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Body and soul: if your body becomes your sole focus, you don't learn how to be an artist. The deepest dancing is nourished by the spirit within you.

One of the truths of art and life is that what we see with our eyes is not the whole story. I believe this same truth applies to eating disorders and the obsession with the body. I am not a doctor of anything, but I can offer my perspective on this topic as a person who has been through the goulash, and as an artist from the lopsided world of ballet.

From my point of view, narcissistic body image problems exist as a manifestation of our spiritual state. It is not a body issue; it is an issue of the soul. Anorexia is an obsession with externals and, if left unchecked, a shutting down of the body and soul, sometimes tragically to the point of death. Both ballet and society at large can be accused of the same obsessions: technique, technology, sexy, pretty, information, money--all skimming the surface, all externals. Little or no time is given to the heart, to the story, to meaning. We are presently in a "healthy," "sporty" body image period. We talk openly about health issues. This is good and necessary, however, the body still remains primary. The body rules!

The body's relationship to the soul and the struggle of the spirit are themes central to the great story ballets. These themes are essential for dance artists to explore both in the studio and in life. This process can bring inner beauty into focus, and yet is often neglected. Without it we are left imitating role models from the media, and the media in turn, reflects back to us the images they perceive will capture our attention. It is up to us to be accountable.

It seems to me that the health of this art and the people in it lies in the correct hierarchical relationship between the body and meaning. The body has been given to the ballet dancer to use as a means of expression, the means through which the full human story--physical, emotional, and spiritual--can be revealed. But the means can easily become an end in itself, whereby the body becomes the master and meaning its servant. It is the reversal of this hierarchy, where the body serves meaning, that is the ideal state.

A search for meaning is a natural human activity. However, if we demote meaning and instead promote body image and ego, then our inclination towards perfection, meant for our inner qualities, will transfer to the perfection of externals. The result is a fat ego and a starving soul.

I remember what Sir Frederic Ashton had to say about the nature of a fat ego, as represented by the evil fairy Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty. "Do you know what Garabosse says in the Prologue of Sleeping Beauty? She says, 'You..... me..... forgot.' But she should be saying, 'You.... forgot... meeee...!' We have to feel her evil. That terrible ego!" His point was not to correct her grammar, but to reveal the nature of the character by shifting emphasis to that boundless "me." Here was a being incapable of love.

I learned from my experience with this disease that when a person is suffering from an eating disorder, the ego distracts him from real life. The illness takes over. The illness thinks only of itself. It loves itself. Self love and self hate marry and beget children in the form of disordered thoughts. It becomes more and more difficult to think clearly, to concentrate, to keep the attention directed towards serving the needs of others--family, friends, audience, and colleagues. The "meee" takes over. The disease devours the person inside. This is the absence of true love.

It is often only after a person hits bottom, cornered by his demons, that he can experience his desperate need for help. It is before this point is reached that we--media, directors, teachers, coaches, and parents--are most responsible, since we can affect role model choices and influence artistic priorities. Most importantly, it is as friends that we can help.

Gelsey Kirkland, a ballerina who became world-famous in the 1970s, now teaches internationally.
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Author:Kirkland, Gelsey
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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