Carbs & Leotards: FYI

So it occurred to me recently that while I have this column to blab on and on about my life, some of the readers know absolutely nothing about what makes me who I am. And for those readers that have met me, this will just be a slight insight into the psychology that makes up my twisted little thought process you hear me speak (or yell) every day.

I was born and raised in Pompano Beach, FL, basically paradise for a kid who grew up swimming and playing in the sun constantly. I’m one of four kids, and I share the “coveted” middle spot with my sister Audrey, whom has a twin sister Margo. I have an older brother, Andrew, who at 16 was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. For those of you who don’t know what Asperger’s syndrome is, it’s a high functioning form of autism that affects social behavior, interaction, and in some cases makes learning more difficult. To be clear, my brother is not a stupid guy who constantly needs a nurse following him around. The best way I can describe him is that he has less inhibitions, and doesn’t mind standing out in a crowd. For example, the guy will go to the beach in a leather jacket because he likes his leather jacket, or perhaps what he’s most famous for is getting to the center of the dance floor, dropping to the ground, and doing some sort of self taught breakdancing. To sum it up, he’s one of the bravest and most loving individuals I know. That being said, he’s given me an appreciation for all types of thinking and a further acceptance of differences in people. My younger sisters, Audrey and Margo could not be more different from one another. The term “twins” is purely biological when it comes to describing them. They’re fraternal so they don’t resemble one another and I’m pretty sure the term fraternal applies to their personalities as well. Audrey gives new meaning to the acronym IDGAF and Margo has the biggest case of anxiety and worry that I’ve ever seen. Put them together and you have a recipe for constant humor and mild violence. The four of us grew up constantly fighting, bonding, plotting against one another, crying, laughing, and eating past our fill in every aspect of life. My parents Jerry and Mimi are just as big, if not bigger characters than their children. If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ll notice that they make appearances every so often to provide an older take on the modern day catchphrase YOLO. 

With a house full of energy and only two parents to handle it all, I was bound to end up in some sort of physical activity. My family isn’t particularly athletic, we’re actually extremely dysfunctional when it comes to handling a ball or winning a race. So dance it was. Little did my mother realize that this recreational activity was going to take part in defining m I started at age 3 in a small studio, Dance Dimensions, which is still run by the very wonderful and talented Angela Mauti. I was classically trained in ballet and also took tap and jazz classes. When I was 8 I decided that I anted to be a ballerina and had every intention of dancing with a classical ballet company. I was able to train at different summer programs across the country such at The Rock School in Philadelphia and The Atlanta Ballet School. I was a part of The Fort Lauderdale Children’s Ballet Theatre (which is still putting on fantastic performances) from 6-18, and got to dance roles such as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Swanhilda in Coppelia, and other various soloist roles. I had it made as a small town dancer, and it wasn’t until I got to the University of South Florida that I had my first taste of contemporary ballet, consistent modern classes, and concert dancing. All of this hit me over the head like a frying pan and I realized that I was no longer the big fish in a small pond. My freshman year was filled with me truly trying to figure out my place amongst these college level contemporary dancers who could all move their pelvises with such fluidity and freedom. I was constantly told to use my plié’, to move my pelvis through space, and to relax my shoulders. As a ballerina amongst mostly modern dancers, I felt lost and confused outside my ballet classes. I loved them, but I feared them greatly. It wasn’t until I saw my first USF dance concert in the fall of 2011 that I realized just how incredible an 18-minute piece involving barefoot women, no tights, and lifts of all kinds could be. It sparked in me a want and a need to be casted in the spring. That didn’t happen, and I was upset, so once the semester ended, I went home and immediately made the decision to change my body and work to be in the best possible shape of my life. I came back my sophomore year about 13 lbs. lighter and feeling unstoppable. I was casted in my first ballet piece by the incredible Andrew Carroll and felt absolutely on top of the world. Little did I realize that I was slowly diminishing and harming myself in order to keep up this new body I had attained. 

I’m taking this opportunity now to come clean about my struggles with an eating disorder. I got lucky in the fact that it only lasted for a little over a year, but it doesn’t change the stress I faced and the people I alienated in the process. I dealt with anorexia for quite some time and it took me to the darkest place that I have ever been in. I would go through fits of depression and self loathing over gaining one pound and then force myself to lose two more. Along with not eating bread and consuming less than 700 calories on a daily basis, I would force myself to the gym on top of all the dance classes and rehearsals I was involved in. My spring semester of my sophomore year I weighed 94 lbs., and even though I was approached by a teacher and a few friends, my empty promises of seeking out help were followed with binging on cookies and pizza and then choosing to not eat until dinner the next day and make a trip to the gym. I was angry with everyone and gave off a cold exterior to every person I came into contact with. I had no energy and was not fun to be around any longer. It wasn’t until my junior year, after losing a few friends and coming clean to those that stuck around, that I realized just how detrimental my choices had been. I began eating regularly and gaining weight. Rapidly. So rapidly it still scares me. I’m not going to come out and state my weight now, but I will say I’ve put on a lot since last year. It’s still a struggle to accept myself, which is the conundrum of it all. Even at my skinniest, I was still very unhappy and unsatisfied, and there are days now that I’m still not pleased with my body. And I’m learning that this is something that I will always struggle with. But I’ve also come to terms with this notion: If I’m going to struggle with it, I might as well struggle with it alongside healthier eating habits, friends who don’t care what I look like, and maybe even a slice (or an entire) pizza. I now am known for my love of food (ironic isn’t it?) I’m the self-proclaimed foodie of the USF dance department and I’m damn proud of it. “Why do you love to dance?” “I love to dance because I love to eat.” Nothing makes me happier or more excited than cooking up a meal for a friend or making a cupcake run to Gigi’s in Carrollwood. I’m at constant odds with myself over whether or not to give into temptation or to choose to have less of a gut in my leotard. The struggles are real. Carbs were once my enemy and now they are my very persuasive friends. I’ll always be striving for that balance but while I’m striving, I choose to add humor, hard work, sweat, and good times with my fellow dancers at USF. 

I don’t regret anything that I’ve been through these past few years, because the memories and experiences I’ve had are nothing short of remarkable once I lay them out and take a glance. I feel incredibly lucky to have overcome such a big obstacle in my career as a dancer, and in my life. I know I’m not the only one who has had difficulties of this nature, and I feel beyond fortunate to be able to move past them and rediscover the bubbliness that lives deep in my being. This certainly will be a thrilling year for me being that I’m the big, bad senior on campus. And by big and bad I pretty much mean short and sassy. That being said, I’m beyond thrilled to approach my last year as collegiate dancer with inspiration, hard work, and the urge to make others laugh. I leave you with this very inspirational thought, “It takes hard work, determination and a will to succeed. Sometimes it may seem as if the end will never come, and the odds are against you. But just remember there are only two sides to every adagio combination, the barre is your friend, and every pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself.”