Directing a Fat Dance Troupe with Matilda St. John, MFT
Matilda St. John, MFT

This week I’m talking to Matilda St. John, the Director of Big Moves, an organization dedicated to getting people of all sizes into the dance studio and up on stage. Big Moves is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and welcomes dancers of all experience levels. When she’s not dancing, Matilda practices psychotherapy in Oakland, CA.

Matilda talks about her early love of dance as well as the body-shaming she received as a young dancer. In college, she stumbled upon fat positive zines that blew her world open. As an adult, she found her way back to dance, and reconnected with a sense of joy and play, with a dance troupe dedicated to larger-sized dancers. In this episode, she talks about all this as well as the unique rewards and challenges of being a fat dancer.

Show Highlights:

  • Matilda’s dream was to grow up and be on Solid Gold
  • Her ballet teacher pulled her parents aside and told them that she was too big to do ballet when she 8 or 9
  • How she was actively discouraged from dancing as a little girl
  • Her body was a point of contention when she was infant 
  • Both her parents were chronic dieters 
  • She was aware of calories for as long as she can remember
  • Attending fat camp when she was 9
  • Struggling with a restrictive eating disorder in her teen years
  • How she stopped dancing in the years when she had the most restrictive eating disorder
  • How she found fat acceptance zines in a women’s book store 
  • Getting exposed to Big Moves, a fat dance troupe that started as the Phat Fly Girls
  • When they dance in more mainstream shows, other dancers backstage assume they are not dancers or don’t know how to warm up
  • There is a way that the members of Big Moves are kind of fat poster children because they are very active
  • There is also a level of surprise, such as “How are you so big when you are moving so much?”
  • How folks in her therapy practice feel like unenlightened feminists for their internalized fatphobia
  • Old psychoanalytic idea that fat people are all about oral identification

Links & Resources:

Matilda’s therapy practice

Big Moves

Solid Gold

Nomi Lamm

Marilyn Wann

Fat Girl Zine

Shadow on a Tight Rope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression 

National Dance Week in the Bay Area

Cupcake and Muffintops