I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet written by retired New York City Ballet (NYCB) Principal Dancer, Jenifer Ringer.
She writes openly, honestly, and with great grace about her lifetime of experiences in the world of ballet. She takes the reader on a journey from the time when she was a small girl and first started dancing, through her struggles with her body image, up until the apex of her impending retirement from NYCB.
Dive in deep: Dancing Through It book review
What struck me most was the degree of raw honesty that she exhibited when writing about her eating disorder.
Which is surprising because eating disorders are rarely spoken about in the dance world. She described her ‘darkling’ experience in detail.
“Despite my gruelling schedule and huge number of calories I burned up in a day, I remember sometimes having just an apple for breakfast, an apple and yogurt for lunch, and then just some vegetables for dinner.”
So many dancers experience the overwhelming pressure to adhere to a certain thin and waif like body ideal. This pressure has led to a crisis of disordered eating among dancers including, many of my own friends who have engaged in unhealthy diets and disordered eating behaviors.
As a dancer, it is both refreshing and validating to hear the voice of Ringer as she describes why she initially began to starve herself and then later found herself binging nightly on massive amounts of food. Her struggle is one that I believe all women can relate to.
As I read this book, I could hear my own voice in her words. I have also struggled with trying to attain the standardized dancer body and the realization that my body is different. As Ringer puts it:
“In terms of dancing and weight, I know that there is a standard image that’s still upheld in the ballet world, and I know that I’m one of those dancers, miraculously, who breaks that standard, which isn’t an easy or comfortable place to be in much of the time.”
The high level of perfectionism that is present in the dance world.
As I was reading, I found myself relating to her experiences with overbearing choreographers, the pressure to continually advance technically, and the inability to allow yourself to have an off day.
“In some ways, appearance is everything in ballet. Dancers spend all day long in front of a mirror, never admiring but always looking for things that are wrong and need correcting.”
It is this desire for perfection that can be a large factor in the development of an eating disorder.
Dancers spend a massive amount of time in front of the mirror looking for imperfections, looking for a way to improve. It only makes sense that eventually one would find fault in nearly everything.
The beauty in this book is that we also learn about how Ringer fought back against her eating disorder and regained her career in ballet to go on to become a principal dancer.
“As I mended, I warily struck up a new relationship with the mirror. It was one of fragile acceptance and even, finally, approval for just the normal, imperfect person that I was.”
In addition to learning a great deal about Ringer’s eating disorder and her battles with loving her body, she also writes about her life as a whole.
She speaks about finding her faith in God and how that greatly influenced her view on dance, ballet, and her body.
She writes eloquently and honestly about meeting her husband and balancing her dance life with a personal life.
Further, she opens up about the process of being a professional dancer and creating a family.
Balancing a dance life with a personal life
By the end of the book, I was nearly in tears as I read about Ringer’s favorite roles to dance, the birth of her children, and the faith that continues to lead her through life.
As a dancer, there is a belief that it is nearly impossible to have a family while continuing your professional career. Ringer dispels that idea and smashes it into a million pieces. She carried both of her children while maintaining her status as a Principal dancer for NYCB. Ringer also describes what it was like to have a child and then get herself back into performance shape.
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There are a million reasons why you should buy this book, but the number one reason? Ringer is opening the floodgates to all of us that have experienced body shame and have struggled with the mirror due to our involvement in dance.
She gives a straightforward, honest, relatable account of her life in ballet. Her journey is truly inspirational. Her voice should be heard, so that we can continue to shed light on the disturbingly high rate of disordered eating in the dance industry and so that we, the next generation, can stand up and make a change.