April 30, 2012

Ballet & Yoga: How I finally learned to Love my Body. ~ Cassandra Smith

Vision Photography

When I was two years old, I said to my mother, “I’m going to be a ballerina.”

What I have come to realize as I develop my yoga practice, mindful diet and spiritual awareness, is that there is a difference between pushing yourself and hurting yourself.

Being the amazing mother she is, she enrolled her toddler in a once a week ballet class at a nearby studio. She quickly found out that I was quite serious about my proclamation.

By the time I was seven, I was taking dance classes six days a week. At 12, I started going away to month long “summer intensive programs,” where elite dance teachers from around the world train selected students for professional careers. Boston Ballet offered me a spot to train with them year round at 17, so I graduated a semester early from high school and followed my dream.

Despite the dazzling tutus and tiaras, the life of a ballet dancer is anything but glamorous. The amount of training it takes to reach the top of the ballet world almost requires that you give up your childhood:


It also requires that you are willing to do perhaps irreparable harm to your body on a daily basis. Ballet asks a curved body to make straight lines. Ballerinas are required to trick the audience into believing gravity does not apply to them. They must force their bruised and blistered feet into satin covered torture devices.

Because of the long hours and high level of difficulty, injuries are extremely common in ballet. I’ve sprained my ankles too many times to count, bruised my tailbone, stress fractured my toe and tore a tendon in my hip completely off of the bone.

But to be honest, I think the mental pain caused by ballet hurt just as bad.

When I was living in Boston, I was constantly beating myself up for not being good enough. I would compare my physical appearance and my dancing ability to everyone around me and always reach the same conclusion: I am inadequate.

Sensing that I was no longer happy living the life of a ballerina, I decided to leave Boston to go to Boulder for a college education. After spending two years on the east coast, I was initially thrown off by how nice and happy the majority of people seemed to be here. And that’s when I realized it.

These people are happy because they are being good to their bodies.

In a town where bike paths outnumber roads and yoga studios outnumber McDonalds, I started to understand the connection between physical wellness and mental health. I started doing yoga and experimenting with less demanding forms of dance. I also modified my diet; I am now more concerned about how certain foods will make my body feel, not how they will make my body look.

What I have come to realize as I develop my yoga practice, mindful diet and spiritual awareness, is that there is a difference between pushing yourself and hurting yourself.

Lindsey Slagle

In ballet, I was trying to get my body to do super human things at the expense of my mind. In yoga, I learned to bring mindfulness to my body and super human things happened naturally.

I can remember how when I left a particulary hard ballet rehearsal, all I wanted to do was take a pain pill and zone out in a hot bath. When I leave a particularly hard yoga class, I feel rejuvenated, centered and like I can take on the world.

Instead of thinking that I am inadequate, I know that I am of infinite worth.

The point is not that yoga is better than ballet, the point is that being mindful of what and how much your body can take is key to healthy living. Pushing yourself to reach your goals is good, but not if you are sacrificing your body or your sanity to do it.

When I dance now, I listen when my body says it is hurting. I don’t force my hips to turn out quite as far or lift my legs quite as high. I can enjoy it now that I am no longer preoccupied with trying to be the best.

By respecting my physical needs and limitations, both my body and mind are now in a better place. They have found the place of freedom that only comes from being good to yourself.

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”  

~ BKS Iyengar


Cassandra Smith is an editorial intern at elephant journal.  She is a fifth generation Colorado native who believes dance has the potential to liberate human consciousness from its cultural prison.  Cassandra formerly trained at Boston Ballet and is currently a senior at University of Colorado Boulder studying journalism, sociology and philosophy. Read her blog at cassandralanesmith.com.

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Sewdope Dec 26, 2015 7:43am

I started stretching recently and most of my ballet training kicked back in. I was easily able to transition to yoga after doing those intense ballet stretches and poses. I was wondering if anyone else felt the connection. 😉 Thanks for posting.

David Goud Oct 11, 2012 7:20am

I enjoyed your article and thought it was well written. I have to point out though, that the need for a professional female ballet dancer to be thin is not only an aesthetic, but is essential to be able to be partnered. As you know, a great deal of professional soloist and principal roles require partnering, and being thin and strong as a female dancer does make dancing with another artist safer. America is the land of opportunity, and schools and companies often give people who do not have genetically ideal ballet bodies a chance to become artists, and with that can come struggles and heartache. I found classical ballet as a haven for my athletic but thin body type after being cut from numerous football tryouts. I think that better truthful conversations about knowing when to stop a pursuit due to physical or emotional struggles is needed in professional training and companies. It is not sad that ballet has a thin, lithe, turned out aesthetic. That is part of the art form. In yoga, some students who start practice in their middle or advanced age have to be told that it may be dangerous to do certain asanas. The same loving interventions can be done in ballet.

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