Returning to the barre…

Our client, Vanessa, reflects on her relationship with her body after joining our Movement Group…

The connection between my body and my mind was one of the biggest things I lost in my years with an eating disorder. I started dancing when I was barely a toddler and got into the competitive world of dance very young. I would breathe and sleep dance and every hour where I wasn’t at school, I would be tapping my feet in a Jig or standing at the barre practicing an arabesque. As I got older and the dancing got more serious I started to lose the passion I once had, it became a chore and consumed by eating disorder thoughts I started to dance with the aim of ‘burning calories’ and building muscle. No longer was this art form enjoyable, I would push myself to workshops and courses with no self-care involved. Then, one day I decided that dance was not intense enough as a form of exercise and I took to other more extremes. The flame which held the love for dance was gone and it would be quite a while before I got it back.

When I came to Recover and saw that there was a movement group I wanted to cry. Thoughts such as, ‘I can’t dance in front of people again, I am so disgusting now that I don’t exercise anymore’, or ‘I have been so out of practice that people are going to think I am a terrible dancer or won’t believe that I used to dance so much’. Going into that group was like giving my critical voice (eating disorder voice) the biggest punch in the face, I started to own my body again. Week after week the group would be challenged to not only stand and feel vulnerable in front of others but also move their bodies. It was like being stripped of any protection we had. I remember walking around the room in my first group as if I was totally raw and exposed. Every bit of my body seemed to be on display and I couldn’t hide it. I would be saddened when I used to think back to not so long before when my body was a vehicle for an art form and now all I wanted was for it to disappear into nothing. The discomfort was terrifying but going back, week after week, has allowed me to see my body again.

I remember one warm up vividly where we had to feel different body parts, from the tip of our toes to the crown of our heads. Feeling everywhere that I had once rejected and bringing it back to life was sickening at first but with the weeks, building gratitude and love for those body pieces is one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself.

Another exercise that I found helpful was to help build self-confidence. We would stand in a circle and share our movements and have people ‘copy’ us. Many thoughts went through my head from, ‘My movements are going to look so stupid’ to ‘I don’t feel comfortable controlling other people like that and having authority’. I was very sceptical at first with these methods but the power of movement therapy will now never fail to fascinate me.

Eight months after joining the group I have now left it and have found myself back in the ballet studio standing at the same barre I was at a couple of years ago. It was frightening at first and I was hyperaware that I was going back to dance with a different body but the spark and passion was all there again, and perhaps, more than ever. There were no thoughts of calorie burnings and few self-critical thoughts. I pointed my toes and raised my head in confidence, enjoyed every second and felt attached to something bigger than life, but rather, my spirituality. I felt connected, a connection that was lost for many too many years. When I first came to recovery I thought I would just have to ‘fix’ my eating behaviours, little did I know, I would gain my life again. As I have said, it was a difficult process in movement group and I could say it was perhaps the most challenging group for me but with perseverance it made it invaluable.

What’s next?

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