Love and Ballet

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I discovered ballet when I was 14. I was so much older than everyone else in my class, but when you fall in love, it doesn't matter. I fell deeply in love with ballet. I quit school and home schooled myself in 11th grade so that I could dance 3 hours a day. Halfway through the year I was asked to join the company at my ballet school. Nothing could have made me happier! However, I had already developed a woman's body by the time I started dancing. Nothing could change the fact that I had hips and curves. I hated them when I looked in the mirror at myself next to the beautiful swan-like girls who had danced since the age of 3.

In college, I threw myself into my Musical Theater studies. My dreams had evolved to the bright lights of Broadway, and I couldn't wait to make my mark on the Great White Way. My insecurities about my body kept pace right along with my dreams. Talent in this industry wasn't enough; you had to have the right look. I began working with a physical theater company that produced amazing work. I worked so hard and was totally ready for a major role in one of their productions, except for one thing: the choreographer told me that she wanted me to lose weight.

All the years of tension, insecurity and self-loathing snapped in an instant. My stupid body was what was keeping me from achieving my dreams, I thought. I immediately began a ridiculous workout regimen of power-walking 2 hours a day, and a diet that mostly consisted of carrots, apples, and light 'n fit yogurt (the stuff that only has 80 calories.) I lost 14 lbs in 2 weeks, and 7 lbs the month after that. I was fit and a healthy weight to begin with, so the weight loss was very visible and my weight was dangerously low.

Everyone noticed. Some people timidly said they were a little scared for me, but the majority were impressed. I could see other girls were jealous, and many asked me what I had done to be so skinny. The choreographer was ecstatic and gave me the role I wanted in the next show. Working out 2 hours a day continued all that year, and though I spent most of the day light-headed and exhausted, I had never felt so powerful. My will was stronger than my body, and I actually enjoyed punishing my body for wanting to be curvy and for holding me back. Every morning I weighed myself, and the number on the scale told me how I was going to feel about myself that day.

Graduation came, and my power kick continued. I booked a Broadway tour my very first audition in New York, and everything was going just as planned. No matter that my hair was thinning out, I cried of frustration every time I 'lost control' and ate a normal meal, and my social life was limited to 'workout dates' with my girlfriends.

After tour ended, I got an apartment and moved to New York. I was ready to conquer the Big Apple! I hit the audition scene so hard that I was exhausted every day after 2 or 3 auditions, dance class, networking, working, and of course lots of working out. 6 months after moving to the city, I still hadn't booked a show. It seemed my beginner's luck had worn off after my first Tour. I was frustrated with myself. I felt my life was out of control, and I felt like it was my fault. My Italian friend Katie came up to visit me for a weekend. I looked forward to her visit as a way to get my mind off the the circles of self-doubt whirling in my brain. She wanted to get some good Italian food and we spent a long time walking around window-shopping and comparing menus. We couldn't decide, so went to mass on Saturday evening and decided to go out for Italian afterward. However, I couldn't stop thinking that Italian food means pasta, and pasta is carbs, and carbs mean you gain weight. And they would probably use way too much oil. How could I let myself get fat and lazy, which would put my Broadway dreams even farther away than they already seemed? (This was my actual inner dialogue. It was crazy, but that's really what I thought!)

During mass, I started having a panic attack. Katie was mystified and unsure of what to do. I wanted to crawl out of my own body and run away. After mass finished, I calmed down enough to tell her what was going on. She didn't laugh at my insecurity. With utmost compassion she took my hand in hers and asked me if I would allow her to cook me a healthy meal. Through my tears I nodded yes and we went to the nearest grocery store. I vaguely pointed at things in my still-frenzied state that my diet 'allowed me' to eat, and Kelly bought them all. We went back to my apartment and she proceeded to make the most delicious Italian meal, sans pasta and too much oil, that I had ever eaten. It was nourishing and healthy, but beyond the food I could feel such a deep healing taking place. I had been heard. Katie still regarded me with dignity despite my ridiculous diet, and she took great pains to show me she cared. I knew something was very right with the world. Giddy with delight, we stayed up far into the night laughing and talking. I knew, for the first time in a long time, that I am enough.

The next day I bid Katie farewell and went to my audition. There were 200 girls there, vying for 3 spots. I had the time of my life dancing and singing that day. I didn't care what anyone thought- it was pure joy because I knew deep down that I was worth loving. I made some daring artistic choices that the controlled, self-critical version of me the week before would never have been free enough to make. The production team noticed me, and that evening I got a call- I was one of the 3 who made it!

Healing fully from my eating disorder took a very long time, but from that moment on I knew it was worth the effort. I hadn't realized how much my artistic and personal lives suffered until that breakthrough.

Katie's empathy, compassion and care made more of a difference than I will ever be able to express.

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