Fat Babes take over the dance floor

Dance collective challenges fatphobia through classes and performances

Fat Babes Dance Collective founder Laura Elliott was tired of never seeing fat bodies performing dance in Winnipeg.

“There’s this real feeling that if you have a bigger body, you should not be onstage, or you should not be demonstrating joy in your body unless you’re exercising really hard, and it’s like ‘look how much I can exercise!’” Elliott says.

“I just got tired of it. Why should I feel like I shouldn’t be onstage because of how I look, and if I feel this way, there’s guaranteed to be other people who feel this way.”

Elliott started Fat Babes Dance Collective in the summer of 2017. She put out a call to Fat Babes Winnipeg (a Facebook social and networking group for
self-described fat babes) to see if anyone wanted to join an adult drop-in dance class.

After a successful summer session and a sold-out fall/winter hip-hop class, Fat Babes shows no sign of slowing down. Tap and hip-hop classes are currently open for registration and begin on Sept. 25. Members of the collective will perform at the Women’s Health Clinic ResisDANCE fundraiser on Sept. 21.

Elliott’s classes are a mix of technique and choreography.

“We do a warm up and we do across-the-floor stuff, and we groove around … then (we) actually do a dance ... It's not dance-fitness. It’s dance.”

Students sign a safe spaces agreement to not allow transphobia, racism, sexism or issues specific to fat bodies like fatphobia and diet talk.

Performing live is also an important part of the Fat Babes agenda.

“We’re not just doing it to work out. We’re doing it because we want to perform,” Elliott says.

The group’s debut performance took place this summer at the Good Will Social Club for the launch of Dr. Deborah McPhail’s Contours of the Nation: Making “Obesity” and Imagining “Canada,” 1945-1970.

McPhail, an associate professor in community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, studies how fatness became pathologized as obesity and the experiences of people regarded as obese navigating health-care systems.

McPhail believes that seeing fat bodies performing is incredibly powerful.

“The purpose of (groups like the Fat Babes is) to interrupt notions of fatness as unhealthy,” McPhail says. “(I)f you can do that type of activity in a body that is supposedly unhealthy, and people are seeing you do that and people are witnessing that … then it interrupts common-sense understandings of fatness as unhealthy.”

Elliott hopes that Fat Babes can be that kind of interruption for her students and for people who see them perform.

“If you want to make mass public change, make it through art,” she says.

“If I had seen the Fat Babes as a kid, who knows what would have changed.”

To contact Fat Babes Dance Collective about fall classes, visit fatbabesdance.com. Catch them live at The Good Will Social Club on Sept. 21 for the Women’s Health Clinic ResisDANCE fundraiser.

Published in Volume 73, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 6, 2018)

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