by Julia Bluhm

I’ve been a feminist ever since I knew what a feminist was. Being a feminist seemed like common sense to me. I felt like, naturally, I was a feminist in everything I did. I’m a feminist as I work with a team of inspiring, motivated women in SPARK to create change. I’m a feminist when I write, to make my voice- the voice of a teenage girl- be heard and recognized as it should be. I’m a feminist when I wear skirts and bows in my hair, and I’m a feminist when I wear sweatpants or jeans. I’m still a feminist when I’m wearing a leotard and tights, tying the ribbons on my peach-colored pointe shoes, or being lifted in the air by my partner, the Nutcracker Prince. Ballet is just one example of a profession or activity that is often deemed “un-feminist” for countless reasons. I know that the ballet world is very flawed, and there are many aspects of it that make me really angry. I also know, however, that I’m not ever going to stop dancing. And similarly, I’m never going to stop identifying as a feminist. You can be a feminist in nearly any setting, job, or activity as long as you acknowledge the problems, support changes, and bring your empowerment with you wherever you go.

We all know that ignoring a problem won’t help it to disappear, but recognizing the problem could. This is why it’s important to talk about the issues you see in your field, and not get defensive when others talk about them as well. I’m often asked about my thoughts on body image in ballet, and the pressures to be thin. When I was younger, I’d always say “there is no pressure to be thin at my ballet school, I always take care of my body, my teachers and friends are really supportive,” etc. That’s all true, but does it stand true for the ballet world as a whole? No. If I was not recognizing the larger problems, that there is still pressure to be thin in the ballet world as a whole and that many ballet students experience disordered eating habits, how would these things ever change?

At the same time, many so-called “un-feminist” fields such as ballet, modeling, acting and fashion are taking beginning steps towards a positive change. There are ad campaigns that use models with a greater variety of colors and sizes, and movies that feature strong, female leads such as Brave and Frozen. Misty Copeland made waves with her “I Will What I Want” commercial and American Ballet Theatre recently launched “Project Plié” to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet. As a feminist in one of these fields, it is important to celebrate these changes and share them in a positive light. If the beginnings of a change receive a good response, the change will probably continue.

I know ballet does not seem particularly empowering for women. Ballerinas are known for being graceful and soft, and for dancing on the tips of their toes, while male dancers are known for powerful lifting, jumps and turns. Ballet is much more than that, however. For me, dancing is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. I feel incredibly powerful in that I can use my body to do remarkable things, to create art that, in a way, defies human nature. And when I dance with a partner I don’t feel weak or any less powerful than him. We are a team, and we help each other. As feminists, we all find empowerment in different ways, even if that empowerment doesn’t initially make sense to everyone else. We should bring our feminism wherever we go, whether that is at the United Nations, watching the Superbowl, or dancing onstage in a delicate tutu.