Leotards vs. Tutus: rebuilding me

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Leotards vs. Tutus: rebuilding me

I recently took a ballet class. Now it’s been years since I’ve been near a ballet bar. Dancing was one of my first loves growing up. I have fond memories of my Mom driving my sister and I to the Robin Hood School of Dance from the age of five way into the self-conscious teenage time of existence.

Listening to the melodic piano music for the first time the other day, I almost burst into tears but I held them back. My body wanted to move and stretch and my legs remembered how to point and hold long balance positions. And it hurt, a lot, because I was out of practice, but it felt good at the same time. And on my way out, I caught a quick look at the mirror and I felt years of disordered-thinking flood back to me, and I was knocked out of my perfect balance hold.

School has a dress code so I reluctantly ordered two standard issue black leotards and I grumbled and thought again about the reflection I caught of my hips that had spread out from sitting on my butt for months and eating on the go working to earn my Graduate certification.  I was eye to eye with that teenage me.

I was a good dancer then which gave me pride. But I did not have a dancer’s body by a long shot. I am tiny and curvy not long and lean. And what was curves felt like fat then. My dance teacher did something stupid. He actually had a talk with my mom telling her to “work on my weight.” Ugh. What ensued after that was a lot of eating disorder thinking–I took it as a challenge to see how thin and tiny I could get. Luckily, a wiser part of me finally intervened and I was able to stop the madness. Many girls are not so lucky.

That’s what flooded into my face when I saw that dance mirror, and the anger came out at those f$#^ing leotards. The next dance class I slept through it. Inner teen was pissed and rebelling and making itself loudly known. You see, I’m a 40-something woman now, and I like my curves and my juicy pieces. I like being “woman-like.”  I saw a photo of me taken a few years back when my life sucked and fell apart and my face was gaunt, and I remember then, I couldn’t get thin enough for my taste. When that line of thinking shows up it’s not health, it’s moving away from me.

And with this experience, I realize I am rebuilding my relationship to myself. The mirror-critic chatter in my head started in those crucial years in that leotard. I was being taught from that dance teacher how to compare, contrast, and rip apart. This was education aimed the wrong way. How many of us have had this training in the classroom, at home, in the school playground? Who does it serve? The dance teacher?  I was taught to incorporate a running stream of dialogue in my head that needs to be overhauled and reprogrammed to “woman-like.”

I’m sending the leotards back and ordering a tutu. My inner teen wants one. Not to hide behind, but because Tutus fit around your hips and celebrate them. 

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection


  1. A wonderful, telling piece, Ronni. Thank you. I can see you there, in the ballet studio room so clearly. Cheers to tu-tus, not conforming to any constricting leotards (tards!), and to dancing and moving to our own “woman-like” rhythms! ox

  2. Beautiful piece, Ronni! As one who took ballet when young, I was thoroughly pulled in by this. I applaud you for taking ballet again, but now for the pure joy of it. And – oh! – to wear a woman’s tutu, how fun! I’m sure the fairy in you LOVES that 🙂

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