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Introduction to Leigah's Poetry

5th January 2015

This collection of poetry is taken from the poems I wrote when I went through Anorexia as a ballet dancer in my late teens and early 20s. These particular poems were written during the height of the Anorexia and the coming out of it at the age of 20-21. I was fortunate that I never reached a stage of hospitalisation, but decided to recover before there was the possibility of reaching this stage.

I was a healthy young woman and dancer, until one day a ballet teacher said I was 'too big' for classical ballet. I was confused and told her that I am 5 feet 4 and a half, which is within the required height for ballet, so that is not too big. She explained to me that it was not that sort of 'too big', but to do with my weight, and explained I would make a good modern ballet dancer though as they don't have to be a tiny and thin. I was not overweight, and was lean, athletic and svelte, but was not the body size she was telling me about for classical ballet. I was devastated and in a dilemma. I wanted to dance classical ballet most of all and had put in so much work in my ballet classes. What was I to do? Keep as I was and give up the dream? Or change my body size and lose some weight to live the dream? I decided to go on a diet...but not an unhealthy one. I lost some weight, but then decided to lose a bit more 'just in case', and then I moved the goal post further. I wanted the 'ideal ballet body', I wanted to be 'the perfect ballet dancer', technically, artistically and physically. I have perfectionistic traits and these can be used adaptively or maladaptive. After a while, I began to abuse laxatives and be sick, as a person cannot keep up restricting food without entering the opposite and bingeing at times. It is a natural reaction to restricting food, but I panicked about the binges, and so would take laxatives, be sick or over exercise to 'compensate'. What was a simple diet to lose a bit of weight for the ballet dream had turned into a distressing eating disorder. My dancing was affected at times by the eating disorder. The dream was going wrong. I decided to recover.

Part of my way through was writing, as writing and poetry is natural to me and I have written poetry since childhood. I was able to express my feelings, my struggles and also try and make sense of what was going on. Out of this came this collection. The poems are honest accounts of some of my struggles. The perfection issues, control, and drive to be the perfect dancer, the wanting to be the ideal dancer, the conflict of my Eating Disordered behaviours and my healthy logic.

The poem 'Spilling Over' is written by a client of mine, Sabah (who has given me permission to use her poem and her name), who suffers from an Eating Disorder. The poem will resonate with many people I am sure. I wanted to include it as I saw the potential in it to help people identify with Sabah's experience. I thank her for allowing me to include her poem.

I still dance and I am also a dance therapist, psychotherapist/counsellor, researcher and writer. My weight is healthy, and I am free from issues around food and weight. Occasionally I have a thought about how much or not I possess the 'ideal dancer body' and how being a dancer is a significant part of my identity and history. However, I do not feel the need to take the measures I did all those years ago. The dance world and society still have a long way to go in modelling a more healthy way. Part of my vocation is to help to do that through my work and what I can give.

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