In Response to: Teaching With An Eating Disorder

The other day I read this great article about a dance teacher Hannah Maria Hayes and her experience teaching while being under the influence of her eating disorder. It really touched me and made me think about how eating disorders can influence teaching. I wrote an entry on a similar topic a few years back when I was co-directing The Nutcracker. It was about how I viewed myself as a hypocrite because I tell my dancers one thing and think/do another. I recently came back to this when I noticed one of the girls check out her stomach in the mirror before ballet class.

Bam! It hit me, like how one hits the floor when they slip out of a pirouette. All the words my director said to me, “you know these girls look up to you”, made sense. I have never been a role model or in a position where young girls want to dance like me.  Sometimes these young dancers copy my dance style (clothes or movement quality) but it is so much  more than that! They can copy my attitude, mannerisms, and drive. Some specific dance mannerisms are, checking out their profile in the  mirror or standing in front of the skinny mirror. Ask any dancer and they know all about that one mirror that makes you look good, how to pick out the slimming leotards. Better yet, ask any dancer about how often they check themselves out in the mirror and criticize what they look like. I don’t want that for these girls. I don’t want them to fight each other for the skinny mirror. I don’t want them them to give into the pressure of “the dancer body”, to feel as if they must make themselves smaller to “make up for their lack of ability” or to “make themselves stand out”. I starved myself because I felt inferior to other dancers. I felt as if the skinnier I was, the more fit, the stronger I was, the more people would want to work with me/hire me.

I loved how in the article she wrote, “Thinking about stepping into a dance studio to teach ballet makes me panic, even though I have a dozen years of experience. Being trapped in a mirrored room and seeing how out of shape I am, compared to when I was a dancer myself, makes me feel claustrophobic. I assume my students will judge my figure”. I can relate. There is a panic, especially when you are in a relapse or feeling down about yourself. Lately, my self esteem/ED talk has been on the loose. My body has begun a dreaded change and my GI issues are rearing their ugly head and all I want is to cover up. But I am wearing a leotard (still as covered as I can get without being in modern dance attire) because these girls look up to me. I am trying not to profile check myself. I feel as if the more I do things that are positive for aspiring ballerinas/dancers it will help me separate from my ED.

Maybe dance teachers with eating disorders do need more attention, and more mental work. Hayes quotes a NYCB consultant,

” ‘Though most of us associate eating disorders with students and professionals, unresolved body issues and controlled eating patterns from pre-professional training can follow you into adulthood. “You are still the same person,’ says Hamilton. ‘And under extremely stressful situations, old habits come back…’Dance teachers need more attention than they get,’ says Hamilton. ‘You’re a role model, and if you are not able to approach eating in a healthy way or if you think you’re never thin enough, it’s going to come across to your students. We don’t need to pass this on from one generation to the next.'”

Which is so true! How can we as teachers, be a true role model if we cannot approach body image in a positive way? How can we demonstrate the love one needs for their own body when we hate ours? I try so hard to not pass on my disorder, my disgust, and everything that I did wrong in my heyday to these girls. I don’t want them to go through what I went through or what I am currently going through. How can I effectively do this? Maybe it is to get more help. To continue this things called recovery. Maybe it is to show these girls what an ED fueled life can do.

For my educators out there, dancer or other forms of athletics, how do you handle this? What has worked for you? How do you struggle? Is it even a trigger?

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