I was 19. Ballet school was brutal. While they might be nice to your face, the girls were in it to win, and if you showed an ounce of talent, or fortitude, there was fuel against you.
"Only 3 of you are thin enough- Ingrid, Cleo & Elizabeth." The words spoken in Spanish twinged English still ring in my ears today.
This obviously excluded me. So, with the rigors of physically pressing my limits, emotionally handling the teacher I could never please and girls who were full of spite, combined with the juggle of babysitting, a mandatory public speaking class and rehearsals of a ballet that I was afraid I'd be thrown into without having had enough rehearsal time, my body shut down. I got sick. But wouldn't eat. Because I wasn't dancing. Therefore I must not be burning calories. So as fever burnt the pounds off my already thin body, my illness dragged on and on, without nutrients or nourishment to heal.
After 3 weeks I finally recovered. I returned to rehearsals as the lead in a duet, and the understudy for a Paquita solo. "You're looking a little thin," a comment I received, I shrugged off, figuring that maybe I'd be one of the 3, now 4 who were actually thin enough.
Still, Ingrid Cleo & Elizabeth were the only ones thin enough in Claudio's eyes. Yet I danced on, and somehow, practicing from the back of the studio, caught the director's eye, and became the first cast in Paquita, instead of the understudy.
Rehearsing the same ballet day after day, receiving feedback about a sickled foot, or an arm out of place, my mind went into a tailspin. "They're going to take me out of it. I'll never get into the company," were daily thoughts that plagued me, both in rehearsals and out. Bloody blisters or purple toenails were of less concern than whether the -now understudy- would take back her solo from my incapable execution. Any comments, "It looks great, Kathy," or "It's really good." were empty, because they came from other students, and not from the people who mattered.
Anxiety dulled my hunger and pushed away sleep. Any admonitions to "eat more," or "don't lose any more weight," from teachers at the school meant nothing, because they didn't come from those from whom I desired approval oh, so badly.
Until the day my yoga teacher said, "Eat more. Or you're going to die. You have 3 days, or I'm going to do something."
Yoga was my saving grace. It was the place I'd hobble into 3x a week, and walk out of, uncrippled. Body unwound, spirit at peace, once I found yoga, I could go to sleep and wake up to face another physically and emotionally strenuous day without taking it all so seriously.
Yet I had heard his tone of voice. He wasn't kidding. I needed to eat. I didn't know what. Or how.
But I heard someone who was concerned. Someone who really cared. Someone who took the time, not just to make a passing judgment, but to make a phone call to say, hey, this is up. It's got to change.
So, one snack at a time, I journaled my calories into existence. Knowing that I might never fit in with Cleo, Ingrid or Elizabeth, but that I might actually have a life because someone cared, I began to dance for me. Not
for the man who considered me too fat, as the others admonished me