“I started ballet when I was 5. My mom thought it was perfect for me to get into since I basically gave myself ballet lessons and performances in my living room. When I turned 11, I knew I wanted to pursue it seriously. I dreamed of performing everywhere and falling in love with my Prince Charming whether that be a company member or even someone in the audience. Around the age of 13, I felt my outlook on ballet took a turn for the worse.
It was like all of sudden my love for it started to fade and it was just me putting in hours of work only to be comparing myself to every ballet dancer in the room. Comparing my body, comparing the way I looked, even comparing the way I danced as if it wasn’t good enough. At 18 I got accepted as a trainee at a very well-known ballet school and thought to myself, “this is all I’ve ever wanted”. This is all the Nutcrackers I’ve done, all the privates, all the YAGP’s; this is what it’s all led up to.
I was so excited to be there! I knew I had to work my hardest, especially cause everyone back home was supporting me. Being there, I instantly felt overwhelmed. There were dancers from all over the world with insane talent. I tried to not let it get the best of me but, honestly, the teachers had their favorites to the point where I felt like I was invisible. My mom explained that if the teachers were focusing on someone else, I should try going up to them after class and asking them if there was anything I could work on.
I felt so unseen that I couldn’t even talk to the teacher after class because I felt like I wasn’t good enough. My mental health was declining and the teachers saw that but didn’t care. I don’t even think I knew that I was struggling. I remember there was one class where I was the only one who couldn’t do this one exercise across the floor and the teacher had nothing to say to me. Clearly, I was struggling and it was like she glanced right over me.
Another time the director of the whole school was teaching the morning class and I was marking the steps right behind him to make myself present and he yelled at me in front of everyone and said I wasn’t even spotting, so I tried again because I wanted to apply his correction and he said “no you’re still not doing it correctly” and moved on with the class. I was confused because wasn’t he supposed to be helping me? Weren’t we all there to learn? Why did he just give up on me? I felt embarrassed. I would also say hi to him every morning and he would ignore me.
This type of treatment continued and I had never felt that low in my ballet life. I ended up injuring myself and was told I still had to take class but my foot was swollen and I had to go to PT so they told me to watch class. That’s 8 hours a day sitting on my butt watching classes. It wasn’t so great seeing dancers progress while I sat there also knowing that they wouldn’t be paying attention to me anyway. All of my doubts started to consume me and slowly stopped going.
I was crying out for help and nobody cared to see what was going on. Instead, I was judged by the other ballet dancers on why I was even there. I wish I felt more comfortable opening up to the teachers on what I was going through. I wish there was a therapist that specialized in dancers’ mental health. Maybe, just maybe, that would’ve saved my whole ballet career.
It was already coming to the end of the school year and all of the dancers were having their one-on-one meetings with the trainee director. These meetings were about their decision on if they want to keep you for next year or not. Of course, I got a hard NO. I already knew what was coming, but I was still so very sad about it. I told my director about my idea of Broadway school and that I wanted to dip my foot in another world and his response was overly happy for me, which made me sad because I was hoping he’d have a different response.
I’d hoped he’d talk about my journey there. I would’ve loved to hear him say, “but please, keep dancing ballet”. Instead, he shared how he had some friends in the Broadway world and different musicals. That whole trainee experience was shocking, to say the least. Granted, there were other things that happened to me like being pressured to perform sex acts on one of the dancers that were traumatizing for me.
It’s been 4 years and I’ve had to go to therapy and still have PTSD from the experience I had there. I don’t really do ballet anymore and if I do take a class it’s a struggle. I have this love/hate for it. I hope ballet schools can open their eyes to mental health in the ballet world, making it safe for everyone.”