Teen ballerina boldly and beautifully challenges 'dancer body' stereotypes​

When you picture a ballerina, you may not picture someone who looks like Lizzy Howell. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Howell is busting stereotypes and challenging people's ideas of what a dancer should look like just by being herself and doing her thing in her own body. The now-19-year-old from Delaware has been dancing since she was five and has performed in venues around the world, including Eurovision 2019. She has won scholarships and trains up to four hours a day to perfect her skills in various styles of dance.

Jordan Matter Photography shared a documentary video about Howell on Facebook—part of his "Unstoppable" series—that has inspired thousands. In it, we get to see Howell's impressive moves and clear love of the art form. Howell shares parts of her life story, including the loss of her mother in a car accident when she was little and how she was raised by a supportive aunt who helped her pursue her dance ambitions. She also explained how she's had to deal with hate comments and bullying from people who judge her based on her appearance.

"I don't think it's right for people to judge off of one thing," Howell says in the video. And she's right—her size is just one thing.


Howell shares that she's been bullied in dance since she was six, and how it still happens when she goes to dance conventions. She sees people staring at her and whispering about her, but she says the successes she's had in dance and reassurances from other people keep her going.

"Most dancers are skinny, and I'm not," Howell says. "I think a lot of people can relate to me in that sort of way. They see me as an inspiration because I've been told I've been told to quit dance multiple times and I haven't."

"Dance is what I love and it's everything to me," she says. "So I think that just keeps me going."

Howell also has a message for people who might be tempted to say unkind things: "Whatever you say on social media is going to be seen by somebody and it could hurt their feelings. You know, you can't just say something that you think is funny but it might affect somebody else's feelings. I'm a very sensitive person, so I take everything to heart. There's a bunch of people that are like me that take it the same way."

Howell says dance is like therapy for her, which makes it all the worse for people to use her body size as a dancer as an excuse to be jerks. It might be surprising to see someone with Howell's body type doing the kind of dance she does, but anyone who comments negatively on a person's body—especially a young person has worked hard to train their body to create art—is a first-rate a-hole.

A few years have passed since Howell was interviewed for the "Unstoppable" video, and she's still showing that she truly is unstoppable. She now has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram and regularly posts videos of her dancing in the studio.

Thank you for showing us what bucking the status quo looks like, Lizzy. Keep being bold, dancing beautifully, and showing the haters you won't let them stop you.


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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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This article originally appeared on 06.16.15


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