Category Archives: Donnish Delights

Mutable Mirror: How Psychoanalytic Studies in Academia Transformed my Dancer’s Perceptions of my Body – Sarah Friedman

Mutable Mirror: How Psychoanalytic Studies in Academia transformed my Dancer’s perceptions of My Body

By Sarah Friedman

People with body dysmorphic disorders often check themselves in mirrors because they believe they have physical flaws.

 

I am currently a student at Barnard, where I study English Literature and Art History. Because of my background in dance, I focus on the notions of representation, performance, aesthetics and self-image as I explore these two forms of expression. This past semester in a class called Feminism and Postmodernism in Art, taught by Rosalyn Deutsche, I was particularly influenced by an essay by Jacques Lacan called The Mirror Stage, which describes the connection between a child’s first experience seeing his or her reflection in the mirror and Identity formation.

Jaques Lacan is a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made significant contributions to post-structuralist theory, feminist theory, philosophy and literary theory. I found The Mirror Stage, Lacan’s first major contribution to psychoanalysis, particularly influential because it acknowledges a major conflict present in identity formation; the conflict between the sense of identity that one derives from his or her visual image as perceived in a mirror, and the sense of identity derived from internal, emotional sensations. This was a conflict that haunted me during my 18 years as a dancer.

When I became serious about dance in middle school, the mirror was both my best friend and my worst enemy. I often found myself awestruck by what I was seeing and became absorbed in some specular, two-dimensional sphere that had absolutely nothing to do with my physical body moving through real space and real time. Often times, when I felt completely disjointed, uncoordinated and confused, my gaze would shift to the mirror, as if I were in search for a sense of wholeness and coherence in a moment of pervasive uncertainty and self-consciousness.

My obsession with the mirror makes sense according to Lacan’s The Mirror Stage, in which he argues that we are primed as infants to search for a sense of identity and mastery over the world around us through the act of looking at an image of our body that is coherent and seemingly complete, yet external to our real physical bodies.

More specifically, in The Mirror Stage, Lacan theorizes that children pass through two stages of development; the Imaginary Order and the Symbolic Order. He defines the Imaginary Order as a pre-linguistic stage in which an infant gains a sense of coherent identity from the symmetry and wholeness of its reflection in the mirror. As Lacan states, this specular image is appealing to the infant because it “is given to him only as a gestalt, that is to say, in an exteriority in which this form is certainly more constituent than constituted.” This self-as-image identity, or as Lacan calls it, the Ideal-I, counteracts the child’s fear of the fragmented body, created by “the turbulent movements that the subject feels are animating him.”

However, this “gestalt” evades the true form of the body, as the real body is constituted of various minute fragments that form larger body parts that perform disparate functions. As such, after 18 months of life, the infant gravitates away from its specular image as means of understanding his or her identity. As an infant begins to accumulate language and passes into the Symbolic Order, the child’s identity becomes shaped through its relation to others in linguistic discourses, which last through adulthood (i.e. law, kinship and marriage). In this stage, although the person’s conception of the Ideal-I is reified as an impossible desire, this conception does not cease to assert itself in the person’s mind.

It follows that my own tendency to look at my specular image for a sense of wholeness and to escape uncomfortable physical sensations of fragmentation and incoherence is consistent with Lacan’s theory. However, there also came a point when this mirror image ceased to be a source of comfort and transformed into my worst enemy. The image that I saw reflecting back at me never matched up to my own impossible standard of perfection, which existed only in my mind in the form of a mental image. The mirror always reflected a Sarah that wasn’t turned out enough, wasn’t long-legged enough, wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t a good enough of a dancer to become a professional.

As I reflect back on my dance career, I realize that a lot of my unhappiness resulted from the fact that I was torn in three different directions in the pursuit of understanding my own identity as an artist.  I felt compelled to stay physically present in my body, yet whenever my physical sensations bordered on incoherence and fragmentation, I sought to understand my body visually by looking into the mirror. However, the mirror was fundamentally unsatisfying, because the reflection staring back at me didn’t match up to the mental image of perfection that haunted my psyche. I was tortured, trapped in a vicious cycle that led me down a dark emotional path of bodily hatred. There reached a point where I couldn’t stand this conflict any longer, so I quit dance.

As Lacan suggested, it is within our nature as human beings to search for a sense of coherent identity and mastery over our bodies through the act of looking to an external image of ourselves. Moreover, I think all women in society are tortured by the notion of  “the perfect body,” a notion which, much like the mirror image, doesn’t exist in reality, but is trapped inside of all of our minds in the form of a mental image. I think many of us gain an understanding of the world around us from magazines, television shows, movies and advertisements. We are surrounded by the visual images of physical “perfection” that dominate mass media representation. Like the mirror image, these mass-produced images are not part of reality. They do not exist outside the bounds of their frames. These images are the products of airbrushing, elaborate staging and advanced lighting effects. Nonetheless, these images somehow manage to project themselves into our minds and exert themselves over our psyches as objects of impossible desire.

When I came back to dance this summer, I was determined to escape this paradigm of bodily hatred. As I thought about my body image conflict through the lens of Lacan’s theory, I realized that the root of the problem lay in my tendency to search outside of myself for satisfaction. So, instead of fixating my gaze on the mirror, I sought to focus on my physical experience and what it really feels like to move. I have found that the more I move towards accepting the nuances and intricacies of my body, and towards letting go of this fantastical notion of the “perfect” body, the more I am able to enjoy the art form of dance. I have realized that part of developing an artistic voice is accepting the complexity of my expressive medium of choice. My body is my instrument, and the simultaneity of its awkwardness and its elegance is the main source of its beauty.

Sarah Friedman is a Junior at Barnard College, where she studies English Literature and Art History. She has been dancing for 13 years, and was a fellowship student at The Ailey School in the Spring of 2012. She plans to pursue a PhD in Literature when she graduates Barnard.


 

Are we our Bodies? (for Michelle)


My discussion with the mothers and daughters brought up some interesting topics. One that stuck with me was prompted by mother Michelle’s admission that since her body went haywire after the birth of her only child (daughter Danielle) she no longer felt like herself. Postpartum her thyroid was off kilter and the baby weight having never ebbed, 16 years later is just, weight. When she looks in the mirror she does not recognize the swollen woman that has replaced her once svelte image. “I feel cheated.” She says. Where she loves her daughter she is angered at what the pregnancy had wrought on her body. I suspect it would be different if she was somehow felt culpable in her transformation by overeating or not taking care of herself but this is not the case. “I don’t eat badly, I teach like six [dance] classes a night, water is my drink of choice” she is not even genetically prone to the body that she now lives in. Like invasion of the body snatchers over night (nine months) she was transformed, she now lives inside a foreign form she does not identify with, and is subjected to the stigma that goes along with being heavier. The extra weight has not only taken her physical form but has altered her personality. “I tell my daughter that she hasn’t really met me yet, this is not me” Once the subject of the photograph her shame has pushed her behind the lens, as photographer not wanting to seen, or create evidence that this is indeed now who she is. But is it? Are we our Bodies?

Sitting there as her truth surged out we all got it; her pain and frustration were palpable.
It was real, her insides did not match her outsides and it was Mother Nature who cursed her (damn that Eve!). She spoke of not wanting her daughter to be plagued by such issues of the body and the honesty with which she shared with her. “I’m not going to lie, I don’t like this.” She said referring to her body. As a group sitting around her, we were at once taken aback by her honest outpouring and frightened at how on levels we could empathize with her. We were all at one time chided or teased for being too much or not enough, we as women (or girls) had all at some point been the recipient of attention or affection unwanted, unsolicited or inappropriate, we had all at some point been ashamed, confused or at odds with our bodies. We had all for good or bad had been made to feel that it was our bodies made us who were.

Whether is it having your body transformed through pregnancy, puberty, or just never having your insides and outsides ever match (extreme cases would be the trans-gendered) it is ubiquitously common. Are we our bodies? Perhaps the simplicity of the question belies the depth of what is truly being queried. Within the subtext lies the reality that people are indeed sized up, categorized and judged by their appearance, beauty is a commodity as are class markers such as speech, etiquette and dress. One’s appearance can open or close doors and create or shut down opportunities. We continuously judge books by their covers, often never bothering to crack the spine, we are a socially illiterate society as hence why we have become obsessed with the appearance of our physical selves often putting more value on the external then other aspects of our beings. We often neglect our internal health (mental, psychological, spiritual), the very things our flesh is charged with housing. There are those who feverishly workout at gyms and yoga studios, diet incessantly, spend thousands on fashionable wrappings and cosmetics all in an concerted effort to look a certain way, which will make them “feel” a certain way and have others “feel’ a certain way about them, to accept them. Where they may be the most fantastic looking, delicious smelling creatures, once you open the book of the person you might find that they do not like themselves. Due to internal neglect, they may have become beautiful yet abominable human beings, insipid, disconnected, selfish, or just plain clueless individuals lacking compassion, and empathy. It sounds harsh, but whom reading this has not had the experience of this sort of discovery? In the media we see despicable but beautiful people lauded and made rich and famous. Horrible is the new black; to be villainous is sexy and cool so long as you are pretty. Reality television has taken this to another level as it thrives on vapid, callow, morally bankrupt people who are easy on the eyes. Why worry about the inside when the outside is what people care about, pay for and even fall in love with?

Who we are is a complicated equation consisting of numerous elements: our bodies, minds, thoughts, feelings, words, deeds, beliefs and more. That having been said the perception the world has of us often does not include what is invisible to the eye. We want to believe that we would never be so superficial as to reduce a person to the numbers on a scale, the clothes they wear, the car they drive, or the place they live. Like I said we would like to believe that, but we all know better don’t we? We as a society (Americans) or race (humans) all want to believe ourselves to be better than we are.

The reality is no, in truth we are not solely our bodies, deep, deep in our hearts we know that, however we are in desperate need of a shovel. It is complex equation and based on various levels of perception all of which (depending on where you’re standing) are true. There is the way we see ourselves (inside and out), the way we are perceived by others who don’t know really us (their observations, and slight interactions with us) then there are the perspectives of people who really know us. The third I like to think is something closer to the configuration of “Who we are”. Their intimate knowledge often shades and colors their opinions of us. Once known, our qualities often begin to act as a concealer for what could be viewed as physical “flaws”. Things that might have stood out gradually recede to the background, acne, potbellies, a limp, bad posture, and bad teeth; once we get to know someone we hardly notice such things. People become to us how they treat us, how they make us feel, they become their deeds and actions.

With the commercialization of the body and the marketing of lifestyles it’s increasingly hard to find a quiet place to center oneself and in an effort to remember whom you are, as oppose to who they say you should be. Like the continuous propaganda broadcast of Orwell’s 1984, it gets in your head. We all have begun to feel the effects of the consumer Kool-Aid, believing at we indeed are our bodies that it’s shape and form defines who we are. We have begun to believe that we are inherently broken or damaged and that a product we buy can make us better, whole, beautiful, lovable from the outside in, and it does feel that way, that is until something happens to it.

The adage “You never miss a god thing until it’s gone” has enjoyed staying power mainly because it is a truism and where the body is concerned can be illustrated in numerous ways: aging, injury, illness. Personally I have always struggled with coming to terms with my shape and form for many reasons. The most pervasive would have to be my affinity and talent for classical dance. I as a tall, muscular, black woman I fit nowhere into the paradigm of the form. The one thing I did have was facility. I was turned out and flexible. As the years pass and my body has accrued frequent flyer miles in the studio and on stage my facility has waned. If in my youth I never knew what tight was, I know it now. Move it or lose it is my reality, as I get older if I don’t continue move, I won’t be able to. I took my body for granted so much that I never thought there was anything to take for granted. Likewise I have watched friends who had always been pencil thin hit menopause and plump up all over. Some never thought they were thin enough, and some ate everything and never thought about a thing they put in their mouths or the nutrition content. Things change. I have seen young dancers full of desire and passion for their futures get diagnosed with conditions that make professional careers impossible- they rue the classes they cut to hang out with friends. Our bodies are temporary; they are biodegradable and will break down. As a friend said to me as my father lie sick and dying- “Well, if you keep something for 60 years something bound to go wrong” she had a point.

Over the past 3 years I have had the displeasure of watching the bodies of people I love deeply betray them with illness. I have watched the fear, the incredulity and the heartbreak of such betrayal. Some have been people who have played Russian roulette with their health, smoking, drinking, drugging fully aware of the consequences but hedging their bets until… There were those who have always been physically conscious and conscientious, eating well, exercising, and doing all the “Right things”, and others still who just lived their lives until one day something wasn’t quite right. I have stood close but not too near, as decisions have been made between the lesser of two evils in regards to treatments. I have witnessed the truth in the 7 stages of grief when impending death is all too near. Though my relationships with these people were varied in their levels of intimacy, I can say that the thing that stands out relative to the topic at hand is that none of them were all too much worried about how they “looked” anymore. In some cases after the reality that with certain treatments their hair would be lost (along with their taste buds and appetite) some embraced the possibilities of wigs, headscarves or hats making it a new fashion statement others simply bided their time hoping the would see they day that it would grow back, probably grey and of a different texture. Whatever their issues with their bodies were they are completely sublimated from dissatisfaction to compassion and appreciation for their bodies pre-illness. It’s as though the diagnosis eradicated or minimized their previous malcontent reducing it to petty and vapid and unimportant. This is not to say that their body issues, or vanities dissipated they were merely placed in perspective. What difference does it make if you are thin or beautiful if you are ill and in pain? Battling Cancer is quite different from catching the stomach flu and losing that five pounds that brings you to your goal weight. When treatment begins and weight falls off, and they are human shrink dinks fighting to keep a pound or too on, it seems silly to think that just months before they were on an elliptical machine like a addict on a pipe. The irony of life never ceases to bemuse.

As I write, I have that feeling you get when consoling a small child who is forlorn because of some injustice in their new lives and you wipe their tears and try to assure them that is gets better, that children won’t always be mean, that the smarting sting of sharp words will fade, that they are beautiful inside and out and once people see that they will appreciate it and that everything will be alright. Where your soliloquy begins as an effort to comfort the child you find that as you speak, a weight forms in the your chest because you know you can not make those promises. More to the point you know that where it should be true, it is not. Though you might not be telling a lie you are not telling the whole truth either. You being wrap the child tighter and tight with the hope that by the time they are your age all these things will be true, and that these are the last tears of this kind that they will have to shed, but you know that they are not. I write the words, “We are not our bodies” while accepting the hard truth that yes we are still judged and judge others in this regard. Perhaps it is part of the journey of the human spirit, the path we must take in order to understand what is truly important and of value. Perhaps we must work through- work out the issues with our bodies in order to get to the truth of ourselves. What makes a person who they are has yet to be defined and is certainly not limited to bone, muscle, organs or fat. We are much more than just our bodies. The essence of a person’s being has yet to be defined it is powerful, inexplicable. The truth lies in the enigma of the human spirit, which is intangible; it is a wonder that can neither be held with hands, nor shrouded in designer clothes. It cannot be contained it can only be experienced; the only thing that we can do, is to look for it, seek it out in others and ourselves by working on accepting, appreciating and honoring the beauty that stands before us in every and any form.

A Little Death- When “Dance Identified” what happens when it’s time to Retire?

Mental Health Specialist Cortnay Veazey gives us “A Little Death” which talks about how to avoid some of the painful pitfalls when it’s time to face the final curtain, or when injury knocks you out of the game for a while. As dancers, or even as family members and friends of dancers we know (and maybe have become collateral damage to) the myopic mind set and lifestyle of the dance world. Not to get all Black Swan on you but to become a professional dancer (in any genre, on any level) takes a great deal of sacrifice, and while you are in it, because you are loving what you’re doing it doesn’t feel that way, but sometimes on the back end you come realize that there is a great deal that you missed out on. It is akin to what you here child stars talk about, missing out on their childhoods. Where it might not be THAT extreme, there are things that must take a back seat. For instance I started dancing at the age of 3, and dance professionally at 13 with a regional company, I loved what I was doing and I was dedicated and focused, but  because of the amount of time I spent in the studio I can barely ride a bike, I don’t rollerskate, ice skate, or ski, for fear of injury and lack of down time. I stopped swimming and running track on school teams for fear of building the wrong muscles, and gave up the violin because there weren’t enough hours in the day after dance to do homework and practice. These may seem like small things, but in a sense my inability to experience these seemingly insignificant things at crucial developmental stages might have shipped away at the person I would have become had I the chance to engage in them.

When I stopped dancing (the first time- there were a couple of retirement dry runs) I was only 23, and was fascinated by the prospect of being and living like a normal person- no more sewing pointe shoes, aches and pains, and ice, no more having to end my weekend early so that Monday I could be rested for a full rehearsal day. AND AND AND I could eat what ever I wanted, no dieting (unless I wanted to) I could eat drink and party with relative impunity.  AND I DID! That was the first time, I went back to dancing a year or so later and only loosely reentered the world (project to project- after being set loose in the world there was no going back completely) the second time I “retired”, I was fully prepared, but only because of my early jail break. This is a truly important topic, and though it does not seem directly related to your body—your mind and your mental health are the cornerstone of your perception of self… read, learn and enjoy!

A Little Death- When “Dance Identified” what happens when it’s time to Retire?

Courtnay Veazey

It’s been seven years since I’ve consistently taken ballet classes, yet I still identify myself as a dancer, a bunhead, a ballerina, a terpsichorean, a lover of movement. However, this identification has lost its influence as other aspects of my post-performing identity have matured and blossomed. Identifying yourself as a dancer has its pros and cons. Pros include an intimate connection with your body, an automatic link to a tight-knit community, a spirit of intense dedication, and the joys of performing. Cons usually occur during times of transition, such as injury, realizing that you will not become a professional dancer, or retirement. All of those transitions deal with a loss, and as with any other loss in your life, you will grieve and feel heartbroken. To illustrate these powerful emotions of loss and grief felt by transitioning dancers, Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director for the American Ballet Theatre, said, “The retiring dancer and heartbroken lover are never more alike than when their relationships end” (Jeffri, 2005, p. 341).

 

I felt lost, confused, and grieved my senior year of high school when I realized that I would no longer be spending at least 15 hours a week in the ballet studio – my haven. I cried throughout my entire warm-up class before my final performance with the Ballet Memphis Junior Company. I knew that part of my identity was dying, but I chose to recognize that this loss would leave room for growth and new opportunities in my life. Ironically, the work ethic and dedication I learned from ballet would help me overcome the loss of ballet as my predominant self-identifier.

 

One of the most difficult times of transition a professional dancer will face is retirement – especially since it usually occurs at a young age. Most dancers end their careers before the age of 40. According to Pickman (1987), dancers “face retirement from dance with little knowledge or formal preparation for other careers” (p. 200). Along with lack of preparation regarding their transition, retiring dancers experience strong emotions, such as anger, frustration, depression, fear, and grief (Doerr, 1995; Jeffri, 2005; Pickman, 1987; van Staden, Myburgh, & Poggenpoel, 2009). An international survey conducted in 2000 by Columbia University’s Research Center for Arts and Culture confirmed “the common notion that the end of a career in dance is ‘one of life’s little deaths’ that dancers often say they must mourn the loss of before they can continue in another career” (Jeffri, 2005, p. 346). This same survey also confirmed that dancers feel more satisfied in their post-retirement careers if they fully prepare themselves for retirement compared to those dancers who do not prepare themselves (Jeffri, 2005).

 

South African researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with professional ballet dancers and discovered that retiring dancers usually do not view retirement as a growth opportunity (van Staden et al., 2009). They become intimately connected with the grief aspect of this transition and the fear that normally comes with a change and forget about the growth aspect and the talents and skills they have to offer. Also, upon retirement, dancers experience exclusion and self-doubt as a result of finding “themselves in competition with other ‘normal’ people, who are usually in the middle of their careers or even picking up the results of an already established career” (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 184; Drahota & Eitzen, 1995).

 

Feelings of being unprepared and feelings of anger, frustration, depression, fear, grief, loneliness, and self-doubt can be overcome by processing those emotions with a mentor and/or a counselor. Thankfully, the dance community recognizes this need for support and encouragement, and a wonderful organization exists specifically for dancers facing career transitions. This organization is Career Transition for Dancers.

 

continue article here

A Little Death- When “Dance Identified” what happens when it’s time to Retire?

By Courtnay Veazey

It’s been seven years since I’ve consistently taken ballet classes, yet I still identify myself as a dancer, a bunhead, a ballerina, a terpsichorean, a lover of movement. However, this identification has lost its influence as other aspects of my post-performing identity have matured and blossomed. Identifying yourself as a dancer has its pros and cons. Pros include an intimate connection with your body, an automatic link to a tight-knit community, a spirit of intense dedication, and the joys of performing. Cons usually occur during times of transition, such as injury, realizing that you will not become a professional dancer, or retirement. All of those transitions deal with a loss, and as with any other loss in your life, you will grieve and feel heartbroken. To illustrate these powerful emotions of loss and grief felt by transitioning dancers, Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director for the American Ballet Theatre, said, “The retiring dancer and heartbroken lover are never more alike than when their relationships end” (Jeffri, 2005, p. 341).

 

I felt lost, confused, and grieved my senior year of high school when I realized that I would no longer be spending at least 15 hours a week in the ballet studio – my haven. I cried throughout my entire warm-up class before my final performance with the Ballet Memphis Junior Company. I knew that part of my identity was dying, but I chose to recognize that this loss would leave room for growth and new opportunities in my life. Ironically, the work ethic and dedication I learned from ballet would help me overcome the loss of ballet as my predominant self-identifier.

 

One of the most difficult times of transition a professional dancer will face is retirement – especially since it usually occurs at a young age. Most dancers end their careers before the age of 40. According to Pickman (1987), dancers “face retirement from dance with little knowledge or formal preparation for other careers” (p. 200). Along with lack of preparation regarding their transition, retiring dancers experience strong emotions, such as anger, frustration, depression, fear, and grief (Doerr, 1995; Jeffri, 2005; Pickman, 1987; van Staden, Myburgh, & Poggenpoel, 2009). An international survey conducted in 2000 by Columbia University’s Research Center for Arts and Culture confirmed “the common notion that the end of a career in dance is ‘one of life’s little deaths’ that dancers often say they must mourn the loss of before they can continue in another career” (Jeffri, 2005, p. 346). This same survey also confirmed that dancers feel more satisfied in their post-retirement careers if they fully prepare themselves for retirement compared to those dancers who do not prepare themselves (Jeffri, 2005).

 

South African researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with professional ballet dancers and discovered that retiring dancers usually do not view retirement as a growth opportunity (van Staden et al., 2009). They become intimately connected with the grief aspect of this transition and the fear that normally comes with a change and forget about the growth aspect and the talents and skills they have to offer. Also, upon retirement, dancers experience exclusion and self-doubt as a result of finding “themselves in competition with other ‘normal’ people, who are usually in the middle of their careers or even picking up the results of an already established career” (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 184; Drahota & Eitzen, 1995).

 

Feelings of being unprepared and feelings of anger, frustration, depression, fear, grief, loneliness, and self-doubt can be overcome by processing those emotions with a mentor and/or a counselor. Thankfully, the dance community recognizes this need for support and encouragement, and a wonderful organization exists specifically for dancers facing career transitions. This organization is Career Transition for Dancers. http://www.careertransition.org/Programs/

 

Dancers experience intense emotions when processing retirement because they tend to sacrifice personal development (Roncaglia, 2006), which leads to weakened self-identities (van Staden et al., 2009). In other words, dancers forfeit time with friends, family, and educational institutions (i.e. high school and/or college) to solely focus on dance, which in reality is only a small part of their identities. Yes, dance is an important aspect of their lives, but due to intense training, rehearsing, touring, and performance schedules, dancers sometimes forget to develop other aspects of their identities. This intense focus on only one aspect of their lives leads to much more intense loss when retirement occurs.

 

So, pre-professional and professional dancers, take time to focus on the other parts of who you are. Take a night class at a local or online university. Become involved with different volunteer efforts. Develop hobbies, such as photography, reading, writing, etc. Most importantly, while you’re taking time to focus on these other aspects of your identity, realize that everything you engage in is purposeful and ultimately preparing you in some way for a life off the stage. Some of you younger dancers may be participating in intense training and therefore do not have time to engage in other activities. That’s okay. Just be sure to make an effort to recognize your interests outside the dance realm. The mere knowledge that you have an interest in other things is just as important because those interests could become a secondary career choice in the future. Also, by being able to recognize your other interests now, then you will not be left offstage asking “Well, what else do I like? What do I do now?”

 

Here are a few activities that you can do pre-retirement to help you prepare for and successfully manage the emotional turmoil that can stem from this transition – whether that transition is next year or ten years from now.

 

1. Know what stage you’re experiencing. Drahota & Eitzen (1998) modified Ebaugh’s (1988) role exit theory to make it applicable for professional athletes. I believe their modification is also applicable to professional dancers.

Pre-Stage 1 – Original Doubts: You realize before becoming a professional dancer that this career (or role) would be temporary due to injury, the aging process, and intense competition. Therefore, you plan for another career before becoming a professional dancer. (If you experience this stage, then you typically experience a smoother transition post-retirement and enter directly into Stage 2.)

Stage 1 – First Doubts: You begin to doubt your commitment to being a professional dancer by realizing this role will not last forever. This questioning can occur as a result of burnout, injury, layoff, illness, or company restructuring.

Stage 2 – Seeking Alternatives: You begin looking for and consider alternatives to your current role as a professional dancer.

Stage 3 – The Turning Point: You make a voluntary or involuntary decision to exit your role as a professional dancer. Involuntary decisions occur because of layoffs, career-ending injuries, or illnesses. Also, during this stage, you announce your decision to leave your role and assemble the emotional and social support you need to act on that decision.

Stage 4 – Creating the Ex-Role: You learn how to be you without the role of dancer prominently attached and begin learning how to incorporate your past identity into your present and future identity. This stage is an intense process and takes time. (I’m still learning how to incorporate my identity as a ballerina into my present life.)

Consider the following questions regarding your current stage: How does it feel to be in that stage? What questions do have about the other stages? What do you see yourself doing to successfully move into the next stage? What’s preventing you from doing those things? What emotions do you feel when you think about moving to the next stage?

 

2. Explore your self-identity through a freewriting activity. For ten minutes, write whatever comes into your mind about your self-identity. Don’t stop to critique what you write. Just keep writing as much as you can get down. If you get stuck, keep writing – write ‘I’m stuck,’ or ‘I don’t know what else to write.’ Most importantly, keep your pen moving. After ten minutes, read through what you said. What did you learn about yourself? What are you missing? How will you fulfill those missing components? What are your strengths? How can you use those strengths in areas outside of dance?

 

3. Create a collage that reflects how you presently feel about retirement and how retirement makes you view yourself. After creating the collage and recognizing some of the emotions present in it, say out loud to yourself, “I will not allow retirement to make me feel _____.” Fill in the blank with anything (i.e. lonely, ugly, unimportant, sad).

 

4. Complete the following statement: “If I hadn’t become a dancer, I would have _____.” Explore that variety of interests that you use to fill in that blank via a part-time job, volunteering, or an educational outlet.

 

5. Research the multitude of resources at Career Transition for Dancers – http://www.careertransition.org/OnlineResources/TransitionLinks/ – based upon the area in which you’re lacking information, such as career counseling, resume writing, dance education resources, college guides, performing arts unions, etc.

 

6. Share what you learn with someone – either a fellow dancer or a trusted friend. You are not alone in this process.

 

References

 

Doerr, D. C. (1995). Coping with the emotions of job transition: A model for presentation to

clients. Journal of Career Development, 22(2), 101-107. doi:10.1007/BF02247460

 

Drahota, J. A. T., & Eitzen, D. S. (1998). The role exit of professional athletes. Sociology of

Sport Journal, 15(3), 263-278. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.

 

Ebaugh, H. R. F. (1988). Becoming an ex: The process of role exit. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press.

 

Jeffri, J. (2005). After the ball is over. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 11(3), 341-355.

doi:10.1080/10286630500411499

 

Pickman, A. J. (1987). Career transitions for dancers: A counselor’s perspective. Journal of

Counseling & Development, 66(4), 200-201. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.

 

Roncaglia, I. (2006). Retirement as a career transition in ballet dancers. International Journal

            for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 6, 181-193. doi:10.1007/s10775-006-9106-0

 

van Staden, A., Myburgh, C. P. H., & Poggenpoel, M. (2009). A psycho-educational model to

enhance the self-development and mental health of classical dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 13(1), 20-28. Retrieved from International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text database.

IT’S OUR BIRTHDAY WE ARE 1 YEAR OLD!!!

A year ago today I launched My Body My Image. It was a heartfelt project stemming both from my personal struggles and the struggles of the many young dancers I encountered through my years of teaching. Personally I thought that I was on to something, but when we are in our heads we always do! It wasn’t until there was an outpouring of support for the site from friends, and people who just stumbled upon it, and their positive feedback and encouragement that I knew for certain that this was needed. I want to thank all the people who contributed this year:

Natalie, Courtnay, Jenny, Jessica, and Makeda, your voices have added knowledge and a voices to the forum, and helped all that read your work and I look forward to working with you more in the future.

I’d like the thank Christopher Mack of Mack Digital for designing the sight and keeping us up and running!!!

I’d like to thank April Megan, Robert Garland, my Bikram HarlemYoga Family and Linda Denise Fisher- Harrell, for her early support, you all helped me so much in the very beginning, Thank you

To date we have had 58,466 hits and the hits keep coming.

I am so happy and proud and look forward to bringing you more in the future!!

Theresa Ruth Howard

Join our Facebook fan page! I am trying to reach 365 fans by midnight

Otherness…

Our whole lives we work to meet a standard or expectation. As small children we are slowly introduced to the ways our specific tribes (families). Each family has their methods of interaction, rituals and ways they have of doing things. Everything from the way we speak, what we eat, dress, as well as our moral codes is taught to us in these foundational relationships. Instinctively we are eager to please our “tribe” and quickly learn to fit in. We are so young our exposure is limited, and our view of the world is relegated to those we come in contact with. We hardly know or realize that there are other ways of being. Since we have very little contrast in our lives or the capacity to comprehend what that is, without thought we emulate the examples surrounding us. Slowly, and gently our world expands as we begin to socialize in other arenas (play dates school etc.) it is at this point that alternative information in introduced and we begin to experience contrast or other ways of being, and this is the beginning of our realization that something else, something other than what we know exists, it is at this point that we start the cycle of questioning and choice.

When I was a very little girl I did not know who Elizabeth Taylor (dubbed the most beautiful actress in the world) was, but I knew whom my mother was, and in my eyes no one could have been more beautiful or elegant than she. My Mother even after having nine children (one at a time) had managed to maintained her waistline, with ample breasts and hips in perfect balance, she was noted for her curvy legs and had the most beautiful hands I have ever seen save for her belly mapped from childbirth she was unmarred. My mother is very fair, I am a nutmeg brown in complexion and were I grew to have her legs (thanks mom) my physique is more that of my father’s side of the family. Though I did not directly look like my mother somehow it was fine. As a family brothers and sisters and I are like the colors of the rainbow ranging from what is called “high yellow” to my nutty complexion. Our body types are divergent as well, from short and round, to tall and lean. As a little girl when I sat around the dinner table I could see bits of myself in all of the faces and bodies surrounding me, and though I always wished I were lighter in complexion I never felt uncomfortable or inadequate.

My world expanded rather quickly and exponentially, at the age of three I started Montessori school and was thrust into to a world where people not only came in different colors but ethnicities. Who knew that people came in so many shapes and colors? One of my fast friends during that period was a girl named Rya Silverman. She was possibly the whitest person I had ever seen. She had pale, translucent skin, blue eyes and white blonde hair. She looked like all of my baby dolls. She was frail of body and emotion quite the opposite of me. Both Rya and I moved on to Baldwin Academy for Girls in Bryn Mawr the suburbs of Philadelphia.

It was in this environment that I learned to hate my hair. Every Wednesday was swimming day. This was pre-Revlon hair relaxer days and I knew that my carefully pressed out ponytails were going to be puff balls by the end of the day once the water hit them. I was smart enough to know that after swimming my best bet was to stand under the hairdryer, my hair still bound in pigtails and dry them the best I could. To release them was to unleash a mane that, as a seven years old I had no skill to handle. One day my teacher, concerned that in the winter weather my hair would not dry thoroughly, insisted that I take my hair out to dry it. I looked up at her skeptically knowing full well what was going to happen. But she had already started to undo one side. A limp puff was released, and as my hair dried it became a tsunami of an Afro puff. Now without the proper tools to comb through the mass we both stood there trying to figure out what to do. I gave her the “See, I told you so” look annoyed at the fact that knew that I was right, and because she was bigger and older I had to obey. Now, not only did I look a hot mess, but also I would be forced to go through my day looking like the pick-a-ninny that being the only black student from k-9th grade I already felt like. Add to that the fact that my mother was going to kill me because I knew better, in this simple act of taking out my wet hair I had just created an hours worth of work for her combing out my rat’s nest that evening. Chagrined, my teacher, now fully aware of her mistake and in ignorance at how to deal with this expanding problem left me there and feigned busying herself with the rest of the children. I was left alone to wrangle my hair into some sort of order the best that I could. She never came near me again on swimming days when I stood defiantly under the dryer with my hair in ponytails. This incident was one of the most indelible of my childhood. I had always known that I was black, and “different” from girls like Rya but moments like this confirmed it in a negative way. My teacher knew instinctively how to help my white classmates with their hair but was clueless as to how to help me. I was on my own. This was one of the first times I can remember wanting to be something different, to have different hair, to be like the rest of my classmates to be the same, not to be “other”.

After school I went to Pennsylvania Ballet where I trained 3-5 days a week. I was once again one of the only Black children in the program. It was there that my desire to look like my white classmates not be “other” was fully formed. In the dance studio where you are exposed physically and emotionally, trying to master a technique that hinges on aesthetics, the perfection of line and placement, when you do not have the ability to blend in appearance (meaning skin color, hair type and style) it puts undue pressure on you to be perfect on another level. The only way I could blend or look like my teacher was to perfect my technique and line. When I looked in the mirror even if I managed to create the correct line, my brownness got in the way, somehow it always looked wrong. At least at my dinner table I could look around and see aspects of myself, in the ballet studio there was nothing like me, once again I was on my own, other.

This two worlds, my academic and artistic created a separation that I had never experienced in my household with my tribe but and odd thing happened as a result, those two environments created a separation for me in my household and my neighborhood. My family new little of my talk of dreidels, Passover and bat mitzvahs (common occurrences in my predominantly Jewish school) the kids on my block looked at my Lacrosse stick like it was a medieval instrument of torture, nor did they know what a Ronde de Jambe or Grande Allegro was. In an effort to educate me to the best of their ability, my parents had unwittingly created another level of isolation. I had through the years grown into the “Other” in my home. My interests expanded, my references grew, my aesthetic changed so did my ability to connect with my family and neighborhood friends, and I began to segment the areas of my life. I began to want to look like a “dancer” with not behind, and arched feet, I spoke of people like Gelsey Kirkland, Kyra Nichols and Baryshnikov, where they understood the world I was speaking and dreaming of, they did not, could not understand it. Even to this day my family as no concrete idea what my life as a dancer, as an artist consists of, they are still perplexed by my traveling the world to dance, or teach. It is a world apart from them, they are proud, but they stand outside of my world looking in.

If I were to truly look at the source of my sense of otherness its nascent roots would stem from my body, both inside the tribe of my family to my schooling and my dance training. From being the brownest member of my family, and then becoming a dancer, to being one of the only students of color in school and in the dance studio I was always slightly different. I could change elements of my personality to blend, an ambivert by nature (believe it or not when I was younger I was quite shy when I was in public) I remember the day I consciously decided to exercise my extrovert, and use my humor as a protective shield to be liked and accepted, my thinking was, “If you make people laugh they won’t want to hurt you.” In the world I could be smart, funny, I could use my talent as a way to “fit in” but still my body as it was set me apart. With my family I could fall into our shared tribal ways of being, but the desire of my heart in terms of what I wanted to be (a dancer) was far from them, there was always going to be a part of me that I could not share and experience with my siblings with an intimate level of understanding (except on a level with my father who worked to educate himself as to the world of dance). This sense of isolation has stayed with me; it has informed every aspect of whom I am. Standing on the outside while being in the center of these worlds as giving me the perspective I hold now hold about race, and education, dance, art and the world and yes even the body.

I am, and have always been “other”. Other is a term to describe not being apart of the majority, the norm the status quo. I have been “other” in body all of my life, and later as my world began to expand through education (both academic and artistic) my thinking and philosophy about life and the world relegated me to the realm of “other” as well. As a youth I did not understand it, I resented it; it was painful, isolating and lonely, I have since learned to embrace what my “otherness” offers me, the ability to be a part of and yet set apart from concomitantly, to see things from multiple angles all at once, it has helped me arrive at a place of acceptance instead of mere tolerance for things unlike myself or anything else, and especially of myself. My Otherness has been for me the beginning of Understanding.

Would you like to contribute to My Body My Image?

Every one has a body story, if you would like to share yours just email your submission to theresaruthhoward@mybodymyimage.com and join the discussion!

I want to hear your body issues and how you deal with them
What bugs you about how the media portrays the female image?
What do you think about the fashion industry and the female form?
Have you discovered a way to accept appreciate, and respect your body? well share your tool with others!

It’s all In Your Words!

Respect In Retrospect- Catherine Cabeen

It is my pleasure to present to you Seattle based dancer/choreographer Catherine Cabeen’s first contribution to My Body My Image. I have long been a fan of her dancing and just recently upon seeing her choreography at Joyce SoHo I was once again won over. However it was my interview with her prior to her performances that moved me to ask her to contribute to the blog. I was awed by her submission, the candor and courage with which she shares her body experience is powerful, insightful and thought provoking. Sometimes the most simple and obvious of truths are the hardest to articulate but Catherine has a way in her writing (much like in her dancing and choreography) of telling her story with clarity and force. It is my honor to welcome her into the forum!!!

Respect In Retrospect-
by Catherine Cabeen

A few weeks ago, I spoke with forthright Theresa Ruth Howard about the body. In particular we discussed the large female body and how being called “too big” affects young female dancers. It was a stimulating conversation and one that left me pondering how drastically our perceptions of our bodies change during our lifetime.

I am absolutely a dancer who can attest to the damage done by eating disorders. My late teens and 20s were rife with in- and out- patient clinics for anorexia and bulimia. I was kicked out of college so that the school couldn’t be held liable for the impending heart attack they saw coming in my obsessive self-starvation. After leaving college I went to a professional training program for dance, which celebrated my emaciation with a scholarship. At 5’10’ and 105 lbs I was terrifying my family, but getting roles in the student ensemble. Needless to say, this was confusing. The dance world’s celebration of unhealthy aesthetics made the road to health long and professionally treacherous. As I fought to understand the balance between eating and fitness, and to develop an understanding of the simultaneous interconnectivity and separation of dance and life, I also had to weigh my own physical survival against professional success. However, when I think about the issue of body image in relation to size now, I find myself furious. I am sad that thousands of young people have been physically and emotionally hurt by our culture’s obsession with thinness and the dance world’s perverse amplification of that aesthetic. But far overpowering my sorrow is anger, because our getting hurt was SUCH A WASTE OF TIME!!!

Now that I have sat with friends who have lost legs and breasts to cancer, now that my friends young and older have gone before their time, now that my own body has experienced injuries so severe that I’ve had to relearn how to walk several times, to hate the body because of what it looks like seems like an obscene luxury. This collection of flesh and blood that we move through and conduct with spirit and desire, is not a burden, it is a gift, and a gift that we are given only briefly. To be able to dance is a freedom that we can enjoy for a short time in our life while we are “temporarily able-bodied.” How is it that in a life so precious and fragile, we have convinced so many young girls to be so obsessed about their looks? This obsession is nurtured to become so all consuming that many young women don’t have time or energy to dedicate to work they could be doing to feed their spirits, let alone to help their communities and environments improve. Our world currently needs creative solutions to chronic problems, but creativity takes energy. If, in order to fit into a size 2, youth don’t literally feed their minds, our culture will stagnate in its attenuated numbness. We need to encourage each other to focus our energy on using what we are, rather than judging what we are. Otherwise we will continue to fetishize the surface of things and, in doing so, miss the brief opportunity we have in this lifetime to experience our own vitality.

In addition to revealing the fact that our bodies are a temporary gift, not a messy cage, life has provided me with several opportunities in the last decade to understand the incredible value of physical resources. I lost my job and home in the recent economic crisis, and not long after, I began to have trouble affording food. ACTUALLY not having enough to eat has revealed dieting in particular, to be a first world solution to a first world problem. A great deal of the planet is desperately fighting to find enough to eat. In this world with dwindling natural resources, how dare we lament the temptation in our swollen supermarkets?

In America in 2011, we don’t so much live in a time of plenty, as one of unconscious insulation. Mega-stores and super-markets, bursting with growth hormones and genetically modified, pre-packaged “engineered nutrition,” have masked the on-going environmental devastation that our cultural obsession with instant gratification is causing. By producing and shipping food products in ways that deny human rights or environmental protection, America is masking its own poverty. Imported, out of season, greenhouse crops and super-sized “foods” are illusions of wealth that are in fact creating new diseases of overindulgence. The diet industry banks on the confusion that has been induced by culturally celebrating quantity over quality in American food products. In this self/culturally-imposed struggle, we lose track of the innovative work of redistribution of wealth that we could be doing to make the world a better place. Perceiving the human body as a celebrated sense organ connects us to other human life, as well as the life of the planet. Acknowledging this interconnectivity, and the responsibility it implies, exposes the real cost and luxury of the foods we eat.

Though Eating Disorders gave me a temporary respite from being called “too big,” I was still “too tall,” “too loose,” “too emotional…” There didn’t seem to be any escape for being too something in the dance world. Now having studied dance history I know that being “too” anything is actually always what catapults choreographers into the history books. Though we might get jobs in the field for looking like someone else, the movers and the shakers in the field do so because they don’t fit into the status quo, or the costume that’s already on the hanger. Modern dance is a history of idiosyncrasy and rebellion, a celebration of self-representation in defiance of being culturally silenced. This revolution takes calories.

I was incredibly fortunate to be introduced to yoga in the depths of my self inflicted struggles with my body weight, and it remains an anchor in my understanding of balance and wellness. On my road to recovery a yoga teacher said something to me that has always stayed with me, “Your body is the channel for your spirit.” She said, “And if you don’t take care of the channel, your spirit won’t be able to do what its meant to do in this lifetime.”

May we all find ways to support our own spirits and, by living in love with our bodies, give others permission to do the same.

Read my Review of Cathrine Cabeen and Company