It was what I’d been working for my entire life, but it was slowly killing me.
Ever since I’ve been tiny my one goal has been to be a professional dancer. My parents both worked in theatre, and my Dad worked in the Royal Opera House, which resulted in a large amount of my childhood spent watching performances from backstage and casually chatting with prima ballerinas. Seeing how effortlessly they would pirouette was inspiring and before I was 8, I knew that I wanted to be on stage like them.
I didn’t have proper training for a long time. I would allow myself an hour every day to practice my plies and stretch out, but other than the odd masterclass, I was on my own. I would watch dance performances over and over, and imagine what it would be like to have that much success. I kept going to dance schools but my social anxiety was still there, even all those years ago, so I’d usually refuse to go. It was difficult because I loved dance, but the thought of dancing with others was a panic.
My the time I was 14, I was in high school, and signed up for all dance classes. Contemporary, Modern, Jazz and of course, Ballet. I was taken aback by how many people had been attending these classes for years and were already firm favourites with our instructor. I found myself being put at the back of dances, and left without a partner and every time it would knock my confidence a little more. There was a group of girls who believed they could dance and looking back, and even now, they are still not what they thought they were, but they would choreograph dances and never invite me. It sounds ridiculously petty but it crushed me a bit more each time.
Out of school, I was still spending weekends in the Royal Opera House, partaking in professional classes, and practicing pointe work with principals. It all sounds rather perfect and it was, but it only started to feed my disorder more. I received nothing but praise from the highest choreographers in the country, but I started to feel fat compared to the other girls dancing there. Theyre over 20 years old and probably weigh less than me, I remember thinking to myself. It didn’t get me down too much at first, because everybody was so nice to me and always were giving me tips to improve.
My dance instructor had a nasty streak in her. Looking back, I realise that I was not a terrible dancer at all. This sounds big headed and I was not going to believe it back then, but it’s a lot clearer now. I’m not sure why, but she had taken a disliking to me. I was never in the front row, and always got picked last. Tell me this wouldn’t beat anyone down?
I remember skipping lunches because of dance. I would have a lesson at lunch, and then practice after, often reading my coursework in the splits. It didn’t get too serious for a while, but I was usually burning more calories than I had eaten that entire day.
There was a day when my choreography wasn’t up to scratch, and after skipping a few classes because of anxiety, I felt even worse about my dancing. I remember working in the studio for hours, trying to perfect these steps. I hadn’t eaten for about 18 hours. I remember having headphones on, and sweating for two hours solid. I emerged from the studio, back to where my instructor was with another class. She looked at me and said ‘Were your ears burning?’. I looked at her confused, taking off my headphones. ‘Sort of’ I replied. She looked at her students and laughed. She said the next words with enough loathing and disrespect to fill eternity, ‘That’s because I’ve been talking about you’.
And just like that, I hated every inch of my stomach. I restricted like there was no tomorrow. Instead of enjoying my weekends with the Opera Houses dancers, I would sit and envy their tiny physique, sneakily glance at what they were eating, ask questions about their diet. A lot got concerned, telling me they had to eat more, because of how much they would burn off. I didn’t really listen to any of that. Every time I would dance, I’d feel fat, and end up cry me for twenty minutes.
My Eating Disorder is called Ballet. This is what makes recovery tougher. No ballet dancers are overweight. They have to be tiny, yet strong. It’s what I’ve been working for my entire life, but one tiny comment brought everything shattering down.
I hope she is sorry for what she said, because it almost killed me.