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Love at First Waltz

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

The origin story of my love for dance and my struggles with body image

It was love at first sight (or first waltz to be specific). I was five years old when I saw my first production of "The Nutcracker". I was completely and utterly spellbound. I could feel the yearning to move like the dancers on stage through every inch of my body.

My parents purchased a tape cassette recording of "The Nutcracker" and my living room transformed into my stage. I would play the soundtrack over and over again, doing my best to recreate the dances I had seen on stage. I'm so grateful to have some home videos of this - to see an adorable (and extremely uncoordinated!) little girl move with such pure joy and abandon is an image that later helped me heal my relationship with my body and with movement.

The transition from living room interpretive dancer to classical ballerina was not that of a child prodigy - it was quite the opposite! My mom recounts watching my beginner ballet class and praying that I would't face plant as I tried with all my might to leap over the teacher's dance bag. But for what I lacked in coordination, I made up for with an earnest desire to learn and improve - a quality that would eventually take me from beginner ballet class to center stage.

Although I continued to progress and improve, I was always trailed a bit behind my classmates. But ballet class continued to be a magical place of learning and exploration. Moving to music, learning new steps, and creating some incredibly special friendships were the hallmarks of these early years.

Danielle as an Angel in "The Nutcracker" 1998

And then there was famed "The Nutcracker". This story ballet is one of the most famous and widely performed production globally. This is largely due to the fact that it is set on Christmas Eve and thus become a popular ballet for the holiday season. It is also one of the few professional productions that utilizes youth dancers. You begin with very small, mainly acting based roles and can progress through the ranks to roles with more dancing and stage time.

I loved every minute of the months of rehearsals leading up performance time and the weekends spent at the theater. I remember watching the older dancers from backstage in pure awe. I would study their moves and then me and my friends would mimic the steps and often fight over who got to "play" what role in our reenactments back in the dressing room.

As I got a bit older (around 12) a shift starting to happen both within me and around me. The years of practice and countless hours of training started to "pay off" in the sense that my technique and overall dance abilities started to noticeably improve. I can remember being simultaneously surprised and proud at my ability to leap, turn, and balance in ways that looked and felt like actual ballet. Another major shift (something that later fueled the fire for my body image and eating disorder struggles), was a newfound external admiration for my physique. My body had inadvertently changed into that of stereotypical ballerina - a petite frame with slim, long limbs and highly arched feet - the ballerina holy grail. While my classmates began to go through puberty and their figures moved towards adulthood, my late-blooming self stayed small and lanky.

It was strange, but also exciting to receive more attention. But the feedback I received for my dancing abilities was always woven in with feedback on my body. From the director of the school to even the parents of my classmates, I was told how "lucky" I was to be and be so small and slim. I was unfortunately drilled into my brain during this time that my rise to the top of the class had as much to do with my body as it did my dancing abilities. So at the tender of 13, I mistakingly and heartbreakingly drew the conclusion that if I wanted to continue to do what I loved, I had to keep my body as thin as possible.

This is where the first part of this story ends... more to come very soon. I want to leave us at this vulnerable and pivotal place in my story in hopes that we can start the first of many open and honest conversations together. Join the conversation on the Forums page on young adult body image and how it affected you then and now. I want to emphasize that the Embody Forum is a safe and supportive space to share (or not share) whatever you'd like. Please keep in mind that comments on any an all posts will be closely monitored to ensure that all exchanges are respectful.



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