Category Archives: On Dance

To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist Part 3

The Second Class

It’s today.  I’m actually so excited about going to class, I can’t think straight.  Okay, my knee already hurts and I have a butt spasm because I didn’t stretch enough after running yesterday.  Not to mention that I fell down half a flight of stairs last night, landing on my hip, under the full laundry basket I’d been carrying.  But this is why God made Ibuprofen.   Medicated, caffeinated, I’m standing strong and ready to go.

Like Murphy’s law, both kids (aged eight and ten) are home sick today, but I persuade my sweet, supportive husband to telecommute for the first part of the day.  I make everyone lunch, stick it in the fridge and go find my new black tights.   (Oh, yeah, gorged on Thai food yesterday at a friend’s birthday celebration but who’s looking at my thighs??  Not even me.)

And now that I’m gathering my dance clothes, a word on footwear.  After the first ballet class, I noticed that the balls of my feet felt bruised.  It had been so many years, it took me a moment to remember why.   From my father, I inherited a strange (painless in itself) foot condition which involves the absence of a few ligaments.  This has been confirmed by X-rays.  You’d only notice if you decided to squeeze my feet; you’d find that they’re not tough and thick like, well, feet—but bony and too-pliable, more like hands (no thumb, though; they look human).  I solved this issue—once it was diagnosed—by wearing pointe shoes to dance whenever I could.  (Not a hardship; pointe shoes were required at all times in the ballet companies I danced with.)  Pointe shoes have hard boxes and kept my feet nicely—bound is the only word for it.  Regular shoes also work, as do sneakers, but regular ballet slippers lack support.  When I was in my very young, pre-pointe shoes days, my little feet were padded enough for none of this to bother me.  Later, I was prone to stress fractures.

So, for today’s class I bring a pair of pointe shoes with the shank torn out.  They still look like pointe shoes, but the sole is soft so I couldn’t dance on pointe even if I wanted to.  I worry about what the other moms will think.  Am I showing off? Being a “little trina?”  No.  This is about physical maintenance and longevity.  I won’t wear down the bones in my feet just to avoid coming off like a princess.   Aren’t we all too old for such judgments anyway?  I put on the shoes.  Tie the ribbons (which I must have sewn on about sixteen years ago.)  It feels good.  The shoes say, We’ve got ya old girl.  Go ahead and dance.   I say, I remember you guys, and catch a glimpse of my feet in the mirror, a gleaming flash of pink.  I flex and point my right foot just a little and it feels like ballet—in a good way.

Some of the other women do make comments: Wow, you’re brave, and the like.  I feel a desperate need to explain—you don’t understand: it hurts less like this—really! But I don’t need to bother.  It’s a very live and let live crowd.  If living means reliving a long-retired version of yourself, so be it.

The knee pain isn’t so bad this time.  From the start I remember not to care how turned-out I am, to focus on enjoying the music, being as indulgent as I want in terms of épaulement (defined in Part 2), milking those lush crescendos.  The class goes longer today, I’m told.  We’ll be doing more turns and bigger jumps in the center.  I’m wary of the latter.  The idea of leaping, given my knee issue, is one reason I ruled out dancing again up until now.  But after the adagio, I’m up for the waltzing pirouettes, adrenaline providing a nice analgesic.  Grande Allegro (big jumps and leaps) is next.  I go for it.   Soon I’m doing it: a real grande jeté!  If I squint at myself in the mirror, or better yet, don’t look at all, I can imagine sailing through the air, just as if nothing’s changed.

But when it’s time to try the combination on the left side, I grow sober.  Sense comes into play, overriding Ibuprofen.  No, we won’t go this direction, won’t do something as foolhardy as a big leap landing on my left leg—home to my long-suffering left knee.  I mark the combination, skip the steps but join in for épaulement.  I’m taking a bold step, dancing again like this, but I know my limits.  Most of them, anyway.

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To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist Part 2

The First Class

at home in my current identity

I get there early to warm up, but mostly to buy black tights.  I could not find any at home, and though I’m planning to wear sweatpants over the tights, I still need tights—not for the look, but to hold everything in place.  I buy the tights and put them on over the only leotard I could find (black, of course).  Next I stand facing the full-wall mirror in the dressing room, as my formerly anorexic mind swings in out of nowhere to process the image.  Unacceptable, is what it comes up withWhich is how the then me would judge the now me.  How can you possibly expect to lift those legs?  I fight these thoughts; I know better but I have to fight hard.  Here is what my recovered, evolved mom-and-shrink mind counters with: So your legs are thicker than your unrealistic mental ideal?  Who gives a shit when there are people starving in the world?  People losing their children to gunfire and famine?  You are taking an adult ballet class on a Monday morning when other people are at work.  You didn’t get to preview your thighs before you came here because the cleaning lady was washing the mirror at home.   You have no right to kvetch.  About anything.   

Now in comes my friend, who reinforces how ridiculous I’m being.  What are you wearing tights for?  It turns out, not only is everyone in the class around my age, everyone is a mom I know, either from the pool, from my kids’ school or activities.  Everyone looks like themselves, not the twenty year old images of sylphlike perfection I used to compare myself to.   Yet everyone looks beautiful in a way they probably don’t realize.  They are self-accepting and grateful to be where we are, doing this Monday morning moms’ ballet class.  They glow with anticipation.  I forget all about my thighs and stretch, getting excited about the music.

The teacher—a man whose name I’d heard when I was dancing but whom I’ve never met until now—is a flexible sort.  He can teach professionals, little ones or even aging soccer moms, depending on who’s asking.  I speak to him in advance, warn him: I haven’t danced in … my left knee doesn’t really bend so well, I’ll have to take it easy.  He nods with a smile; we’re all in the same boat.   This is not an audition.

As in every ballet class, every level, everywhere, we begin with grand plies.  The music swells and I’m transported back home to myself.  The very, very last thing on my mind is what my body looks like.  I have little actual ballet technique left, only muscle memory, but how well my muscles remember.  When you’re a ballet child, you learn your tendus, frappés and petit battements; your feet and legs internalize the technique.   But the fun part is when your upper body—chest, head, shoulders and arms—learns to dance, really dance.  We call it épaulement (loosely translated: tilt of the shoulders) and port de bras (the carriage of the arms).  These are what you use to translate music into movement; it’s the one thing you never lose.  It’s what still feels wonderful.

My knee, on the other hand, not so much.  We all have battle wounds and mine is the left knee, my trick knee, which is chronologically the same age I am, but in terms of hard knocks, is more like seventy.  The original injury took place when I was nineteen years old.  It was the first day of my professional dance career.  I had just joined the corps of the Cincinnati New Orleans City Ballet (those companies merged briefly during the 1980s) under the executive direction of Ivan Nagy, a well known Hungarian danseur.  The director swept in halfway through company class to inspect his new crop of dancers.   During an exuberant across-the-floor waltz combination, I managed to catch his eye.  I was so young, so nervous, so desperate to make a splendid first impression that I paid more attention to performance and épaulement than to where my feet were in relationship to the floor.  Mid-combination, there was a big, split-leg temps de flèche (read: hitch kick) into which I threw myself with gusto.   I was smiling—a classic closed-lipped, raised-eyebrow ballet smile (look how easy this is!)—and sprang into the air, switching my  legs brilliantly.  Ivan saw me!  Smiled!  Victory!  Then I landed.  I went one way; my left kneecap seemed to go the other.  Following this, the rest of the corps began rehearsing Les Sylphides, I began a long course of physical therapy.

I was young, as I said.  I’d heal quickly.  I’d even perform in Les Sylphides.  But my knee, which had aged twenty years in one fateful moment, would never be the same again. Now it’s on the bulbous side, takes a wacky spiral track whenever I bend my leg.  And pain?  I’ll feel it in unsupportive shoes but as long as I stick to my Dansko clogs, the pain goes away.  Also, I run.  Slowly but consistently, three miles every day which, counter-intuitively, seems to strengthen the knee.  (Whenever I take a break from running, like when I had hernia surgery, my knee got worse.)  But ballet is another story.

Today, during the very first tendu combination, my knee goes ginch!  The teacher sees my eyebrows knit in pain.

“Lisa,” he says, “take the turn-out down a notch.”

Is he kidding?   Turn-out—the balletic state of being gloriously, naturally duck-toed—has always been my claim to fame.  If you’re not turned out, it’s not ballet.  This was drilled into my head for more than twenty years.

“But why now?” says the teacher.  “If it’s not a performance, not an audition, who cares about perfection?”

I let my toes come closer together, form a ninety degree “v” with my feet rather than my “usual” one-eighty line from toe to toe.  Then I dance, using the right muscles, but no straining.  Surprise!  Nothing hurts.  Though this is harder, oddly enough: to remember not to force anything.  But for the rest of the barre, I work as hard as I can not to work as hard as I can, though that does not come naturally.   Every time I space out and just enjoy the music and the muscle memory, I force, I wack, I ginch.  And ouch!  Easy, the teacher says, Easy.

Now we move the bars aside to dance.  Adagio: slow and sensual, allegro: small jumps; then pirouettes to a fun and “dancy” waltz.  Here, there’s nothing to hold onto, so I’m not forcing anything; I’m too busy trying to remember how not to fall down.  I hold a memory in my head of how ballet felt; I project the image in my mind onto my reflection in the mirror, which is managing admirably for an out of shape (for ballet) forty-five year old.  Miraculously, nothing, not even the knee, hurts badly enough for me to stop.  So I don’t stop.  I finish.  Victoriously, I thank the teacher, hug my friend and buy a ten class card.

At night I make sure to roll out the knots in my calves using a wooden device I bought for this purpose years ago at the health food store.  I ice my knee with my turbo-super-duper icepack from a medical supply store.  I fall asleep with the icepack on and wake up frostbitten, which has happened before, but once my knee thaws, it seems okay.  In the morning, and for two mornings after that, I wake up stiff and sore.  But I can still hear the music, still feel the dancing inside me, the way you have that flying, rocking sensation the day after you’ve been to an amusement park and braved the big rides.  I am glad I have a week to recover between classes.  But I can’t wait until Monday.

To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist Part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts documenting my return to ballet class.

Sunday: The Night Before.

You’re a forty-five year old suburban mom, writer and therapist.  Put down those pointe shoes at once!!!

This is just one of the thoughts racing through my mind as I embark on this madcap misadventure.   At a dinner party last night, over our third glass of shiraz, my friend—also an ex- dancer—happened to mention that she’d started taking ballet class on Monday mornings.  Adults only, low-key, no pressure, just an hour, and did I want to join her?

Snapshot of long ago: 1984 Performing Arts High School. I was 18.

Are you kidding me?   I said.   She laughed.  She can laugh.  She was a modern dancer back in the day, not a ballet dancer like I was.  (Two entirely different mentalities.  They were healthier, less extreme in the way they treated their bodies.  Never smoked, ate alfalfa sprouts and granola … yes, ate.  Not us.)  Not to mention that my friend lost weight when she stopped dancing, “I guess because I wasn’t carrying all that extra muscle anymore.”  When I stopped dancing (which actually coincided with quitting smoking and getting pregnant) my real-woman body emerged faster than you could say frappucino.

So, more than the fear of knee pain or reactivating the dormant stress fractures in my metatarsals, more than the anticipated embarrassment at how my technique has drained away over the years,  I cringe at the thought of putting on tights and facing the mirror again.   Sure, I look in the full length mirror in my bedroom every day, with the harsh self-scrutiny of an ex-ballet dancer.  I break my body down part by part, staring down the rounded regions, willing them away, just as I used to when I was a dancer (old habits die hard).  But the difference between now and then is that I can put on my jeans, zip them up (tight or not) and walk away from the mirror for the rest of the day.  If I gain three pounds or even five, no one is going to take a role away from me or send me to the back line of the corps de ballet.  I won’t have to put on a white Lycra unitard and stand on a stage before five hundred people.  I’ll go to a PTA meeting, drive my kids to tennis, swing by Shop-rite on the way home.  And no one will notice my thighs.  Not even my husband, who is appreciative of my body in all its minor fluctuations.

Frankly, as bodies go, mine is pretty good for its age and station.  In the real world, I’m thin.  Reasonably fit and lean for a suburban mom.  But not for ballet.  Once, at a time when I was dancing, weighing ten pounds less than I do today, I was called into the office and given a weight warning—told gently that I “was not looking my best,” which I knew was code for lose weight or else.  So I know that for a ballet dancer, especially a ballet dancer from the 1980s and 1990s, I’m chunky.  Really.  If you know what Natalie Portman, an already-thin young actress went through, how she starved herself, for her role in Black Swan, you’ll have an inkling of what’s involved in maintaining a ballet dancer’s physique.  I once starved myself, chain smoked to avoid eating, threw up what little I did eat, all for that physique.  I was shortish (still am) with real live boobs (read: localized fat), so it was harder.  Even if I was thin, I would look bulky on stage compared to the other girls.    Learning to live with and respect my body was a long time coming.  (Part of me is wondering: Will I mess that up if I start dancing again?)

But the more I thought about my friend’s suggestion (draining glass number three of Shiraz), the more I decided taking a ballet class was something I had to do.  As an experiment, a study in what I can take.   But more than that.  The truth is that I miss it.  I yearn for the pleasure of physicalizing some of the most incredible music ever composed.  Ballet is magical, transcendent, spiritual.  If you’ve ever done it seriously, Ballet is a religion complete with rituals, dress codes, dietary laws.  It’s a way of life that becomes part of your identity.  So when you quit, you feel as if you’ve left home and can’t go back.  Ballet is so demanding, the exercises so specific, that in no time, you’re too out of shape to do them anymore.   You no longer look like or feel like you.  You move on, learn to love other things, but you never lose the sense that you’ve left a piece of yourself behind.  So I am going back.

It will hurt in more ways than one, but I’m doing it.  Full disclosure: my incentive was to have something new to write about.  Something that was deep and personal that wasn’t in the past.  Because I know this will be raw and emotional and the curious therapist and writer in me wants to document it as it’s happening.*

Tomorrow I start.  So tonight I am signing off and going to dig up some de-shanked pointe shoes and a leotard.  I will wear as much “junk” as I want (sweats, legwarmers, t-shirt, etc: hiding clothes).  I will not lift my leg above 45 degrees unless I want to.  If something hurts, I will stop.  But I’m going.

Why I left Ballet (from my essay “Cat among Crows”)

My dream of becoming a ballet dancer had come true.  The thing was, I’d outgrown it.

            Summer, 1992—Seattle’s had less rain than usual.  It’s so hot, even through tights my legs stick to the window ledge.  My aching feet, in pointe shoes, beg me to end this torture.  The little toe on the right is bleeding; I see red coming through the satin, but there’s no time to treat it.  The corps de ballet is on a ten minute break, just long enough to pee and smoke.  The other girls who didn’t remain in the studio to stretch headed for the smoking room for a quick round of bitch and moan.  I declined their invitation, retreating to this hideout that I discovered my first day here.

            It’s getting harder to pretend I’m like them, though I once was.  All I wanted was to be a dancer in a major ballet company—to be one of the four cygnets in Swan Lake; to dance the Balanchine masterpieces.  Now I am living the dream of that former self.

To be fair, there are some aspects of my job that still give me a charge, like dancing the opening in Who Cares?, where the music’s all Gershwin, and you whack your legs up in the air, flick your wrists and jut out your hips. Or Swan Lake Act II, after the corps’ entrance: where you tear around the stage, flapping your arms like a maniac and then stop on a dime when the prince comes.

I’ll be so into it, remembering at last why I do this in the first place and then, after a performance, I’ll get notes—the director’s list of everything I did wrong during the show.  (Everyone gets notes, but lately I get more than average.)  And I think to myself: I’m having a great time out there (not counting the pain) if you don’t like my dancing, watch someone else.

So I know it’s time to stop.  To become that other me, who went to a fancy Ivy League University and then lied about it, so people would believe I was only eighteen and consider me for their corps de ballet.  Before I left for college, my ballet teachers begged me:  “Dance now!  School will wait!”   I should have listened.  Princeton changed me, removed my blinders to the world outside ballet.  Once they’re off, they never fit right again.  All you see is yourself on the other side of the looking glass.

And speaking of looking glasses—what would it be like to have a job where you don’t spend ten hours a day staring into one?   The mirror is for checking your line and position, your spacing in relationship to the rest of the girls in the corps.  But mostly you’re just taking measure after measure, scrutinizing every flaw.  Thighs, hips, stomach, butt.  You are the fattest one, my reflection tells me, a matron among the sylphs.  It’s not your imagination; you will get another weight warning.  I catch a glimpse of myself in line with the rest of the corps; there is no angle from which I can pretend the above is not true.

And sure enough, the artistic directors—a married couple of aging ballet stars—call me into the office.

“You’re not looking you’re best,” they tell me. “We miss seeing you in your aerobic svelteness.”

            Oh, right, I imagine myself replying, when I was anorexic, you mean.  Yeah.  I miss it too.  Those were the days.

On weekends I devour whole loaves of bread in minutes, throwing up only occasionally.  My bones have begun to drown in flesh.  My thighs, especially in pink tights, become unrecognizable.   I must weigh over one hundred twenty pounds—unthinkable for a ballerina of my height and build (anything over one hundred is pushing it, frankly)—but who’s counting?  It’s just another way to distance myself from this place, this life.

From my perch, I track a spider, tiptoeing across the air a few inches from the stone exterior of the building.  The Good Shepherd Center, in the Wallingford section of Seattle, is the home of Pacific Northwest Ballet, though a move to Seattle Center is planned in the coming year.  The center itself, a former orphanage, later a home for wayward young girls, is an aging beauty of a place, made of stone, wrought iron and dark wood.  The window I’ve claimed is at the end of a quiet hall, with just one office leased by Greenpeace.  I push the window open and take in the wild, rain-enhanced outdoor smells.  Everything is wet and green, the air thick with the mixed-up scent of mildew and wildflowers.  There are crows gathering in the nearest tree: big, black, fixated on something.

“Hey.”  It’s Douglas, invading my solitude, uninvited, undesired.  He’s come straight from wardrobe in his Steadfast Tin Soldier costume, jaunty blue cap and all.  Douglas puts a hand on my neck and starts massaging the wrong way.  “You didn’t come up here to smoke did you?”

“Of course not.”   I turn to give him a smile, to which I’m hoping he’ll respond with a kiss and make tracks.

One of the Greenpeace guys—the lanky, Mediterranean-looking one with the beard—walks past.

“Nice duds,” he tells Douglas and catches my eye for a split second, which is actually better than a cigarette.

Ignoring the guy, or failing to notice someone out of tights—a lowly civilian—Douglas turns around to model his delt-and-pec-accentuating costume for me.  I dutifully acknowledge the improved fit, glancing over Douglas’s shoulder to watch the Greenpeace guy disappear into his office.

Douglas goes back to the seamstress before my ten is up.  No time to smoke now; I’ll just enjoy the smells and watch those crows for a minute more.  They keep on coming, filling the branches of the tree.

“They’re sure going Hitchcock out there.”

I turn, surprised to find that the Greenpeace guy has returned.  He points: “What’s that?”

I look: the crow at the center of the mob is the same color and size as the others, but its movements are awkward; it doesn’t have wings.

“It’s a kitten!”  I say, and the guy leans close.

He says, “Holy shit—it’s a kitten all right.”

I give him a clandestine once-over; he’s about five years younger than me: early twenties.

I say: “Can you climb that tree?”

*

            “So just come home,” says my mother, a few nights earlier.  She waits, listening to see if her words have stemmed this: my weekly crying jag.

It’s two here, but eleven in New York, which means I didn’t wake her this time.  Curling up on the sofa, under the red and orange afghan she made me (Douglas has the AC up high), I try to speak: I’m on contract here.  All that comes out is a juicy, snot-filled sob.  I reach for a tissue to muffle the sound; the bedroom door is closed, but Douglas is a light sleeper.

Mom says, “Oh honey,” which makes me cry harder.   She starts her monologue: “We learn from our mistakes …”  She lists mine: Seattle, signing the contract when I knew it was time to hang up the point shoes and be a real person.  She lists Douglas.

“He was fun in Philly.  But since you moved out there together, you’ve done nothing but complain about him.”  Be kind, she says: let him go.  Jump ship and come home.  She reminds me about a job I can have if I’d just call the number she gave me.

When we hang up, I wrap myself in the afghan and walk into the kitchen.  Douglas forbids smoking in the apartment, so I switch on the fan and open the window before lighting up.  I can see the lights downtown, beyond them the pier and the Puget Sound, all of it facing the wrong way.

*

The Greenpeace office is full of cheap card tables, covered with pamphlets and papers, clipboards and empty Starbucks cups.  One of the sturdier ones supports the weight of two Macintosh computers.  On the floor beneath it is an old-style printer, noisily running something off.  The only person still here when I stop in at six is a girl standing at a table, collating something.  She looks up.

“Can I help you?”

I describe the guy with the beard.

“Jonah?” she says.  “He left for the day.”

She takes in my rehearsal outfit, on the verge of a smile.  She’s younger than me too, with a gangly skinniness I suspect is natural.

I hesitate.  “Did Jonah mention anything about rescuing a kitten?”

She locks eyes on me, knows just why I’ve come.

“He climbed the tree,” she says.  “There was nothing there.  Just crows.”

The printer stops; the girl gets up to gather the accordion of pages, but I beat her to it.

“I’ve got it.”

My fingers quickly find the perforations; fold gently and tear.  Thin paper ribbons ripple to the floor, leaving the edges of the paper clean as a book.   I stack the pages, tapping the bundle on the table to make it even, and suddenly I’m back in college.  I can feel the pleasant weight of pages in my arms, the headiness of seeing my own words in print, the tedium of the chore sweetened by the euphoria of accomplishment.

“Thank you,” says the girl, bringing me back.  “I really hate doing that.  We were supposed to get a laser printer.”

“No problem.”

Now, eyeing my feet, she says, “Do those shoes hurt?  I’ve always wanted to know.”

I tell her, “Yes.”

As I keep folding, tearing, gathering, I start wondering what happened to that cat.  I know I didn’t imagine it; Jonah saw it too.  If the crows had pecked it to death, he would have found something—a carcass—still up in the tree or down among the roots.   I’m sure Jonah would have told this girl, and she’d have told me.  Then I remember that cats have nine lives.

*

A few days later, I’m walking alongside the Puget Sound, which I do whenever I get the chance.  It’s Seattle’s best feature, making up for the haphazard architecture that someone decided made it look like a real city.  But this walkway by the Sound—it’s why I’ve survived here this long, this far from my beloved New York.  I walk.  I gaze at the water, soaking in the view of the mountains, the impossible range of colors in the sky and suddenly, it comes to me: you can stop, you know.  A week goes by, and the thought grows into a promise.

Gradually I release myself from my old dream.  Bit by bit, the weight drops off because I’m not using food as an anesthetic any more.  I stop hating ballet (I am no longer its prisoner) and begin to really dance full out again.  During a petit allegro combination in company class one day, Douglas watches me.

“That was pretty,” he says when I’m done, but his face is sullen.  He says, “You’re leaving.”

It’s not a question.  If it were a question, he would specify: him, the company, or Seattle? Of course, I’m leaving all three, but he doesn’t specify.  I just take his hand and squeeze it.

The Body As Self: Weight Identity for a Young Ballet Dancer

For years I struggled with identity without thinking about identity.  I was a secular Jewish, black and white biracial girl, an only child of “older” parents, an Upper Westside kid.  But I didn’t think about these designations.  More important than anything else was that I was a ballet dancer, and all that it entailed: daily after school practice, weekends booked with rehearsals, summers in a hot studio, no vacations, no French fries, no non-dancer friends.  When, I broke ranks and went to a liberal arts college instead of joining a ballet company, I was suddenly a swan out of pointe shoes, lost without the familiar ballet culture, but also deeply curious and so excited about what else the world might have in store for me.  I didn’t realize that my life was about duality, always straddling two roles, two cultures, navigating two divergent paths.  I said I struggled without thinking about it because I had no time to think about struggling with identity or anything else; all through college I had a full time job whose name was bulimia.

I’d been anorexic in high school, but in college, the stress led me to abuse food as a substance rather than starve myself.  Being thin was all that was left of my ballet self, I thought.  And I clung to it.

I had an eating disorder from the age of eleven until I was twenty-three, and at no point did I understand that this had to do with pain, a refusal to accept my body or myself.   I wonder what would have happened if one of the therapists I saw at the time had gotten me thinking about identity.

Who exactly are you anyway?

Who am I?  Thin, that’s who.

No, I mean besides that.

I had no idea.   Skinny was my starting point, my grounding: if I could feel my hip bones, if I stood feet together and my thighs didn’t touch, I was okay.

I remember a session when I was nineteen.  I was on a year’s hiatus from college to dance.  I’d just signed a contract with the Cincinnati Ballet and was preparing to move to Ohio.  I’d be rooming with a friend from my ballet school, Alessandra (name changed), who was also anorexic.  I was anxious about the move but not for the reason my therapist thought.

“Leaving home can be difficult,” she said, “to go far away for the first time brings up all kinds of feelings.”

This was true, but I’d lived away from home for a whole year in college.  Before that, I’d spent summers in California with friends.   What I was really afraid of was living with Alessandra, whom I knew was a “better” anorexic than I was.  She had restriction down to a science, never lapsed into vulgar binging and purging as I did.  She was thinner.

It’s hard to write this, hard to imagine that I once felt this way, but a big piece of my identity was being the thinnest among my closest friends.   Granted I now lived in the world of professional ballet, where reed-like was the norm.  My body-type dictated that I would never the thinnest in the dance studio.  Being just five foot three and busty—despite weighing well under one hundred pounds—disqualified me, I thought, from having the ideal dancer’s body.   In a land where a B cup is considered huge, I was a C-D, which did make me appear heavier than my scantly endowed counterparts.  But thinner dancers didn’t bother me so much in the rehearsal studio. There was distance between me and those girls.  They weren’t my closest friends; they weren’t my family, so they didn’t infringe on the space where I was me.  I was afraid of living with someone like Alessandra because I imagined that she was more me than I was.