have one size of the costumes.
“When I hear about a job offering I ask first about the costumes because I already know that they won’t fit in,” Lea says. “In Lebanon, the chances where the institution designs customized outfits are rare. It’s either the costumes fits you or you’re out.”
According to Jurdi, new policies should be considered to ensure that a person’s body shape does not stand in the way of their career.
“Change starts from the decision makers, they should start recruiting dancers based on their talent, not their body shape,” choreographer Jurdi, said. “They’re the ones who set the norms and stereotypes.”
Welcome to “Naya”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment.
We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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