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'Look' with new eyes

'Divine Direction' by Muse Dance Company, which will stop by Sage Hill School, aims to fight body stereotypes.

March 07, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Dancer Katie Hazard, right, rehearses a piece titled "Romantic Glare" for Muse Dance Company's premiere event "Divine Direction" at Sage Hill School's Black Box Theater.
Dancer Katie Hazard, right, rehearses a piece titled… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

"You look fine," said 11 dancers under the spotlight.

That seemingly simple statement, delivered at a rehearsal Tuesday at Sage Hill School, contained a powerful acknowledgment of the beauty inherent in every individual.

This idea lies at the core of the "Look at Me" campaign, spearheaded by Jessica Starr, a 30-year-old dancer and choreographer from West Hollywood.

"Divine Direction," a nearly two-hour event, is the latest show for the 6-year-old Muse Dance Company and marks the debut of the campaign. The 24-person dance troupe will take the stage at Newport Coast's Sage Hill School at 3 and 7 p.m. Friday.

"In the dance industry, there's a very stereotypical body — you should be a size 2, maybe 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7," Starr said. "I've always been more voluptuous than a lot of the dancers, and I've embraced it. I believe in being a strong person no matter what your body type is. I don't think your body is your end-all, be-all. I think what counts is what you do with your body, and the power and the message that you deliver."

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Towering at 5-foot-10, Starr, who "with heels is over 6 feet," encountered criticism since she doesn't have the quintessential ballerina's body. In her experience, facing naysayers has served as the best catalyst for improvement.

"I don't take no for an answer," she said. "Often, people told me I couldn't do things, but to me that's the one thing you don't want to say, because then I'm going to go after it that much stronger and be sure to succeed."

Now at the helm of Muse Dance Company, she refuses to turn dancers away based on their frame or appearance. Friday's performance serves as the group's jump-off point as it converts to a nonprofit that will start touring the world to entertain with purpose.

An integral part of the show, "Look at Me" was initially created to help Starr connect with students who were struggling with eating disorders and body-image issues. But the public responded so favorably that the piece was transformed from a solo to a group performance.

"I think more focus needs to be internally on who we are," Starr said. "If people spent less time comparing themselves to others physically and worked on bettering themselves, being more compassionate, sensitive and motivated to contribute to society, our world would be such a different place. But right now, our focus is all wrong."

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