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Breaking Dance Standards

by Imani Tornes
Atlanta, Georgia

Imani Tornes.
Imani Tornes.
Felecia Thomas and her daughter Imani Tornes are the co-owners of Reigning Victory Dance Studio where Thomas is the Artistic Director of Reigning Victory Dance Academy, Inc., located in the City of Fayetteville, Georgia. The two have a passion for dance and community. Thomas has been very active in the dance community of metro Atlanta for nearly 20 years, while her daughter has been training in dance for 14 years in dance styles like ballet, jazz, modern and African. Both are dance educators and choreographers.

I am a dancer, and I want to create change in the dance arts for full figured dancers. When you are a young child, you never really pay attention to how you look or what others think of you. However, I didn’t have a choice but to think about those things when I was younger. Kids in school would often bring attention to the fact that I wasn’t the average size for my age. I noticed that the majority of girls in my class were smaller than me. When people constantly pick apart your body, you eventually start to do the same to yourself.

Unfortunately, I brought my insecurities and lack of self-esteem into my dance space. I used to feel like I was never good enough to dance and perform on a professional level. I often felt intimidated and discouraged walking into class or dance workshops because I didn’t look like the other dancers there. I didn’t have a “dancers body,” the body that has been normalized and has now become a standard within the dance community.

We still have a long way to go before everyone is included in the world of dancing. We have to learn how to be open to trying and visualizing new things. It’s time to step outside of the box and welcome new ideas and standards, and not get too comfortable in old ways.

It seems like now your appearance is a big factor in whether you book an audition. People often judge your capability based on what you look like alone. Someone once told me that I should try not to breathe heavily after I finish a dance piece. The dance was three minutes and required a lot of energy and expression. I was also getting very emotional as the dance progressed because that’s how passionate I was about telling the story through movement. Why would they say that to me in particular?

I have come so far these past couple of years because I’ve learned that although the dance community is changing constantly, there is still more that we can all do to make this industry a home and welcoming for everyone. I am confident enough now as a full figured dancer and I know that when I dance, people are inspired by my movement. Dance isn’t about how high your kicks are or how much experience you have. It’s about your passion and spirit. This can be a very vulnerable art form, especially for those who have been discriminated against within it.

Through experiencing these challenges and obstacles, I can now be a part of a change. A change that’ll include everyone no matter what you look like and no matter where you come from. We all dance to inspire ourselves and others.


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Published in In Motion Magazine September 29, 2020