Ballerina (Story by Risa Peris)

My day starts at 6 AM. I eat a banana and go to the gym. I usually run on the treadmill or use the elliptical. I’m careful not to use very heavy weights. I can’t bulk up or look muscular. The lines of my body must be even. Petite.

I go back home. Shower. Change into warm clothes. Take the subway and then get off at Times Square. The studio is two blocks away. I walk through reception. I have to be buzzed in. I look at the schedule for the day. My rehearsals and my performances. I put my purse into a locker and then dress for a warmup class. Toe shoes are not required. My back hurts. The arches of my feet hurt. I do the warmup class in socks. Next is a rehearsal for the Nutcracker. Then a modern piece that will premiere in the spring. My male counterpart lifts me into the air and then struggles. He sets me down.

“You’ve gained weight,” he says.

“What’s wrong?” The instructor, Katerina, is an old Russian woman who used to dance with the Bolshoi. She is fierce.

“She’s gained weight,” says Paul. He is shaking out his arms.

Katerina grabs at my waste. “You are bigger. Stop eating. Liquid diet for you.”

“Yes,” I say. I am humiliated. I have been eating brownies in the middle of the night. My roommate, not a ballerina, had a box of Little Debbie’s. My hunger was so great the other night I ate the whole box. I couldn’t stop myself. My body needed fat.

Next, was a rehearsal for another piece. My energy was flagging so I went to the lunch room and drank black coffee with Stevia. Three cups.

Then there was a rehearsal for Swan Lake. Peter, the choreographer, yelled at me.

“Christina, keep up,” he echoed across the studio. He stepped close to me. “You’ve gained weight.”

“Maybe a pound or two.” The humiliation made me flush.

“Liquid diet for you. Get out of my studio. When you’ve lost five pounds you can dance again.”

I left in a blur of tears. The day wasn’t over. I had another rehearsal. The instructor, an old French woman, said nothing about my weight gain. I think I did well but when it was over she walked out of the studio without a word.
Then I went to the theater. It was now 8:30 PM. There was a short tunnel that led to the theater and I cried the whole trip. I went to hair and makeup. I was worked on. I had a solo piece in a new ballet piece composed by Diego Marc. He was a current Philharmonic favorite. When hair and makeup were done I stripped down and put on my costume. The seamstress buttoned me up.

“My Lord. I can’t fasten the last two hooks. Have you gained weight?”

“Just a few pounds,” I said.

“This won’t work. I will have to lace you in. You might have told me you gained weight. I could have adjusted the stitches.” The seamstress, a middle-aged woman with a widow’s peak, shook her head. “You gained weight. Shame.”

I wanted to cry but it ruin the makeup. With my costume laced I went upstairs to the stage. The piece by Diego was quick and uplifting but as I went to the stage I had only one look. Pain and tiredness. No smile crossed my face. I could feel my costume straining.

Why did I become a ballerina? I loved beauty. I didn’t realize that to achieve beauty you had to walk a glassy path of misery and hard work that made you want to cry. As I finished the piece, I wondered if I should go to college and major in something that didn’t require me to be underweight and in constant body pain.

By midnight my day was over. I avoided the director. I went home, ate brownies and then made myself vomit. Tomorrow liquid diet and back to the gym.


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