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Whose Goal Are You Reaching For?
An Ex-Dancer's Story

April 1997
Allison started taking ballet lessons at the age of 5. By the time she was 12 she had moved out of her parents house to be closer to her dance teachers. After spending 8-10 hours a day, six days a week dancing, she came to realize that this was not what she wanted in life. Telling that to her parents and teachers was the most difficult thing Allison ever had to do. Now at 17, she is managing editor of her school paper and dreams of a life as a filmmaker.

The InSite: You studied dance for a very long time. Why did you quit?

Allison: If people want the best for themselves and believe they deserve the best, they're not going to be participating in self-destructive behavior. When I was dancing it was the same type of thing.

It's so funny, it was only a year ago, but I can say it like it's far away. I had no respect for myself, I never voiced my opinion. I was the sweet nice girl who smiled and sat and did goodie-two shoes things.

TI: You sound very assertive to me.

Allison: Are you serious? Because that's my main goal in life, to be assertive. Because I wasn't.

TI: What turned you around?

Allison: I decided I wanted to quit [ballet] dancing! And it was the biggest step in my life. I completely changed. I just turned into a completely different person.

I looked up to dancers,
and I wanted to be just like them.

TI: Was ballet dancing a goal of yours or someone else's?

Allison: It was a goal of mine. It's a little complicated. Even when I was young I was very amiable. I was the one who wanted to dance. I looked up to dancers, and I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to do what they were doing. I got into [dancing], and I kept holding on to that hope of looking like that and being like that. It was an image, but it wasn't something I loved. It wasn't something I was creating. I was trying to be someone that wasn't me.

TI: So you worked really hard and got totally involved?

Allison: Oh, I was out of school, dancing six days a week. I was at the studio ten hours a day. I was completely into it.

TI: Was this something that made your parents very proud?

Allison: The thing is a lot of weird stuff happened while I was at dance, and I never told them about it because I... I looked up to my dance teachers, they were the world to me. And if they said something that was destructive to me, I wouldn't want my parents to know that that person was saying something mean to me because I respected that person. So I hid everything from them. I moved out when I was twelve to dance, and I saw my parents once or twice a week.

I liked to keep the appearance
that everything was fine.

TI: Where did you live?

Allison: With other families. So I was out of the house during those years, and I just dealt with everything on my own. I went through the experiences, and I kept it all inside. Not even my best friends knew things that were happening. I was just that type of person. I liked to keep the appearance that everything was fine.

TI: When you say things were "happening" you're talking about emotional things that were said to you?

Allison: Not even said, but very emotionally... Almost abusive. I always thought I was at a school that wasn't like that. I talked to people, "Oh no, nobody at our school is anorexic or anything like that." And it wasn't necessarily true, but again it was keeping up with appearances. Nobody forced it on me that was something I just did myself.

TI: So did you get into anorexic behavior yourself?

Allison: That's what I thought I was supposed to do. And always looked up to those "supposed to do" things. And it was stupid! One day I just realized what the heck am I doing?

TI: You don't wake up one morning and say "what the heck am I doing?"

Allison: No. I knew for a year that I didn't love dancing, and it took me a year to say it. It took me so long before I could write it down on paper, before I could even say the words.

TI: Were you in therapy?

Allison: No. I read a book called "Even Eagles Need a Push," and that's the book that made me tell my parents I didn't want to dance.

TI: And how did they receive that news?

Allison: Like I said, I didn't tell them any of the stuff that was going on, so it was the biggest shock in the world to them.

TI: They thought you loved this life.

Allison: Oh yeah, because I was the one who had to be at class two hours before class started so I could stretch and warm-up. And I had to be there two hours after class ended so I could practice. I was the one who always said, "No, I have to be at the studio. I have to blah blah blah," because I was the one who got the reprimands if I wasn't there [from the people at the studio]! But they didn't know that.

I was told that I'd be nothing in life,
that I'd never accomplish anything.

TI: So did you wait for a year before you told your parents how you really felt about dancing because you were afraid of their reaction?

Allison: I was afraid of everyone's reaction! My biggest fear was the reaction of my dance teachers. When I told them I didn't want to dance I was told [by my dance teachers] that I'd be nothing in life, that I'd never accomplish anything.

TI: Did you get to a point when you told them that you were not going to buy into that?

Allison: No, because I did. I believed everything they said. I believed absolutely everything they said. And I thought that I was nothing. And I didn't tell my parents this either. When I was quitting, my parents didn't know that they were saying this to me. It took a month of crying and getting sick... I made myself sick because I was so repulsed by the idea of going to classes. And my parents didn't understand because I set them off. I got so sick the last three months of my dancing. I missed so much just because I was physically ill. You can create that. I believe in mind over matter, and I wanted so bad just to get away from there that I did. It was such a long process, such a long haul that I've learned so much from it and it's completely changed me.

I made myself sick because I was so repulsed by the idea of going to classes.

TI: That's totally remarkable, albeit it took a while, but that you came to this realization and acted on it and were able to get yourself out of what was for you a self-destructive lifestyle.

Allison: Well I don't know, it's just something I did. Well, you know I started looking at [self-destructive] situations like that. I was thinking, "What can I compare this to? Can I compare it to an abusive relationship?" And I was thinking, "Maybe I do deserve better." And then it was like, "What? Me? Deserve anything?" It was just shocking. And then I got to the point where I realized that it wasn't my fault anymore. That I shouldn't feel bad for all of the stuff that was happening. I had to do what I wanted to do so why take responsibility for something that I didn't want to do? To take responsibility for the guilt that I didn't want to be there. Well, if I didn't want to be there, well I was 15, and I had my whole life ahead of me, and I kept forgetting that.

TI: Do you remember the moment when you told your teachers that you were quitting?

Allison: The day that I told my parents... I held on to it for so long that once it finally came out I couldn't hold on to it or hide it under the rock anymore. So I stayed home. I got sick. (My parents still didn't know yet.) I missed dance for a whole week. And that just never happened. And then I said, "Mom, we have to talk." And I told her, and I was just crying and crying and she was just shocked. She said, "It's okay, if you don't want to dance, but you have a commitment for a few more months, and I want you to stick with it. You have to stick with it if you have commitments," and that taught me a lesson because I wanted to quit that day. I did not want to stay! I never wanted to go back. And then the next day I went and told my dance teachers which was the hardest thing. It was just as hard if not harder than telling my parents.

TI: And how did they take it?

Allison: Well it was interesting because people had no clue. Everybody was absolutely shocked. But one of my dance teachers, I had three, two of whom were pretty abusive and one who was great. And she was the one who knew all along that it wasn't in my heart. And she was the one who helped me when I was going through this. When I didn't want to go to classes. When I was in class, doing her choreography, I was doing my best for her because she was helping me so much. And I just shut myself off in the other classes. Dancing is so much about self-expression. I mean you can tell when someone is having a bad day or a good day. I mean, you can tell if they got in a fight with their mom through their pliers [a dance movement]!

It's not that the teachers are mean,
it's just that they are extreme personalities.

TI: What was it like after you told your teachers?

Allison: It was really hard because everything changed the day that I told them. No one made it easy. It was a very uncomfortable situation for a few months. Uncomfortable to a point of... hysterical crying after class is up, after rehearsals, after being yelled at. It's not that the teachers are mean, it's just that they are extreme personalities. And I believe that to be good at what you want to do you have to be extreme.

TI: "Extreme" seems out of balance and unhealthy to me. I think you need to be very focused on what you're doing to achieve a certain level of accomplishment, but that doesn't mean that you have to be insensitive to people around you.

Allison: I understand what you're saying, but it's hard for me, for years and years and years it was drilled into my head. Take Arnold Swartzenegger, for example, as a body builder. To become the champion he had to train his body, and he did such crazy, extreme things, but yet he made it! Take someone successful, and tell me how they got there.

TI: It's always through hard work and incredible dedication.

Allison: Right!

TI: But it sounds like you are excusing the insensitivity of your teachers by saying that the only way you can be good at what you do is by being extreme, and then you can treat other people like dirt!'s hard for me to say,
"Well, yeah. They were mean."

Allison: I know I am excusing them because I have a tendency to do that, and it's hard for me to say, "Well, yeah. They were mean." Because I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their idea of a good person was a good dancer. So if you were a postal worker, they wouldn't respect you because you weren't a dancer.

TI: And if you were a good dancer but happened to be a mass murderer then that was okay?!

Allison: Yes. You know I had friends who were modern dancers, and they were wonderful, but my teachers had no respect for them because they weren't ballet dancers. But it was hard for me to realize how wrong that was, because all my life I had been in that situation. But there's such a fine line between being self-absorbed and being self-centered. I think artists are self-absorbed. To be self-absorbed you are aware of what you need to do to get where you want to be. But you can still be considerate to others and their feelings. But I think some artists are self-centered and self-absorbed, like my dance teachers.

TI: I applaud you for getting out of what sounds like a very unhealthy environment.

Allison: Thanks. I quit dancing in June [1996], and I have been interested in the entertainment business for a long time. I've been trying to get a job as a production assistant. I like being passionate about things. I like putting my whole self into them. Since I've quit dancing I have explored "what are my interests?" and pursued them. I have only been out for ten months, but so much has happened in my life in those ten months because I've made it happen. And that's how I want to be. I want to say, "I want to do something, and I want it done!" I don't want to just say I'm going to do something and never have it happen. So that's my goal in life right now. much has happened in my life in
[the last] ten months because I've made it

Email Allison at

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