Now that we’ve tackled how to move past resistance to exercising and we’ve come up with some suggestions for building your fitness level no matter what your size. Now let’s get an extra boost of motivation from a fat competitive dancing champion, founder of the Body Positive Dance School, and all around awesome woman, Ragen Chastain (shown at right).
Golda: Tell me a little about what you do.
Ragen: I am a competitive dancer who founded Body Positive Dance School and Company in order to make sure that dance is accessible to people of all sizes, to forward the principles of Health at Every Size, and to challenge stereotypes about dancers of size.
Golda: How long have you been involved in dancing? What about competitive dancing?
Ragen: I’ve danced and choreographed my whole life: jazz, cheer-leading, drill team, figure skating, swing choir, etc. I started competing in Country Western dance in 2004.
Golda: I think a lot of us assume that you have to be very thin to be accepted in competitive dance. How did you get past that assumption?
Ragen: It isn’t always easy to be accepted as a dancer when you have a non-traditional body. I’m lucky to have a lot of natural talent at dance and as an athlete. I also work very hard, and I love to perform. I never use my size as an excuse, and I have a continuing goal to be stronger, faster and more flexible than the traditionally sized dancer with whom I compete. While it may not be fair, people my size are judged by a different standard – anytime something goes wrong there is a tendency to just blame my weight, which, while seemingly obvious, has never been the actual problem. I’ve never found an issue in my dancing that better technique couldn’t fix!
Even so, when I first started there were judges who told me that they wouldn’t raise my scores until I lost weight, and a judge once told me that she couldn’t stand to look at me because my arms were too fat. Conversely I have had plenty of people who watched from the crowd tell me that I am an inspiration to them. I might even go so far as to say that I’ve been a crowd favorite. In my favorite incident a little girl came up to me with her Dad trailing behind. She told me that her Dad wouldn’t let her sign up for dance because she was too fat. While I was standing there he apologized to her, told me that I was amazing, and agreed to sign her up for dance class the next day. While I’ve had competitive success – including three National Championships – I find that by concentrating on being an artist and entertainer rather than concentrating on getting anyone’s approval, dancing has more meaning for me, and I am happier doing it.
Golda: What are your dance classes like?
Ragen: The classes are choreography based rather than technique based. That means that we focus on having fun moving our bodies rather than on having perfect technique. We always start with a reminder of the main rule – that there is absolutely no talking about weight loss in the class. We create a space in which we are more interested in what our bodies do than what they look like. We always start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. In between we might do musical theater, modern, jazz, Latin or other styles of dance. The most important thing is that we have a blast.
Golda: What would you recommend to someone who wants to be more active but isn’t sure where to start?
Ragen: The people I have seen be the most successful at becoming more active have done so with a goal to enjoy activity and appreciate their bodies, rather than just focusing on trying to change their size or shape. Before you even try to become more active, start by appreciating your body for everything it does right now – whatever that might be. Just the simple things: your heart is beating, you are breathing etc. Keep the focus on appreciating all of the things that your amazing body does for you, and try a bunch of things to find out what you like to do – whether it’s yoga, dancing, kayaking or something else.
Golda: Please tell me more about the Body Positive Movement.
Ragen: My understanding of the Body Positive Movement is a journey to a place where we don’t make judgments about ourselves or others based on their size, whether they weigh 80 pounds or 500 pounds. A place where people’s self-esteem is not linked to their body size.
Golda: Where can people find you and your classes?
Ragen: All of the information about the classes (including videos of the Performing Company and the ability to sign up for our Body Positive Newsletter) is at www.bodypositive.org. My personal blog is at www.danceswithfat.org
Thanks, Ragen, for sharing your inspiring story with us!
Remember, we have lots of new and exciting offers at Body Love Wellness! Starting October 7, I’m teaching a 3 week teleclass to support you in your intuitive eating and body love journey. Register now to secure your spot! And for the New Yorkers, I now have office hours in Manhattan on Wednesdays! Email me or leave a comment below to set up your consultation.