Meet the woman who has set out to prove that anyone can dance.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cathleen about what inspired her to start FATGIRLSDANCE™ and how important the power of dancing has in all of our lives. She is truly an inspiration for all.
Natasha: Why does dance give you life?
Cathleen: I believe it gives me life on a couple of levels. First of all, it’s biological. When you move, endorphins are released similar to when you are having sex. It is a biological high. Secondly, it’s like solving math problems but is actually fun. When you do that part of the choreography that you are having trouble with and actually get it, that’s an unforgettable feeling. The other reason is that there’s something connective and sensual about dance that makes you happy, sexy, and for me, feminine. It’s like tapping into a power I didn’t know I had. It’s primal and movement. You are just feeling yourself and the connection you have in front of the mirror and I didn’t always have that.
Natasha: Do you think everyone can really dance?
Cathleen: Yes. The Swahili proverb says “If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.” I’m not a professional dancer. Most people are so surprised that I can dance, given that I’m not a professional dancer. We’re not all on point and we’re not all Alvin Ailey. If we’re talking about the pure unadulterated joy of movement, then yes… Everyone can dance and move. When people say I can’t dance or I can’t sing… you need to experience freedom. Even when you’re dancing bad, you are lifting others up.
Natasha: As a writer, what have you learned about starting and sharing FATGIRLSDANCE™ with the world?
Cathleen: At the beginning, I was asking myself, what would happen if plus size women were confronted with something that they thought they couldn’t do? What would you do if you proved to yourself that you could do it? What if I could wear a bikini? What if I could dance? They were simple questions. I didn’t understand the power of the answers. I didn’t know what fearlessness was until starting FATGIRLSDANCE™. Usually I do projects for 4-6 weeks; I rehearse, execute, then move on. Now, working a project for a year, I am an entirely new person. I have lived determination. I have lived failure. I have lived life. “Try and try again” has certainly become a part of my psyche. I have realized that I could accomplish nothing by myself.
One of the hardest things I had to learn was to lean on people and let people support me. I have changed the dynamic of who I am and the relationship with my body. I have been plus size for my entire life and redefined what that meant. I have learned so much about body positivity, its vast movement and its necessity. I didn’t realize how perverse and ingrained self-loathing is in our community. The beauty standard isn’t working for fat people, skinny people, or anyone. It’s ridiculous and needs to be thrown out. I feel like I stepped into a social experiment that turned into a divine mission. A universe mandate. Before the year was over, I realized this was way bigger then me and there was a need to share this with the world. I began wanting to write a book and I will absolutely write it. What the hell it looks like now, I have no idea!
Natasha: Why do you believe there is a perception that fat girls can’t dance?
Cathleen: I think that we get that because we are not supposed to do anything. You are not supposed to date, dance, have fun, have sex, or wear cute stuff. 67% of America is plus size. If we are not supposed to do anything, how is the world functioning? There are also people who are like, “YAASSSS, slay”. But “How dare you?” is still something that comes up for people. And, some of them are also fat who never thought they could be daring, bold or free.
Whether you are healthy or not, fat or not, you are taught to hate yourself. This goes beyond the obesity epidemic. If we talk about the obesity epidemic, we have to also talk about body positivity. Body shaming is by no means a solution to the obesity epidemic. We have to begin discussing how mental health is connected to nutrition, health, and wellness. Body positivity is incredibly new. Every movement has a start and that start is met with resistance and ignorance. There is work to do. You can’t just block and delete negative comments. I want to speak with them and break down their mental blocks about fat people. Two out of three negative tweets are done by women about ourselves. Once we start changing how we treat ourselves, then we can address the change. It will take some time.
Natasha: What has been the overall public reaction to FATGIRLSDANCE™?
Cathleen: Overall, the reaction is 95 – 98% tears and life-changing excitement. The hate has been very small. I would like to hear a well calibrated and thought-provoking argument against body positivity. I have gotten the healthy argument, but it is really unfounded and not logical. I’m looking to hear why body positivity is so wrong. I spoke with a bigger girl who was struggling with her body and self love. She was used to having an athletic body. Since getting older, she hated her bigger body and didn’t know how to live in it. She felt the body positivity movement told her to accept her body and her doctors told her she is not at a healthy weight. I told her that no one is saying what she should or shouldn’t do with her body. The idea is self-love. Meaning, you know what’s best for you. But whatever your next steps, we need to wrap our decisions in love and not in hate. I challenged her to love herself first. Everything else would fall in place. Our bodies work better when they are happy. I had an eating disorder and needed to name it. Hating myself wasn’t changing a thing. We should listen to our bodies and figure out what she needs. I could tell this woman never had a conversation like that. She also wasn’t dating and was very surprised that I was. Fat people live and can be happy. What if we loved ourselves so much and gave ourselves so much support, communication, and education, that we began to make a change? The reaction hasn’t been an outright no, it has been an outright “Huh?”.
Natasha: What is the motivation behind the dances chosen to perform every week?
Cathleen: I have long since given that job away. It was so hard to pick the dances. My roommate and partner-in-crime Raveen and I have been there from the very beginning. We loved dance porn; watching dance videos for hours and hours. We had a pretty good line up for choreography we wanted to tackle. In the grand scheme, we have done 80 – 85% of the songs we wanted to dance to. Raveen is a dance porn professional, so she picks the dances and has final say. When we pick a dance, we go for difficulty, music that is meaningful, choreography that speaks to us, and not too many tricks. We have 5-10 original choreographers that come in. When there is original choreography, we can birth very specific concepts and looks. Sometimes we get shout outs from the choreographers. I remember when WildaBeast Adams retweeted us, I could have just died!
Natasha: Do you have viewers and fans interested in joining the FATGIRLSDANCE™ Squad? If so, how can they join?
Cathleen: It’s completely free. It costs nothing. The idea is to just dance. Get out there and dance. Screw what everyone says. Our motto is, “F- Perfection. Breathe Determination.” Regardless of where FATGIRLSDANCE™ goes, I would love to see squads across the world; just communities of fat women dancing together for fun and for free. This experience changes you. We need to do things we think we cannot do and turn that into a habit. We need to connect with self by going within. It’s catching on. We have squads in Oregon, LA, and Atlanta; literally just women who want to dance with us and for us. We are opening squads in DC, North Carolina, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and so much more. We are going to have so much material to drop. Participation is easy! Dance it. Shoot it. Send it. And for those who want to start a squad in their city, just email us: [email protected].
Natasha: When you started this journey did you think there were dances that you weren’t able to perform? If so, how did you overcome your own internal hesitations or fears?
Cathleen: I get hesitation and fear every single week. It definitely has diminished. We made the mistake of saving all the scariest dances for the end. There are four dances that scare me out of the 11 we have left. There’s one in particular that Raveen and I call our “Everest”. It doesn’t have millions of views. It’s choreographed by Blake Mcgraw. We’ve been putting it off and now we’re here. It’s so fast, that only Raveen and I are going to attempt it. What scares me is that I have to dance with no pausing.
Another dance is “Freakum Dress” by Beyonce and choreographed by Yanis Marshall. Anything in heels is super scary. You’re learning a dance, but also have to balance in heels. Some dances certainly freak us out. The motivation to get past the hard dances is that we still need to drop something for Friday. As hard as the dance is, you still have to do it. We have a responsibility to the internet, to the squad and ourselves. We have never missed a week. Keeping up with that is quite challenging. What we will not do is miss a week. It is a sense of pride and having conversations with ourselves. The win is dropping the dance. You won. You did it! I have learned to be okay with the disappointment of how it looked: I missed a step, I forgot a move. All of that I’ve learned to let go.
Natasha: Can you tell us what we should expect from the August 27th event?
Cathleen: It will be a 2-day event on August 26th and August 27th in Harlem, NY. We’ll have a body positivity panel, workshops, and a bunch of amazing choreographers teaching dance. There will be food, mimosas and body positive people in the industry talking and sharing. The last day will be the big finale. There will be giveaways, lots of dancing and so much fun! It will be the last dance of the year. Then after that, we are going to party for the rest of the night. It will be an incredible event.
Natasha: What lasting advice do you have for plus size women struggling to pursue their passions or putting themselves out there?
Cathleen: The first thing is to start with a radical act of fearlessness. Do it, and the universe will respond. I didn’t want to do FATGIRLSDANCE™. I wanted to research dancers as an observer. Creating a movement wasn’t anticipated. It happened because I acted. After you act, start the journey. No matter how small. It could be downloading a dating app or going to the beach without completely covering your body. Begin conversations with yourself about your fears. Everyone’s personal act of fearlessness makes them almost unstoppable.
Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, do the thing you think you cannot do. After that you become a superhero. I can’t explain how limitless and fearless you feel. After doing FATGIRLSDANCE™, nothing scares me anymore. Literally nothing. That epiphany is priceless. You can’t give that to anyone. You want and need that in your tool box. Move to a new city. Start a business. Quit a job. Get a divorce. The random act of fearlessness is not the first time you thought about it. Go on ahead and do that terrifying thing. And yes, directly after, things will get insanely hard and lonely. Because your entire life changes. But if you push past that initial hard-as-hell period, you basically can walk on water. So do it!
You can check out more about FATGIRLSDANCE™ here. Thanks Cathleen for sharing your story!