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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kathleen Lee


I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov do 11 pirouettes.

“I thought that was impossible.”

Dancers are unstoppable, determined to do what they love regardless of if it’s hard or never been done. Dancers aren’t afraid to push the limit’s. They are some of the strongest people on the planet.

I admire them, look up to them, and I’m one of them

I can’t help but compare this to my recovery……

Many times I felt moving forward was impossible. Getting better would never happen for me; I’d been sick for so long. I’d forgotten who I was, what I was capable of. Dance helped me remember.

I started to dance when I was 12 years old. I went pre-professional at the age of 14. By 17 my career ended due to a spinal injury that broke my body, mind and spirit. I walked away from everything. That’s when I met ED (my eating disorder)

Ed owned me, took over my life, and attempted to separate me from the only thing I ever truly loved. It taught me that perfection was attainable, being thin brings happiness, just work harder and you’ll be successful. You can always be better, don’t settle for less than your best….. always about being better.

Because somehow being better, made me better.

Doesn’t everybody want to be better at whatever they do? Of course! There is nothing wrong with wanting to do better.

Then there’s the invisible line……

I took to Ed’s (eating disorder) voice so easily, maybe because I had already been around these statements before. It was all so familiar….

As a ballet dancer, I was told I could always improve my technique, being thinner would get me more parts, work harder, strive, push, shine, succeed! I never heard “that’s good enough”, "go easy”, “you’ve grown enough for one year.” When you’re not beating yourself up for every mistake, then you’re anticipating the next beating because you know it’s gonna come.

It was as if the thinking was the same as my eating disorder. The same philosophy of sorts, language, even attitude. As a former dancer, I still have the philosophy of doing my best at everything I do because that’s what I do. I’m a dancer, it’s in my blood, can’t unlearn that. And I don’t settle for second best. ( perfectionist much?)

So….how was I to be around dancers, dance and hear all those statements and keep my recovery voice alive, not be triggered and tempted to jump right back into my old thinking?

You see….

My recovery voice is the complete opposite of the my dance voice.

Recovery voice says: you are enough just the way you are, you don’t have to change anything about yourself to be accepted. It pushes me into a space of acceptance and wholeness regardless of physical appearance.

Dance voice says: (like my Russian ballet teacher who never had anything nice to say) but you could always do more, be better. If the way you look changes you will no longer have value. When you are serious about improvement you are willing to sacrifice for it… what’s a little pain and hunger? Fix it. Do it again. Not that way.

How can I have both? Just one voice?

Where do they overlap? Is there something that exists between the two opposing ideas? It’s as if the recovery voice is counter cultural to dance voice.

But there has to be a way! It’s not impossible.

Can we create a dance-recovery voice? A voice that embarrasses self-acceptance and always wants to improves. Challenge and comfort? Better and good enough…

Some might say it’s impossible but….if there’s anyone that can do the impossible, it’s a dancer.

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