'Something Pretty' dance show puts spotlight on eating disorders
Alexandra Bodnarchuk's life came to a halt because of an injury.
And pretty much so did her eating.
She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in 2005 while competing in hurdles for her high school track team.
“Since the recovery was going to be at least nine months, with lots of time spent sitting on the couch, I pretty much stopped eating, because I didn't want to gain weight since I wasn't exercising,” says Bodnarchuk, who lost 45 pounds and stopped menstruating.
“Toward the end of my rehabilitation for my knee, I realized I needed energy if I was going to get back in shape and be able to do what I love to do the most … and that's dance,” she says.
Now she has created a dance performance that shows the destructiveness of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. “Something Pretty” will be performed next weekend at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.
“Each section has a narrative/intention that is specific to a stage in the journey of an eating disorder,” she says. “So you could say that this piece is an exploration of that journey, and that it is rooted in a dance experience. We push the journey so far that in real life, a dancer would have had to stop dancing long before they reached the final stage.”
Artistic director and choreographer Bodnarchuk of Highland Park created “Something Pretty” to help others reach a healthy stage in their lives. The dance physicalizes the mental and emotional struggle that individuals with eating disorders face on a daily basis.
“By looking at these eating disorders through the lens of dance, we are able to shine a light on the common idealized notion that many dancers seek to achieve,” Bodnarchuk says. In addition, the show highlights the social stigma around admitting to an eating disorder.
“We hope to change the stigma through conversation, revealing the ugly demon beneath the shadows of the ballerina's glittering facade,” says Bodnarchuk, who has been dancing since she was 2. “The biggest message I want people to come away with is a desire to get curious about this disorder and how it shows up in dance.”
Eating disorders affect 20 million women and 10 million men a year, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org), not including the scores of individuals who suffer from body dissatisfaction. Many of these cases are seen in females ages 15 to 24, and many of them participate in dance.
“Not every thin dancer has an eating disorder, but many of them struggle with their eating, whether they have a full-blown eating disorder or disordered eating,” Bodnarchuk says. “And what does that mean? Does that mean they will have to walk with a walker or a cane at an early age because they have depleted their calcium stores? Or they won't be able to have children? Do we ever think about the real-life consequences of these actions? I urge the audience to get curious about the answers.”
Getting the discussion started is so important, agrees Leslie Bonci, owner of Active Eating Advice — Be Fit, Fed and Fearless, a nutritional consulting company based in Pittsburgh. Bodnarchuk contacted Bonci regarding her own eating disorder and also consulted with Bonci as a resource for the dance project. Bonci also talked with the dancers in the show.
“There are so many conversations that need to happen, and there can't be too many about expressing how we feel about our bodies,” Bonci says. “It's critically important, and it's not limited to the dance world. There are many beautiful bodies and not just the pencil-thin bodies you see in ballet. Some people are just naturally built like that. Some feel the need to starve themselves to be like that.”
Talking is the first step, but we need action, Bonci says. She has noticed that Dance USA has made some significant strides in response to eating disorders. The group issued a report in 2010 on “Guidelines for Professional Dance Companies on Healthy Nutrition,” which said the incidence of eating disorders “is as high as 70 percent among female athletes and dancers.”
Ballet dancer Misty Copeland, of the American Ballet Theatre, is helping create a new image for ballet dancers, Bonci says. Her strong, athletic body is a change from the really thin image that has been popular since the 1960s.
“Something Pretty” features eight dancers — six women and two men — in a moving one-hour performance.
Bodnarchuk is the reason dancer Patty Petronello of Mt. Washington wanted to be part of the show.
“It's really coming together,” Petronello says. “The message is to present this to get people to talk about it, and this is a good way to do that. ”
Dancer Marcella Day of the North Shore says Bodnarchuk's enthusiasm and passion is contagious, and once you become involved it becomes a part of you.
Dancer Andrea Kozai from Ross says it's cool to get the message out without speaking a word.
“It's very in-your-face, which is what I like about it,” Kozai says. “It's a series of stages, about developing a disorder and the stages a person goes through to get better. Eating disorders aren't necessarily just about weight. They are often about control. Because what we eat is something we can control in our lives. It's also often a hushed-up subject, despite it being so prevalent. But, most people know someone dealing with it.”
There will a talk back after each show with Bodnarchuk, the artistic team and the audience.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.