FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — For decades, dancing culture has largely focused on the shape of a person's body.
“When I was growing up, I was told I couldn't be a dancer because my body type was not even close to the right body type. I was turned away from studios,” said Company 360 Training Dancer Morgan Cook.
After years of rejection and pain attached to an art form they love, the dancers at Company 360 have mastered the craft of expressing those feelings through movement.
“That's probably the most difficult time to be told to be somebody that you're not, especially growing up, you don't really know who you are yet,” said Company 360 Pro Dancer Taylor Clary.
They hope their body positivity will keep the trauma stained on their hearts from bleeding into future generations.
“Unless you were extremely thin and looked like a dancer, it was almost like they look down on you a lot and they didn't give you the same care and correction and just attention that you needed as a dancer,” said Company 360 Pro Dancer Rachel Richardson.
These dancers, some pro and others in training, are all a part of Company 360.
“It's so unrealistic to try and be this perfect ballerina or this perfect dancer, so it's so important to have all body types, all body shapes and sizes because we're human," said Company 360 Training Dancer Nicole Senkowski.
Bailey Anne Vincent is the company’s director.
“Company 360 is a body-neutral professional dance company. We mostly perform contemporary ballet, but we aim to perform all the varieties of dance, and our mission is to show that we can move an audience regardless of the skeletons that we were born with because it's about the talent that we have,” Vincent said.
She’s determined to change the dance world by proving a person’s body type does not affect how powerful a dance can be.
“Audiences are not moved just because someone is five foot eight and 110 pounds. An audience is moved because of our movement and the way that we move, move someone's spirit and connect with them,” Vincent said.
Her dancers are shown they are loved and worthy of positive feedback. Pro dancer Megan Claire Chaos says before Company 360 she was told she would never fit into the dance realm. Now, she says she gets the attention she didn’t realize she deserved.
“It's awesome, yeah," Chaos said. "Because I haven't had it before.”
Vincent's dancers are respected no matter what they’re facing.
“Being in the dance with anxiety, there are days that are unpredictable, so some days I don't know if I'm going to come in and just be super anxious and can't do anything," said Company 360 Training Dancer Sierra McKinley. "Bailey has been so understanding to where I can sit on the sides to where I can just not come in that day.”
Body positivity doesn’t mean they’re not held to a high standard for technique. Vincent’s dancers are still challenged every day, but instead of being challenged to have the perfect body, they’re challenged to connect with audiences on a deeper level.
“When people hear the term body positive, they automatically assume that we are not quite as talented right away," Vincent said. "It's like there's a deduction in their mind that they're body positive. OK, well, they're probably not quite as good.”
Just recently, after months of being apart, they were finally able to prove they can connect to audiences through a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
“A few of the higher-ups at the Kennedy Center, if you will, actually told us that we were some of the most moving dancers that they had ever seen on that stage, that they were more moved than they remembered being in a very long time," Vincent said.
Dancing at the Kennedy Center is seen as the ultimate pinnacle of performing arts centers for many dancers.
“Well, it was amazing, I still can't believe that it actually happened,” Company 360 Pro Dancer Kacie Waters-Heflin said.
“I honestly never even put it in a dream of mine because I never thought it would happen,” Richardson said.
Younger dancers say the performance at the Kennedy Center shows them there is a place in the professional dance world for them to be appreciated.
“It was amazing to watch, like tears in my eyes because I was so proud to be a part of a company that was doing such big things,” said Company 360 Training Dancer Abby Reinhardt.
To continue this inclusivity in the dance world, Vincent says more body-positive companies need to be given opportunities at venues like the Kennedy Center.
“To think of what this would do for the generations of young dancers and students and dreamers who would be in that audience and who would see dancers that look like them but are so talented, it's just so much more meaningful than just a performance alone,” Vincent said.
She hopes that dancers everywhere will be allowed to focus less on their bodies and more on connecting with audiences through movement.
“Dance is this universal language that we all understand, and when we break that apart into grammar that not everyone has access to, it truly cuts the whole story short from the beauty that it could be," Vincent said.