Fat Girls Don’t Dance

‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a dancer…and a singer and an actress…I’m going to be on stage…’

These are the opening lines of my one woman show, Fat Girls Don’t Dance. I have always known I wanted to be a performer. I started ballet and tap classes when I was just three years old, I sang everywhere I went and I used to put on plays for my family using a bench in our back garden as a stage.

I have also always known that my relationship with food is not a straightforward or particularly easy one. I used to hide food and eat in secret, even as a child. I would lie about how much or little I had eaten. I was obsessed with dieting and calories. I can even remember having a conversation with my Year 6 teacher about how I was going to lose weight but do it slowly and sensibly by eating a thousand calories a day, even though I didn’t really know what a calorie was, let alone how many I was consuming.

I was always a ‘chubby’ kid, but a confident and eccentric one. I loved singing and dancing and drama and I was good at it. As I got older I took on more classes. I was training in four types of dancing three days a week. I joined the school choir, the drama club, and attended a performing arts school on weekends.

However, the older I got the more I was aware of my body. I didn’t look like the other girls in my ballet class. They were all much taller and thinner than me. I was the best dancer in the class. I knew that. But they looked like ballerinas and I didn’t, which became painfully more obvious the older I got.

Eventually, this led to me trying to lose weight in very dangerous ways. I became obsessed with dieting and food, and although I lost weight in my late teens I started to binge and comfort eat. I yo-yoed through my early twenties, then steadily got bigger until I was clinically obese and emotionally unstable. It is only in the past few years I have started to accept and understand my relationship with food and made positive changes to make me feel happier and healthier.

Fat Girls Don’t Dance has been a massive part of this. It is an autobiographical account of my relationship with food in parallel with my development as a (pretty sick) dancer. I knew I wanted to write a show about body image after a particularly wine-fuelled Arvon course, but I didn’t know how to approach it. Then one day I was on the phone to my Dad, and out of the blue he asked me if I missed dancing and everything clicked.

Over the next year and a half I wrote down everything I could remember about dance classes and food and diets and losing and gaining weight. The supermarket aisle crises, Christmas binges, drunken dance-offs, nightmare auditions and exercise regimes. I recalled the party where a 14-year-old boy told a 14-year-old me that I didn’t look like a dancer, the casting director that told me I was ‘too fat to play pretty and too pretty to play fat’, and the boyfriend who said I looked like a different person because I’d lost weight.

I wanted the show to be very physical, telling my story not only with my voice but my body. I started dancing again, and choreographing physical work along with the words, including a pretty epic tap dance and what I now believe to be way too many sit ups.

I also wanted to make it funny and, at times at least, enjoyable to watch. I wanted it to be accessible and, although this topic is a very dark and serious one, humour is a great way of breaking down taboos and allowing us to relax and open up to each other.

Whenever I have performed Fat Girls Don’t Dance, whether that be in London or Bristol or the Edinburgh Fringe or in a school or on the glamorous shores of the Isle of Wight (thank you Ventnor) there will always be someone who says,

‘Yes. I get you. I understand. I feel that too.’

Body image is a huge issue that is not talked about openly enough. By performing this show I am sharing my own story in the hope that people will relate to it, or at least get that little bit closer to understanding the importance of positive body image, the struggles that are faced, especially by young girls, in achieving this, the expectations of dancers and performers, and the dangers and realities of eating disorders/disordered eating.

Fat Girls Don’t Dance is like a scrap book of my own experiences and how our perceptions of each other and ourselves can shape who we are and what we achieve.  This little book shows my journey through the bad and the good. A Fat Girl Manifesto, if you will. It explores what I believe are the experiences that have shaped me as a person, be them with friends, family, lovers, haters or strangers. I hope that you like it, reader. I hope it gets you laughing, maybe crying, talking and most importantly, dancing.

Lots of love, 

The Death of Seamus Heaney

Playwright Daragh Carville pays tribute to the late Seamus Heaney, and shares his memories of an inspirational man.

The words ‘Seamus Heaney’ and ‘Death’ have been linked ever since the very beginning of his career, with the publication of ‘Death of a Naturalist’ in 1966. Death has been a constant presence in his work ever since; from the heartbreaking loss of the little brother in ‘Mid Term Break’ through to the many elegies for friends and fellow artists in the most recent collections. In between, there were the victims of the Troubles commemorated in poems such as ‘Casualty’, the ancient dead of the bog-bodies poems, and the Dante-esque revenants given voice in ‘Station Island’ and elsewhere. Death – and rebirth, of course, and renewal – is everywhere in Heaney. And yet seeing the words ‘Seamus Heaney’s death’ together brings a profound psychic shock. As if there’s been some kind of mix-up. As if those words just don’t belong together at all.

Like many of us, I first encountered Seamus Heaney’s poetry at school. At St Patrick’s College in Armagh, we studied his Selected Poems for O Level, a nineteen-eighties paperback edition with a big black and white photograph of the man on the cover, squinting into the camera, half smiling, wearing an old duffle coat. The first poem was of course ‘Digging’. I loved the rolling music of the words, the precise sense of place and the feeling that the poems were both new and ancient, as if they had somehow tapped into all of the present and all of the past.

Some time in the mid eighties, Heaney came to do a reading in Armagh and we were brought along by our English teacher, Paul McAvinchey. And there he was, the man himself, in living colour. He looked exactly like himself. Actually he looked, as a classroom wag put it, as if he’d arrived on his pushbike: his big bush of hair blown back, his face shining, weather-beaten. You half expected to see a pair of bicycle clips around the cuffs of his trousers. And he was smiling. He was always smiling.

Seamus Heaney (Image courtesy of The Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre, Armagh)

Seamus Heaney (Image courtesy of The Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre, Armagh)

Heaney often spoke of the impact of his first encounter with the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, the sense that Kavanagh gave him ‘permission’ to write about his own experience, about ‘the nettles behind the henhouse’. My own first encounter with Heaney did something like that for me. We were also studying Shakespeare and Chaucer for O Level and I loved their words too, their worlds. But this man was from just up the road. He was the kind of man you would see in Armagh appraising livestock in the Shambles Market or ordering a drink at the bar in the Charlemont Arms. He was one of us. An ordinary man but one who did extraordinary things. And he gave you permission to try and do something like that yourself. He gave you permission to go for it.

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