Thought Catalog: Pliés, relevés, and other ways to unbreak a heart

Thought Catalog: Pliés, relevés, and other ways to unbreak a heart

I have a piece at Thought Catalog this week, about my decision to finally go back to dance class after a very long year away:

I stopped dancing around the same time I decided to stop starving myself. If I was really going to kick my eating disorder, if I was really going to, in the cringe-inducing terms of the body love movement, “make friends with my body,” it probably wasn’t a good idea, I figured, to put it in a leotard and spend many hours a week in a room full of mirrors.

The relationship between dance and eating disorders is well-documented by now. It’s a staple of every dance movie you’ve ever seen, from Center Stage to Black Swan. It’s hardly surprising that so many dancers, and especially ballerinas, have eating disorders: the dominant aesthetic in ballet is and has for some time been one that demands extreme slenderness. That aesthetic was Balanchine’s doing: the father of American ballet liked his women thin and once told his protégé Gelsey Kirkland not to eat less, but to eat nothing, to be as thin as he wanted her to be. Ballerinas are athletes, but they’re also artists, and they put the “line” first: most defenses of extreme thinness claim that ballet is simply more pleasing to the eye when the shapes made by a dancer’s body are uncluttered by fat and flesh. Of course, not all dancers have eating disorders, and there are plenty of people who starve themselves without having ever once worn a ballet slipper. But generally, there’s a fairly high correlation — unsurprising, given the body shape demanded by the discipline — and personally, while I was eating way too little and exercising way too much, ballet was bad news. Even in French.

So I left. I had just bought a new pair of pointe shoes, my first in years, because after my time in Paris, I was getting close to strong enough to go back up on pointe. They’re so damn pretty, and I was so excited to bleed all over them; pointe shoes never stay pretty for long, but that’s half the fun. I tucked them away in my closet, the soles half broken in and the satin nearly pristine. I decided not to go back to dance class until I could enjoy it, until I could think more about what my body was doing and less about how it looked. It was the healthy choice, but it broke my heart a little.

You can read the whole thing here.

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