#BopoBallerina: How I Overcame Ballet’s Body Standards and Inspired Others

Leenah Loves Herself

Article via Dance.com

I’m a dancer, and I’m an advocate for mental health, body-positivity and self-love. But even just a year ago, when anyone asked what I do, I simply said: “I’m a dancer.”

I recently launched the #BopoBallerina campaign as an effort to break the norms of dance-body types. And I want to share with Dance.com why I have.

For most of my teenage years, I was convinced the only thing I wanted to be was a dancer. My entire life revolved around dance. I was convinced that if I didn’t fit the typical dancer stereotype, I wasn’t worthy and couldn’t succeed as a dancer.

I started dancing when I was 3 years old. But I didn’t find my true love for dance until I was 13, when I left my recreational dance studio to delve into the world of competitive dance. After a summer ballet intensive at the…

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Bay Area Tour

I’m very excited to be in the San Jose and Mill Valley, Ca. area’s sharing my vision and misson of Dancing With ED.

 If you’re a dance community member, don’t miss my meet and greet April 11, 2017 where I’ll be sharing my personal journey through dance, an eating disorder, and how Dancing With ED the nonprofit was formed. 

There will also be an opportunity to get involved in the nonprofit mission and become part of the ED recovery movement in dance. 

The Biggest Lie Of All

Many people believe eating disorders are concerned with body shape, size and weight.

It is all a mirage…. it’s after something much more valuable.

ED wants us to think it’s about being thin. 

You’d think it would save the best for last, store up the best lie of all, but it’s in the first kiss we are captivated. When the weight starts to come off, when the clothes no longer fit and when the pills start to work.

ED’s very up front, so much so, we aren’t even looking for it.

It’s not deep, not untouchable. It was there all along.

The biggest lie of all.


Two Voices, One Recovery

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…..so 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.









One Simple Way For Dancers To Relieve Stress

Stress is a major factor in all our lives. Doesn’t matter if you dance for a living or part-time, or for recreation. It’s tough to leave off the dance floor. Tough to get off our minds– the things that are stressing us out.  Stress can get into our bones, at times making our sanity seem brittle.

Front-split-500x270Sometimes we don’t even know it’s coming, like a rogue wave. Slam! That’s how pent-up stress, and emotions like to grace us with their presence.

I’ve heard it referred to as a beach ball you’re trying to hold under water, or burying it means burying it alive. It can be you’re living in future events, playing things out; conversations, situations. Like a constant mind chatter. Or is it the past you have stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

When I get overwhelmed with life my stress level skyrocket’s and begins to affect all areas of my life. For some reason the now is not a place it want’s to be. Maybe because right now is where the stress is.. Or is it?

According to the book Practicing The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle …

The power of now

“To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be.”

He nailed it. In two sentences…

I identify most with “endless preoccupation” and “allow it to be”. I wish I knew that 20 years ago! ( oops, there I go living in the past)

So, if my mind and body are not still processing past stress, or anticipating future stressful events, then I am free right now to just….be. I have mental space, free to enjoy the song on the radio. Or hear absolutely nothing at all.

This leads me to the topic of meditation.

One way for dancers to relieve stress is to practice living in the present moment through meditation. Meditation is a skill used to clear the mind, and is as simple as listening to your self breathe. To feel that breath, not just in your chest, but in your spirit. Closing your eyes turns things inward, we can then begin the process…

I am new to meditation. I have been practicing for about 6 months, and have learned how powerful the mind is, especially when you try to tell it no! Like a spoiled child, it stomps its foot.

No longer dragged around by thoughts, you can steal those moments back. Give yourself the chance to just be.

Guided mediation has helped immensely in learning how to quite the mind, I have a hard time with hearing nothing. A person’s voice helps me relax. (You can log on to You Tube, and look up guided meditation, there are many meditation phone apps, too.)

It’s that simple. You can do it right now. Or later when you have a few moments between classes, appointments, rehearsals, more classes, and all the stuff that fills your day.

Try it. Let me know how it goes…

Free Guided Meditations