Dancers & Body Image | Live Q&A with Coach Kayla

Today’s Topic: Dancers & Body Image

Hi everyone.  I’m coach Kayla with Complete Performance Coaching.  I specifically work with dancers and cheerleader, but swimmers, basketball players, and football players as well. Today I’m going to talk about dancers and body damage.  I’m currently a dance teacher.  I was a professional cheerleader in the NFL for about six years and body image was always a very big topic, not only for myself but for my teammates as well.  Even my dance students now and some that I continue to work through on my own.

I thought today we could have a discussion about body image – some of the things that I’ve thought about as a dancer, some of the things I went through, and also some tips and tricks that really helped me.

Physical Appearance

The biggest thing that I went through was when I had a game on a Sunday and Saturday.  We would have practice and rehearsal and I would feel really, really confident with my physical appearance.  I had an ultimate high and I would go to sleep.  Then I would wake up Sunday morning at 4:00 AM for the game, and all of a sudden I didn’t feel good or confident about my physical appearance at all.  I was totally having negative self-talk, thinking, “Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed.  I’m not going to perform my best at the game.  All of these hundreds and thousands of fans are going to be looking at my body.”

When that happened for me, one of the tips that I found really helpful for myself was to rationalize with myself and really integrate facts, logic, and reasoning.  I would tell myself, “Okay, Kayla, what happened overnight?  I went to bed at midnight and then I woke up at 4:00 AM… what happened within those four hours with my physical appearance that all of a sudden I don’t feel confident?”

It’s All an Illusion

In reality, nothing happened.  It was my mind casting this illusion, this body distortion that I don’t look good now on a Sunday, but I felt really confident on a Saturday.  I found that when I rationalized with myself and really took myself through the steps, saying, “I felt really good on Saturday, why don’t I feel good on Sunday?”

It just doesn’t make sense.  Your body does not change overnight like that.  Not that drastic, not that drastic in the way that I was really harping on myself that Sunday.  If you have any struggles with any body image, if you felt really good the night before and then all of a sudden for your competition or practice or game you don’t feel confident, rationalize with yourself and ask yourself what happened within those few hours, what happened overnight?Nothing happened, it’s just your mind.  It’s really important to try and pump yourself up and try and say positive things to yourself to lift that illusion off that you’re a casting onto yourself.

Performance Distraction

The next thing is let’s say you don’t feel good on a Sunday game day.  You feel like you don’t look that great at all.  The problem with that is it’s a performance distraction, big time.  A really common thing is dancers will not dance as full out if they don’t feel confident in their body.  That’s frustrating, too, because you want to dance full out.  When you’re not as confident in your body, there’s this mindset of, “Well, if I don’t step clap with as much energy than my stomach and my body isn’t going to move as much or jiggle.”

Losing Out on Peak Performance

Well, you’re not really getting your peak performance if you do that, which is also not a good thing either.  There are so many eyes watching you, especially being in an NFL stadium and everything is magnified.  You think that every single person looking at you in a stadium thinks that you don’t look good because you don’t feel like you look good.  For me, what I found helpful is I needed to transform that.  I needed to feel like, “Okay, if I can get myself feeling good or in a place of acceptance for how I showed up at the game, then I won’t be as harsh on myself.  I won’t think that my body’s as bad as I projected out to be.”  It starts with yourself.

Accept Yourself and Be Present

Just being in a place of acceptance of saying things like, “Well, I’m here now.  I have to live in the here and now, in the present, and I’m just going to focus on my dances.  It is what it is. Nothing happened.  Nothing changed overnight.”

That’s something that’s just really helpful – trying to be as positive as you possibly can, and reaching a place of acceptance, whatever that means for you, however you can get that way.  For me, it was rationalizing with myself, either saying “Nothing happened overnight with my body” or “I worked out so hard this week” or “It’s okay if I don’t feel that great this game, I can feel better next game so right now I’m just going to focus on my performance and soaking in this moment.”

There are a lot of games that I’ve had or certain pictures that were taken of me, I was just talking about this with some of the retired vets, retired cheerleaders, that every picture that was taken of us, we can remember how we felt about our body in each of those photos.  In some of those photos, I look back now like, “Oh my God, I looked fine and I was great,” and it’s crazy because if you cast that illusion on yourself with your body, you’re really robbing your experience, you’re not living in the present moment as much as you possibly could.  It just takes away from the joy.


Another thing I wanted to talk about is how there’s an anxiety during the week that dancers can tend to have.  Let’s say you have a practice coming up on a Saturday or a competition on a Sunday, there’s this anxiety that I used to have, a lot of my dancer friends used to have of, “I have to look the same as I did since my coaches and teammates last saw me physically, or I have to look better.  I can never look worse than when they last saw me because that’s embarrassing and it looks like I wasn’t doing anything all week.”

Physiologically, there’s a lot of things that could have been going on for you that week.  When you’re stressed out, your body can tend to hold onto more water weight.  If your menstrual cycle, that can change how your body.  There are a lot of different things that can come into play.  So there’s this anxiety during the week, even if it’s a practice,  that you have to look somewhat better or the same or you’re not going to feel confident.  That’s very stressful.

girls lifting weights in gymBody Scanning

Sometimes you worked out really hard and still don’t feel that great for the practice.  There’s a lot of body scanning and a lot of teammates that will body scan each other naturally.  It’s not intentional, it’s just the norm and the culture.


When I was working out, especially my first few seasons on the team, I used to be so hyper-focused on a number of things.  If I was on a treadmill, I was so mindful of how many calories I was burning.  I had a MyZone that I used to tie around my waist and I would constantly look to see if I was in the red.  That’s when started realizing that I was anxious even during my workout – I was anxious during the week, I was anxious when I wasn’t working out, and then I was anxious while I was working out.  There was so much anxiety going on and that’s not healthy.

Setting Goals

What I found was super helpful was I started not focusing on the number of calories I was burning.  Instead, I set goals.  This is where SMART goals are really helpful.  I can really help you with coming up with smart goals.  So I set goals around going to the gym.  I set goals like, “I want to lift weights two times a week and I want to do cardio three times a week,” and it changed my entire world and my entire perspective on my body because I just had a goal about just going to the gym and doing cardio.  It allowed me to do workouts for myself without any anxiety.

I really trained my mind to not focus on the number of calories I was burning.  I would look afterwards, but it just made me enjoy my workouts more.  It made it more of a focus on living this healthy lifestyle rather than anxiety and body image pressure.  That goes for dancers, or anyone.  It’s okay to set goals around calories that you want to burn, but when it starts affecting you and you start having distorted views of your body and there’s a lot of anxiety, really try running on the treadmill and just being in tune with your body and how you’re feeling.

It’s Natural for Your Body to Change

Even being retired, I’m still trying to understand that it’s okay for my body to fluctuate.  That’s a part of the normal human experience.  Being in the dance world, you don’t feel like it’s okay for your body to fluctuate and change.  I’m trying to understand, now that I’m retired, that it’s okay for your body to change.  It’s okay that some days you’re not going to feel that great.  When you’re in that industry, you feel like it is not okay for you to not feel or look great.  Even now I’m trying to understand what it feels like to work out for me and not work out for a team or my coaches or anyone else but myself.  I’m still working on that every day.

I do remember that when I was on the team, I had a moment, a switch where I wasn’t going to focus on the calories and my heart rate and things like that, I was just going to set goals.  What I found was that I was actually staying at the gym longer because I was really enjoying myself and enjoying my time.  I was eating healthy and living and I was doing it for me.  That took the anxiety out of everything and really shifted my thoughts on body image.

So that’s what I have on dancers and body image.  I definitely plan on expanding on this more in the next live.  Thank you so much for coming into the live and tapping in.  I’ll see you next time.

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