I miss the innocence of it all.
What happened to those days of putting on my pink tights and pink leotard and heading off to the local ballet studio in Temecula, Ca with my mom? Those days seem blurred and far gone. When did the joy of dancing and the thrill of just running around and having fun with friends turn so serious?
I do not think that there was a given turning point for me. I know that it was a very slow, long process and transition from that “innocent” phase to the “super-competitive-hard core” phase. As I got older, I got more competitive and I always wanted to be the best. I always liked the challenge and I wanted to prove people wrong. I wanted to be special, admired, and looked up to. I wanted people in my small town to know my name and say things like, “She worked her ass off and is now dancing with (insert famous ballet company)”.
I do remember the very minute ballet was not fun for me anymore. I was my last year at Boston Ballet. All the girls were torturing themselves taking 3-5 ballet classes a day to show how dedicated they were and we looked down on each other for missing an extra class. Going to all those extra classes made me not want to go. We already danced 20 hours a week and I was working at least 20 hours at Life is Good and City Dance, Boston Ballet's outreach program for under privileged children. I was a favored girl in my class but I had been getting signals that my body type was not going to fit the mold for the professional company. I had worked so hard and I could see my dream of getting in to Boston Ballet slipping out of my hands…all because of the shape of my body. And it killed me. I felt angry. I felt out of control. I was disappointed in myself. I was disappointed with my teachers for not telling me this sooner so I could try to fix my body miraculously. I remember having conversations with Evelyn Cisneros and Tai Jiminez about my future and what I should do. They both told me that I needed to just find the right “fit” , a company that was more my style and more my type. They never told me to lose weight or that I was a lost cause and could never be a dancer. So I still had hope….
My last 5 to 6 months in Boston I knew I was not staying for the next year but I did, however, know I was going to go to Orlando Ballet for 5 weeks and I was bound and determined to get in to that company. I almost did. In fact, I did. And then they changed their mind telling me that once again my body type was not going to fit well with their company! Those last months in Boston and that summer I was uncontrollably bulimic as well as anorexic. In Orlando, I wouldn’t eat anything and when I did, well, I got rid of it. I was pretty close to giving up hope and then I got an offer with Connecticut Ballet where I unfortunately spiraled downhill thanks to a “nutritionist” who was also a dancer battling with her own demons of an eating disorder. Needless to say, she did not help me at all. I was extremely thin, I was dancing a lot and I had good parts in all of our productions. But I was lonely. Everyone in CT ballet lived in NY and commuted in to Stamford and I was left living in CT biking to ballet. My eating disorder kept getting worse and not only was it with food but my mannerisms, my addiction to exercise, my inability to eat anything without it turning in to a 10,000 calorie binge. I could not handle it anymore.
I went home for Christmas and took class at City Ballet with the Artistic Director and he was so in awe of me. He wanted me to dance with them and it felt so amazing to be so wanted and ogled over that I took that job. Shortly after joining this company I began putting on quite a bit of weight as I was still in the midst of bulimia and eventually, I ended up quitting because I could not keep killing myself for ballet. And that’s when I wondered….how did I get here? How did a little girl in a pink leotard turn into a young woman who checked herself in to rehab for an eating disorder?
Fast forward four years later after treatment and I found myself teaching a ballet class tonight. Something I never thought I would do ever again. I wandered in to the unfamiliar studio and it was covered with trophies from all the various competitions the studio had competed in and my first reaction was, “Wow, how rinky-dink is this place?” and then I immediately thought, “It doesn’t matter. These girls have FUN”.
The dance center had 3 studios. One where there were 2 girls rehearsing a jazz piece, one where there were two boys learning hip hop moves, and the last studio was filled with about a dozen girls…in pink leotards and tights with their moms outside watching. I stopped cold. I couldn’t look away from the studio and I didn’t quite understand why. Then I realized that those little girls were me. Every single one of them. Totally enthralled and focused on learning the steps and not a care in the world for how they looked or if they were going to a professional ballet dancer one day. I was brought back to a time that I wish, in some weird way, I could still visit. They had such an innocence about them and it made me almost fall back in love with ballet again. I remembered what it was like to dance the way they were dancing. Wholeheartedly, care-free, and passionately.
I then began to feel an impending sense of panic for these girls hoping that they would never let this art take them down the path it had taken me because nothing will ever be worth the years of self-hate and self-harm.