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A Professional Ballerina On Food And How It Shaped Her Second Career

People

It's no secret that ballerinas and food have an unusual and uniquely complicated relationship. While they rely on nutrients to keep their bodies going during long dance sessions, practice and shows, food can also be their biggest enemy in terms of taking the stage in skin tight, revealing costumes synonymous with the art form.


Photo: Broadway World

2010's movie Black Swan brought to light the many serious issues professional ballerinas are faced with - including those to do with their oftentimes tempestuous relationship with eating. SWAAY talked to professional ballerina Natasha MacAller formerly of NYC's Joffrey ballet and the cast of Phantom of the Opera about life after ballet and how food came to define her second career.

“Ballet is the only art form that has a sell-by date," she says.

Given ballet's competitive nature, Natasha admits - "I was very fortunate to make it into a company that I could pay my bills and make a living out of it. But alas, ballet is a live art form that you can simply cannot sustain for your entire life. "When the time came and I finished my career with the Joffrey Ballet with The Phantom of the Opera," in what was "an incredible experience" - she had a choice to make.

For Natasha, there were two avenues that appealed to her after her 30-year ballet career came to close - she would either become a physical therapist, or a chef.

"I was greatly relieved that my brain still worked after - you know, ballet, ballet, ballet"

Having reviewed the prospects of what would be ten years of study in physical therapy, she set her sights on culinary school, for which she now owes her career as sought-after pastry chef and author.

“I was always fascinated with cooking and food, as is every ballerina I think," Natasha fondly recalls, “I've loved my second career in food - I love the creative aspect."

Having focused her efforts on pastry, where women are most commonly found in a restaurant kitchen, Natasha still noticed the disparity in gender balances in the industry. “I was fortunate to work in some amazing restaurants after culinary school," she says, "but it is still a man's world."

“I've had some good and some not so good experiences being a little blonde in a kitchen full of big guys," she says.

“Women do tend to lean more toward pastry," she recognizes, and I suggest that it's perhaps because it's more of an art form, to which she underscores - “the liquefiers and the dry ingredients have to work together in perfect symmetry." In the other parts of the kitchen there's more freedom to test and theory - where measurements must be precise, recipes delicate, and focus extremely attentive to receive optimum results. It is perhaps the most volatile and easily spoiled part of the kitchen."

She is positive, however, about women's future in the industry - “the food industry has changed enormously, as women are more frequently found leading restaurants and heading kitchens." Leading by example, she has headed pastry stations and opened restaurants with fellow female chefs she met through an organization called Women Chefs and Restaranteurs - a global network of females in the food world.

It's through this organization that she has accumulated a few of her 33 contributors for her first book Vanilla Table published back in 2013. The group serves as an “active resource for culinary advancement, education, networking." While not necessarily a huge organization, at around 800 members Natasha says she has reaped the rewards of membership.

Her success from Vanilla Table produced the prospect of a second book, and inspiration came in the form of her book publisher, Jacqui Small, who suggested a spice book might be of use to the public. It was also a topic that would be right down Natasha's alley, as the former dancer was very familiar with the properties of spices, spanning right back to her ballet career, when she would meticulously cook all her own food.

Coming together to make the second book possible, Natasha accumulated a team of women around her that would make putting the book together in a mere 10 months possible. Working seven days a week and researching extensively the properties of each individual spice meant her team would prove integral to the success and quick release of the book.

Photo credit: Manja Wachsmuth

“We called ourselves the spice girls or spice ladies because it was only women - designer, editor, Jacqui and the photographer."

Natasha remonstrates about the importance now of going back to the kitchen and "starting from scratch." She worked with many nutritional scientists and experts in the field of culinary medicine closely whie producing the book. It wasn't merely about the food, or the spices, but the spices ability.

“The nature of spices - they all have health-affirming nutrients in them"

“Adding a simple spice to your food not only makes it taste better but it adds nutrition and value to our daily lives," she says chuckling. It's something very simple that people can forget, especially perhaps millennials living in a 'quick meal' era - turmeric, cardamom, cumin are something lacking in the standard youth's kitchen.

Currently in talks for her third book, we can expect Natasha to replicate the success of her first two books. Having also opened two restaurants with a close friend, she still works intermittently creating new pastry menus for the restaurants - “I still get to be really creative in the kitchen even though I'm not there everyday."

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.