The Fat Girl's Guide to Dance Lessons
Posted by Toni in Sports + Recreation
Jennifer Rice, owning it on the dance floor

Music and dance are universal among every human culture, and some of the most memorable moments in our lives  and in our favorite movies involve dance. (Scent of a Woman, anyone? Or perhaps you're a Singing in the Rain kind of girl).  Like music and singing, there's just something that connects us when we see the human body move, either in time with other bodies or with grace or fiery intensity on its own. While the dance community isn't quite renowned for body acceptance (yet), times are changing and new forms of dance are evolving along with them, in the arts (check out The Big Ballet), fitness (or do you prefer Vixen Fitness?) and just for fun (Heard of hooping? Read on to learn more). Maybe you've always wanted to dance but never took the time. Perhaps you're shy about putting yourself out there, or worried about any physical limitations due to your size or what shape you're in (or aren't). Girls, this is the guide for you.

What will people think of a fat girl dancing?

You know what we're going to say to this one, right? Nobody puts Baby in a corner! Sure, we make it sound easy to just get out there and shake what your mama gave you when in reality, it isn't. It's scary wondering if we'll be the biggest girl in the room, or unable to move with the rest of the class because we're novices. We're all frightened of people mocking or questioning us--it's human nature.

But taking chances on our own behalf is invigorating, and the more often we nudge our toes past our carefully padded comfort zones, the easier it becomes over time. "We women need to have as much joy in our lives as possible," says Jennifer Rice, a former competitive swing dancer, curvy girl, and founder of, a site dedicated to "hooping," a relatively new dance form using - you guessed it - hula hoops. "With all of the obligations we have these days, we need to get back to doing the things that fuel us emotionally and spiritually," she adds. "If you really want to learn how to dance, denying yourself the joy you'll feel and that you know in your heart you were meant to experience is to deny one of the reasons you were put on this earth."

What type of dance should I choose, and are there any forms I should avoid?

"There are two ways to approach this," says Rochelle Rice (no relation to Jennifer), author of Real Fitness for Real Women and a fitness and dance instructor for plus size women.  "Either try a few things to see what feels right for your body and abilities, or try some of the curvier dance classes, like African, Bollywood, or belly dancing. In Bollywood especially, the movement is slow and centered on the pelvis and the arms, providing a nice way to connect with the body."

Either way, go for something you think you'll have fun doing or that you've wanted to try for a while. "The best dance styles are the ones that fit your personality and your body," says Vanessa Isaac, a dance and fitness instructor who created the popular Brazilian Dance Workout. Isaac's favorites for beginners include: ballroom, belly dancing, modern, salsa, Brazilian, samba (and Latin dance in general), and Nia.

As far as styles to avoid, "hip hop can be hard on the joints, especially if you have an instructor who teaches dance combinations with a lot of level changes (like quickly popping up from a squatting position)," says Jennifer Rice. "Lindy hop, a form of swing dancing, can be tough on the knees for a larger girl because there's a lot of swiveling involved." That's not to say you shouldn't try these dance forms, but if you aren't limber in certain areas or have knee or other joint issues, talk with your instructor first and ask about modifying certain moves.

Where should I take lessons, and what should I look for in an instructor or class?

If you're just starting out, look for beginner level classes - local park districts, recreation centers, and community colleges usually offer beginner level courses that allow students to get a feel for a particular style. Always research what the class is about and the background of the instructor--credentials, how long he or she has been teaching, etc. "The best teachers are the ones with good fitness experience and education, are members of national associations, and are professional dancers themselves," says Isaac. Talk with students to get a sense of either the style you're interested in or a specific instructor or studio. If there's a feeling of community and support in a class, that's a good sign, says Isaac.

"Make sure to have an open dialogue with your instructor so he or she knows your individual needs," says Rochelle Rice. "Even if they have limited experience with plus size students, if they're good, they should be able to figure it out from an anatomical perspective and make modifications you can do instead." So don't be afraid to speak up in your favor if you're unsure about any aspect of a class. "Remember that the right class for you exists and you'll feel at home when you enter the room," says Isaac. "It may be uncomfortable at first, but the energy of the people and the instructor will make you feel welcome." Instructors should be responsive and attentive; if they're more into themselves than you, or don't seem receptive to having overweight students, move on and keep looking.

How should I dress?

"First and foremost, get a supportive bra like an Enell or a sports bra," says Rochelle Rice. "This protects the breasts and makes it easier to move while doing turns and other moves." Rice often sees women overdress for dance classes, which leaves them feeling overheated and flustered instead of focused on the movements. "Leave the sweatpants at home," she says. A breathable v-neck tee and leggings that aren't too thick are great for starters. Call ahead to ask what you should wear, since every type of dance will have its own attendant gear, from tap shoes to ballroom dance shoes with smooth soles that allow dancers to glide across the floor.

Are you ready to try this, girls? Please come back and tell us about it if you do. And remember, "It's not just about getting out there and doing something new, it's about holding your head high and owning it," says Jennifer Rice.

That's the FGG spirit. If that's not enough inspiration for you, here's a glimpse of how much fun it can be to get up, get out there, and dance, courtesy of Jennifer Rice: