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Real Talk

Class Edition

Most of us dancers have had a toxic relationship with ballet at some point in our careers. And we all deal with it differently. Some of us turn away from the rigid rules and structure to embrace modern or contemporary. Some of us fixate on eating disorders or obsessive behaviors to gain a sense of control over something that feels impossible to win at. Some of us resign ourselves to a life of misery and depression as we sacrifice everything else in life for "success" in this single pursuit. Some of us leave ballet behind and never touch it again.

My way of dealing -- I became a rebel within the system. I tried following the rules, being a good little bunhead, & being obsessed with ballet. For a long time. But once that stopped working & no matter how hard I tried I was never happy, I had to make a choice -- quit ballet and move on...or defy the traditional approach & try a different route.

So I became known as the "girl-who-doesn't-take-ballet-class" in my social circles and dance scene.

And as I've recently emerged in studios to take open classes again, I've been getting a lot of comments & questions about my choices.

Allow me to explain myself...not because I think you should follow my lead but because there are lessons in this many of us can relate to.

Let's start with why I stopped taking technique class daily to stay in shape. It's NOT because I don't appreciate the value class offers. It's NOT because I blame the ballet world for giving me a complex. It's NOT because I had mean teachers that traumatized me. I have a great deal of respect for teachers, directors, the ballet syllabus, & the history of how ballet got to where it is today.

It's because I traumatized myself. My toxic relationship with ballet came from me. My mental demons took ballet class and turned it into a tool to bludgeon myself with. Over and over again. Every single day. For years. I was so brutal with myself - mentally & physically - that I was absolutely miserable pursuing this art I supposedly loved. Instead of improving (which is the intended outcome for class, obviously), I felt like I was digging myself into a deeper hole every class I took. The harder I tried, the worse I got. I was exhausted, depressed, my body was broken, & I was mentally sick. And I have no one to blame but myself.

This wasn't just your normal funk that lasts a week or two. This trend lasted most of my twenties, which was supposed to be the prime of my dance career. It got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. I either needed to quit or find another way.

And so, I did an experiment and took a break from daily class. A ten-year break. There's a reason this brand is called Anti-Bunhead Fitness. The only way I could survive the system was by becoming a rebel within the system. I had to do things differently. Step away from the rigid rules and restrictions my mental demons were torturing me with. Rediscover my love for life & ballet by taking a break from ballet.

But here's the kicker. Through that time period, I was still performing & dancing a lot. So, I had to find another way to stay in shape as a working professional so that I could handle the choreography in rehearsals & performances. (*Disclaimer: I still took class, just not every day or with the frequency most dancers feel the need to take class.)

I found a solution in my Bulletproof Ballerina training method. It allowed me to focus on optimizing my body, instead of stuffing my body into the ballet mold in which it didn't fit (no matter how much I hacked at it with a chainsaw).

Now, after a decade of training differently, I finally feel the desire to immerse myself in class and the ballet world again. (Hence, why my peers are confused seeing me standing next to them at barre.) I needed that time away to reformat not only my physical capabilities but my mental as well. Now, I have many more resources from which to approach class in a constructive way. But it took me ten years to heal from all my self-inflicted trauma.

I'm not saying everyone should follow this path...but it's the path I needed to follow. I'm neither ashamed nor proud of this's just what was necessary. But I do know this untraditional path is the reason I've been able to stay in this brutal career all these years. Not because I stubbornly doubled down on my efforts but because I stopped trying to force something that wasn't working & started training differently.

Hopefully this gives you courage to explore off the beaten path in case the popular path isn't allowing you to reach your full potential.

This personal story also illustrates how long it can take to heal and make progress in life. We are so programmed to want immediate results (so much so that we turn to drugs & surgeries to alter our bodies) instead of embracing the hard work & time required to shift momentum. You worry that something is wrong if you don't feel better or see improvements right away.

But not only do you need patience & also need awareness. No matter how consistent or hard-working you are, if your efforts aren't taking you in the direction of your have to find another way. You can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. That's a great way to build up calluses and walls that harden you & block your light.

When something isn't working, find another way. That doesn't mean you give up...but you try something different.

Get curious about your power to alter your life's course.

Be patient with how much time it takes to get real results.

And never accept something that makes you miserable as the only way.

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PC: Jon Taylor @jontaylorphoto