“Dance has been one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever discovered, but it’s also brought me so the most hardship and pain. I’m a tall dancer and I hit puberty early which I appreciated while I was at school, but the minute I put on a leotard and tights I loathed everything about myself. My arm pit fat, my waist size to shoulder ratio, even my ankle size. Everything felt so shameful next to shorter, skinnier girls.
And even now, looking back at photos and videos- I can still feel the body dysmorphia I had during those most intense years begin to creep back in. When I applied for colleges, I applied to both ballet and modern programs across the U.S. At the peak of my technical abilities I wasn’t accepted into any ballet programs and only modern ones. However, it wasn’t due to a lack of technique or artistry that I was rejected- it was my height and body shape. Writing this today, I’m aware that being taller than potential partners, fitting into the aesthetics of a corps de ballet or being unable to meet health requirements are invalid reasons to reject a dancer. But at the time, it crushed me.
Here were other people, other successful professionals telling me the very things that I had assumed all along. Over the years a combination of academic pressure, social anxiety and crippling depression topped with the confirmation of my inability to exist successfully in a dance space past high school led me down a path of self harm. Eventually it was my high school dance coach that noticed something was wrong and told our school’s counselor. I’m so grateful for her intervention to this day, as it was a signal to my high school self that I still had worth not only as a person, but as one of her dancers.
Even with some resistance (on my end) therapy and a few relapses during college, it took me stepping away from the studio to find an identity outside of dance. What was I good at besides having hyperextension and long legs? What kind of person- not dancer- but person would I be? It’s taken me a long time to finally feel good in my own skin and I honestly attribute that to exiting the tunnel vision of the dance world. It felt like coming up for air. I could finally breathe and figure out my next move in life while starting to understand what I’d been through.
I still love dance, and as I think for many dancers, it will always be a great love of one’s life. But it’s taken time and some deep soul searching to figure out how to keep my Mental Health intact each time I set foot in a studio. Like most things, maintaining a healthy relationship with dance is a work in progress, but it’s work that I’m finally beginning to see a future in.”