I can’t help but smile as I look though Marina’s photos. She and her hilarious fiancé Brian approach ballet with delight without forsaking the discipline also required of them. Despite being relatively new to ballet, Marina has shown excellent progress, her dancing exudes playfulness, and her sage advice for adult students is on par with that of any seasoned dancer.
Marina’s healthy perspective seems to spring from a profound sense of gratitude toward ballet. In our interview, I learned about the major role that dancing played in helping her recover from an eating disorder. Ballet, she explains, pulled her out of the fear-based mindset that was keeping her from eating properly. Once considered a “daily burden,” food is now used to “fuel and nourish” her dancing body.
“Ballet is really what prompted me to want to get better, get stronger and gain weight,” Marina says. “No way would I let my fears rob me of dancing!”
This idea may come as a surprise to some. After all, we often hear stories about ballet triggering disordered eating and even self-hatred in some dancers. But Marina’s positive experience was not surprising to me. As an adult beginner, I’ve experienced a similar shift in mindset about food and the way I view my own body, precisely because of ballet. Dancing has taught me to respect my body—to be patient with it, to care for it and fuel it, and then to let it rest. I dwell less on how I look and instead celebrate what I am able to do on each given day.
Marina’s success in both her recovery and in ballet has led to a movement of “facing and conquering” her fears. She is determined to push beyond her comfort zone, a trait that will take her far in her training and ultimately lead to more joyful dancing.
“One cannot be timid when it comes to ballet,” she says. “You have to be fearless!”
I couldn’t agree more.
Q&A with Marina
Q. Tell me a little about your background. When and where did you begin your dance training?
Ballet was given to me as a gift from my fiancé on our one year anniversary. He knows how much I love to dance, so he surprised me with a full semester of lessons at a local studio! Though I was never particularly drawn to ballet (having spent my summers in Russia, I knew what it took) I fell absolutely in love with it from day one, and it has benefited my life in countless ways.
Most notably perhaps, it has been an integral part of my recovery from an eating disorder: While I used to see food as a daily burden, necessary for survival, because of ballet I now see food as a way to fuel and nourish my body… and my body, the instrument through which I can express this beautiful art form.
I am now 1 1/2 years recovered. To ballet (and Brian!) I am forever grateful.
Q. You’ve mentioned to me before that your eating disorder was not related to body image. Would you explain more about that?
While many eating disorders are rooted in body image (and it is an important topic, especially for dancers!), mine was not like that. In childhood I would get bad stomach aches, so ultimately what I suffered from is a fear of food itself (called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, I believe. ARFID)
The pressures of starting college caused my weight to become quite low. Then after starting ballet I recall this one moment when I was literally shaking from trying to eat something before class. People with anorexia and the like fear calories. Not me; I was straight up afraid of eating and at the same time even more afraid of NOT eating. It got worse: I would sit out parts of class due to the anxiety that I lacked the energy to perform at my best. Ballet is really what prompted me to want to get better, get stronger and gain weight. No way would I let my fears rob me of dancing!
So I took the leap and (with the support of my family and Brian) sought help at a local ED clinic. For me that was the ultimate in facing my fears. Though I’m still afraid from time to time, I no longer let my fears control what I do. One cannot be timid when it comes to ballet, you have to be fearless!
Q. You dance with your fiancé Brian. How did he end up being interested in ballet? And what’s it like taking class together?
Funny story! One of our teachers wanted him to be a sailor in their spring production of The Little Mermaid (ballet ever suffering from a shortage of male dancers!) They made him sit in and watch a class after which he began taking class on Tuesdays. Unfortunately his work schedule changed so he was unable to perform, but he now takes a private partnering class with me on the weekends that we LOVE. Dancing with him is the best because he has a great sense of humor and brings an infectious joy to the classroom.
Q. What are your interests and/or occupations outside of dance?
I speak a few different languages including English, Russian,
Chinese and a little Spanish (I’d like to say that ballet is my 5th language!!) I am in college now, thinking about doing work in international relations. In my free time I enjoy playing piano, drawing and painting.
Q. How do you prep for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?
My perfect ballet prep would be like this:
1. Stay hydrated & eat well throughout the day.
2. Arrive to class already warmed up – any gentle activity that gets the body moving. To be safe no static stretching before class, dynamic stretches only!
Q. At the moment, what is your favorite dance wear brand or go-to class outfit?
Hair neatly secured in a bun, pink tights, ballet shoes and my best leo; the traditional uniform of the ballerina happens to be my favorite as well. Lately I’ve been loving my Yumiko leos for their comfort and clean lines. But of course the most important thing for any dancer is to feel confident in what you’re wearing.
Q. Do you have a favorite step or section of class? Least favorite?
Love petit allegro! I find hitting those little beats & staying on the music to be oh so satisfying and fun.
Least favorite at the moment has GOT to be turns (pirouettes, fouettés etc.) at the barre. My apprehension about striking the barre at the end of the turn causes my technique to fall apart rendering the exercise, at best, unhelpful in my opinion.
Q. What is your favorite ballet to watch?
La Fille Mal Gardée, if done correctly, is one of the funniest & most entertaining ballets I’ve ever seen!
Q. Learning ballet as an adult can be frustrating. What do you do to stay positive?
I am inspired by how available and un-self-conscious young children are. Giving in to feelings of self-consciousness can be detrimental to one’s development as a dancer. It is much better to approach class with a carefree and positive attitude I think, especially as an adult beginner; learning ballet is about humbling yourself to the task.
Q. Do you have any other advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet.
Your own progress will be the *real* measure of your success as a dancer. Smile and point your toes, be proud!! Find a teacher you really like, who is willing to push you. Work hard! The rest will come in time.
Q. What are your goals for your dance training and your life in general?
To do the best I can with what I have, to meet and love new people, and to never stop growing/ pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone.
You can follow Marina’s ballet journey on Instagram @marina.enpointe