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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Open letter to my former dance teachers

Dear Former Dance Teachers,
I really wish that I could say that I have many warm memories of our time together but I do not. I joined the team after having danced for four years in high school with instructors that as a whole encouraged, supported and pushed me to be greater. While on your team I had two directors one lets call her Ms. Scale (because she made us weight in prior to performances) and the other lets call her Mrs. Put Down (because she questioned why I even made the team) who effectively broke my spirit.

Below you see me kicking with teammates during football season.
When I made the college dance team I was overjoyed. It was something I  dreamed about since I discovered dance. I went into the first semester with a great group of girls who were welcoming and fun. Unfortunately, I had also left home for the first time and knew no one going into my first year of college. There were also some issues back home that were never very far from my mind.
As football season got underway I was moving ahead with a relationship which would set the tone for my adult dating life. My boyfriend was doting and romantic by most accounts. He was also possessive, jealous, angry at the drop of a hat, and demeaning at times. Dance had always been my outlet so I looked forward to getting to practice.
I thought it was weird that we had to weigh in before practices but I went with it. After all Ms. Scale knew best. When I noticed a really sweet teammate not make the weekly cuts week after week, though she was a beautiful dancer, I was worried. When my body was sore from daily practices and aerobics class I asked you (Ms. Scale) if I should drop aerobics. Your response still haunts me, as you said I should stay in it for my weight. At this point in my life I had never thought about my weight. I was 5'3" about 120-125 lbs. (As you see me above.)
So after my first injury that year I kept going to practice, aerobics and now the trainer. All of which worked my injured shoulder with no rest. I also began to think around this time that my relationship was not as great as I had thought, but couldn't really seem to get out of it. Then a change happened. Mrs. Put Down took over the reigns.
At first I was excited to get to know you (Mrs. Put Down), but this quickly changed. During this time I was having health issues of the female variety. I often felt weak, had trouble getting out of bed and fainted from time to time. I also suffered some dance related issues including a pulled groin and ankle issues. While we prepped for competition you saw me get knocked out of the air and land on my ankle. You of course suggested I sit down that day but there was not much time to recoup. So I struggled to understand your lack of empathy for my difficulty doing turns on that same ankle.
I never saw a doctor during this time. Like many students in that time period I had no health insurance. Based on your attitude I felt like I should just be able to do better. You said to my face that you were not sure why I had made the team at all. You went on to say at a later time that I could not do switch leaps, triple turns, or fouettes. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Though I was not sure how anyone could do turns on the cheerleading mat, but if you said it I assumed it was just me.
Dance was no longer my outlet, it was the dreaded part of my day. Tryouts for competition came and for the first time in my life I did not make the cut. As if this was not hard enough I was the only person on the team that had been cut. I was expected to come to practice to run a routine I would not be a part of. At this point for the first time in my life I gave up. I could not bring myself to show up to practice. I contemplated quitting, which made no sense as dance was my life.
Prior to tryouts you told me that I needed extra practice with you, but you never scheduled it. You also told me that I needed to take dance classes over the summer, but I had no idea how I would pay for that. After I was cut you told me that next year you could see me on the football season team, but that you saw your elite dancers performing at competition. I understood you to mean this did not include me. So the message I received was that you had no hope for me improving. Even with the dance classes I needed you had counted me out.
So I decided not to tryout next year and spent the next three years of college missing dance. When I left school I got back into dance immediately and spent five years as a senior company member and dance teacher. I competed and performed often, once aboard a Carnival! cruise. I did triple pirouettes, switch leaps, and fouttes. There was something so empowering about being told that I could do something even though I could not do it initially. I still struggled with that shoulder and that ankle. Now 11 years later I still have trouble with my ankle. I finally saw a doctor and was told that my old injury had resulted in a torn ligament. The dancing that I had done on my unhealed ankle led to a loose mend that still causes instability. I also had a torn rotator cuff but I am not sure when that happened.
As I look back to my first year in college. I have some good and fun memories. I also realize that I was depressed and in an emotionally/mentally abusive relationship. I believe this had a lot to do with my performance on the team as well as the physical injuries that needed appropriate time to heal. I also realize that my weight became a major concern in my life. Ever since I have been attempting to "keep it under control" I have felt unable to. I also still struggle with feeling that I am good enough as a dancer.
I have tried to get over my experiences with both of you, Ms. and Mrs., and struggle with this. It wasn't until I was talking to a fellow therapist that I realized that this time was traumatic for me. I was a well adjusted young woman in regard to my weight and now I am fixated and feel like a failure for not being able to control it. I also avoid reunions with the team because if I was at risk then I am a disgrace now. I remember the first time I saw Mrs. following graduation, you said "did you finally graduate?". Its like just being cordial is outside of your abilities when it comes to me. I started college in 2003 and finished in 2007 I think I did pretty well where time is concerned.
It has taken me a lot of work to get back to accepting myself as a dancer even though I can not live life without dance. I wish that you knew how much your words hurt me at a time that I was already so vulnerable. I looked up to you as someone who was doing what I wanted to do. I trusted your opinions and your suggestions. Tough love is something that works for some but for me it is deflating.
If you get nothing else from this letter I hope that you understand the need to support other women. Accept them for what they bring to the table because everyone brings something. Also as a coach you should be a person that your team members can go to for support. I needed someone on campus to notice what I was going through. Things could have gone very bad for me, I could have ended my life or had it ended if my relationship had continued down the path that so many do when they start with emotional abuse. I came to dance because I was good at it and because it was a welcoming place. Both of those things were taken from me and I am still working on my recovery.
Unappreciated/deflated young dancer

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