One of these faults has already been publicly attacked and in many ways, rectified over the years and that is in regards to body image and body ideals in classical dance. My school was old school, as I said before, and along with old school ways came old school ideals, namely very very thin ideals. Now it is my personal belief that we all develop in puberty in different ways. My theory is some of us get our meat before our height while others get our height and fill in later. I was of the former variety and my ninth year was… pudgy. I don’t even have photos to prove it cause over the years I have systematically destroyed all evidence, save for maybe one year of dance videos that are under deep protection with my mother. Looking at these videos it was not awful, but for classical dancer measures it was becoming unacceptable. Of course I was not completely unaware of the situation but I didn’t quite understand the severity the effects of being pudgy this year can cause. See at around 9 is when young ballerinas (who have been training since 2 or so) start being weeded out for their talent and physical look to become company ready. There are even roles on the stage with professional companies at this time for scenes that need young children, such as Nutcracker. This was not the ideal time to pork up and my teachers and family were not so quietly concerned about it.
Of course how do you tell a child their weight is a concern? Perhaps some people would find it hard but the French (my grandma) and the Russians (my teachers) have it down, which is to say they simply say you are fat and start withholding sweets to you. It all started after one recital when my grandma was driving me home. I was in an acrobatic trio with two positively skeletal girls, they were the height first sorts, but this only enhanced my less than skeletal frame. My grandma commented that I was the fattest one out of the group, which I was unphased by and asked if we could get a milkshake on the way home. “No.” She said simply, “you’re too fat for a milkshake” At home the same treatment continued, at the dance studio too, which was always devoid of sweets and filled with light hearted teasing from the paternal older receptionist. “I hear you’re watching your weight” he said “Watching yourself grow wider it looks like!” I have to stop here, cause I am sure a lot of people think this is just awful but it was all done out of love and concern. Personally, I think it is more cruel to say nothing and let a child develop bad habits but I digress.
It was around this time that the diet appeared. I still don’t know who created this diet or if it was even a real thing or if it came from the dance studio or my family. It was typed up on several yellowing index cards. And yes I mean typed as in on a typewriter, this thing had to be 30 some odd years old. It looked like it could have been smuggled out of the USSR in a dancer’s pointe shoe. On these cards were special foods you were allowed each day to be eaten in a specific order in an attempt to make you lose more weight. The foods on these cards were awful, mostly canned chicken, black coffee or tea, hard boiled eggs, saltine crackers and pickled beets. It only lasted 5-7 days I think and it was meant as a detox or jump start I think. Either way the amount of alkaline, salty, devoid of flavor food was intense. But I was an obedient child and followed the diet. There was no sugar in this diet, not even fake sugar, which was deeply upsetting for mini me. A typical meal would be 12 saltine crackers, can of chicken in water drained, cucumber and all the black coffee or tea a 9 year old could drink! By the third day or so I was allowed certain foods in unlimited supply because they were “free” foods. One of these was pickled beets. I had never eaten or seen a beet up until this point but after no sugar for 3 days they tasted like heaven, at least at first. Then that awful dirt aftertaste beets have (if you can’t taste it you’re a liar) would come up.
Another thing I have to mention about this diet is that you had to eat everything for the day, no skipping calories and while you could eat unlimited amounts of certain foods you had to finish everything on your list, no substitutions. So after my one bite love affair with beets I realized I still had to finish my ½ a cup. It was torture. Also, by this time of the diet I was allowed ½ a cup of vanilla ice cream at end of the day which I wanted more than anything and I couldn’t have it till I ate all these stupid beets. (Seriously, I have no idea where this diet comes from or why ice cream suddenly gets added half way through. My theory is to make the diet more miserable since ice cream was probably the only thing on there you had ever chose to eat before this 7 days escapade.) Up until this point, everything else was fine I could eat it and it’s lack of flavor was not fulfilling but not vomit inducing either but the stupid pickled beets, whose flavor seemed only enhanced from the flavorless day, were too much to bear. Soon everything tasted like beets to me, even my vanilla ice cream. The flavor lingered in my mouth even for days after the diet was over making me have little to no appetite (maybe part of the diet’s master plan?).
My 7 day sentence came and went and the diet worked by the way, in case you were keeping track. I started up on a more traditional eating regime which all did little good till that summer when I shot up 7 inches and resumed being skinny. What also worked is a lifetime aversion to beets. Even when I try to be a grown up and eat beets in a salad or a juice I just want to die. I probably would willing eat just about anything else over a beet willingly. Right now if the choice was I don’t know chimpanzee brains with a tapenade made of roaches and sheep eyes I would probably chose that over a single beet.
Growing up in the dance studio as well as an entertainer family is perhaps one of my favorite things about my life. It no doubt planted the seeds to a life long passion and has shaped many things about me that I pride myself in, mainly discipline, respect and the benefits of seriously working and sacrificing for a goal. Don’t get me started on a number of “trophies to participate” dance studios for adults and children alike nowadays unless you want to watch me verbally transform into an old lady. “In my day we didn’t have trophies!” That being said, no system is flawless and while I deeply love and respect the old ways of training in dance it is not to say it didn’t have faults.