Hailey Bretons dance bag tells only part of her story as a UH dancer. Photo courtesy of Hailey Breton.
Hailey Breton’s dance bag tells only part of her story as a UH dancer. Photo courtesy of Hailey Breton.

UH Mānoa Rainbow Dancer shares the dark side of dance culture

Hailey Breton unearths the toxic side of dance while keeping her chin up

Sparkling green and white pom poms hang from freshman Hailey Breton’s bag. They are probably the first thing you notice about her, a bright declaration of her status as a University of Hawaii at Mānoa Rainbow Dancer. Yet, the path to get to where she is today was full of rain, not just rainbows.

Breton has been dancing since she was two years old. Xtreme Dance Studio in Lake Forest, California became her second home, but it was also where she was exposed to the darker, toxic side of dance culture.

“There was a lot of yelling from the coaches, and I often felt belittled,” said Breton.

She didn’t feel like she could reach out to her coaches. The environment was cold, and lacking in chemistry. Another restricting aspect of dance was the overwhelming conformity. Girls who weren’t naturally bronzed had to get spray tans, all hair was tightly pulled up, and makeup had to be consistent, from intense blush to the same fake eyelashes.

As Breton grew up in the world of dance, body image issues surfaced. Around the time of the pandemic, her coaches and even her older, more mature teammates started telling her that she looked too thin. Breton was eating enough, but her fast metabolism worked against her. So, she tried to eat more, but it was more than she could handle, causing an unhealthy relationship with food. Despite all the trophies and first place wins that her teams garnered during her time at Xtreme, Breton was getting burned out.

She left the studio and took some time for herself. Breton resumed dancing at South Coast Freestyle in Mission Viejo, California, where she was greeted with positivity and more supportive coaches.

“I think striving to be the best version of yourself is a good quality to have,” said Breton. “But when the idea of ‘your very best’ becomes distorted, it can ruin you.”

At South Coast Freestyle, Breton was able to strive for her best in a more healthy manner, and rediscovered her passion for dance. Many years of competitive dance and dancing for her high school team helped land Breton a spot in the Rainbow Dancer family, to which her transition has been surprisingly smooth.

“It feels really good. I really like it,” said Breton about her experience on the team so far. “I feel like younger me would really look up to current me.”

At first sight of happy-go-lucky Breton, you may have never known her deeper, more complex, and at times, difficult relationship with dance. Now you do.

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