I Was Told I Didn't Have The Right Body Type To Be a Ballerina


Sydney Magruder, 25 - freelance professional ballerina

Ballet is an art form revered by all, but attempted by few because of its complexity, gruelling body standards and institutionalized barriers to entry. Despite being told she was “built more like a gymnast,” professional ballerina, Sydney Magruder refused to let that determine the course of her career, or her dancing style. “Decide who really has a say in what goes on in your life,” says Magruder. “You, or these people who went out of their way to make you feel poorly? Spoiler alert - it's you.”

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

It was almost by default. Once you get to a certain level in ballet, there's an automatic assumption that you want to become a professional. Ballet sucks you in so intrinsically that it's hard to get yourself out. I love what I do, but I don't think I've had a greatest achievement yet. I'm waiting for it, but I know it's coming.

2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

I am short and muscular, built more like a gymnast than a ballerina, and have had multiple teachers tell me over the years that maybe I should pursue modern dance instead of ballet. So while I may have been told I was too short and too built to be a ballerina, I'm on the way to proving them all wrong.

"In my last year of school, my modern dance teacher told me to my face, and in so many words, that I’d never be a ballerina. This was said with an acidic certainty that I’ve not forgotten all these years later. I went home and cried for hours, so convinced that he was correct that I vowed I’d never dance again."

3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?

Other people and their negative judgments. There's a predominant stereotype that Black girls cannot adapt their bodies to classical ballet technique, so I’ve been completely underestimated throughout my career. I never needed to adapt - I was born with near-perfect feet, generous flexibility, a predisposition for the athletic stamina required to dance full length ballets, and a knack for the physical poise and epaulement upon which classical ballet technique is founded. In my last year of school, my modern dance teacher told me to my face, and in so many words, that I'd never be a ballerina. This was said with an acidic certainty that I've not forgotten all these years later. I went home and cried for hours, so convinced that he was correct that I vowed I'd never dance again. I fell asleep crying that night. The next day I woke up, and I went to ballet class. I refused to let the ugliness of one person will not tear down my lifetime of work.

4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?

I accepted my first ballet contract 3 years after that teacher told me I would never achieve such a thing. Then, I started speaking out about what it's like to be Black, have mental illness, and have Asperger's syndrome in the ballet world. Other dancers came out of the woodwork saying that they'd struggled too, and that no one had been there to stick up for them before. I became that person. I #SWAAYthenarrative in favor of those who have never had a voice, recognition, or someone to relate to in the very narrow world of classical ballet.

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?

Decide who really has a say in what goes on in your life - you, or these people who went out of their way to make you feel poorly. Spoiler alert - it's you.

3 Min Read

How The Coronavirus Is A Powerful Lesson For Families And Children

It is terrifying when you do not have all the answers, especially when you are a parent and your children are looking to you for safety.

We are living in a very chaotic time due to the fear of the unknown while a feeling of powerlessness and despair creeps over us. Some of us have many questions while others are not sure what to ask or what to do during this difficult period. The issue is that human beings seek comfort and once they receive that comfort, they either experience life lessons, are destined to repeat patterns until they learn from the lesson, or never understand the lesson at all.

While in crisis mode, we have the opportunity to recognize how to make improvements in our lives, but once the crisis is over, we often return to our typical behaviors such as disconnecting from face-to-face communication and quality time to focusing on technology and "socializing" online with strangers. As we are currently being asked to avoid unnecessary trips outside, the universe is asking us to go inward and identify areas in need of our attention that we have been neglecting. Now comes the test of our inner abilities of adapting and handling change as well as dealing with being out of control and powerless. We are going back to an era where family is a necessity for survival. Some families will break down further, while other families will rise to the occasion and hopefully work through their differences by focusing on what is most important to them.

Bear in mind that panicking is not equivalent to being prepared. Fear can result in illness. We highly recommend that you utilize this time wisely. First, it is imperative to do what we call a "self-check-in," to identify personal concerns and worries in order to avoid instilling those fears in your children and others. Once identifying your personal concerns, fears, thoughts, and feelings, we recommend that each household establishes routine family meetings with age-appropriate information. Prior to providing information to your children, we recommend asking them what they have already heard, what they are thinking and feeling, and whether they have any questions they would like to ask prior to adding more to their plate.

From there, you can provide a general overview of the situation such as stating, "There is an illness going around. Many will recover as there are many helpful nurses and doctors but some will have it worse than others, so it is important to be careful not to spread germs." An overview of proper handwashing would be beneficial as well as teaching ways to interact with others while promoting social distancing, i.e., staying six feet away from one another, waving hello rather than shaking hands, etc.

It is important for children to have guidance and the facts as well as a safe place to share their own concerns and fears. When researching answers to questions that you or your children may have, utilize credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as additional .gov and .org sources. Be mindful of overexposure for children, as the media can sensationalize these situations. Keep in mind that even adults can be overexposed to the chaos, so take breaks from the news for your own well-being. Some healthy ideas for taking breaks would involve quality family time such as: playing board games, building an indoor fort, reading, doing a puzzle together, cooking a meal, exercising, going for a walk, drawing or painting, etc. Children can also be encouraged to identify creative and healthy activities that they would like to do on their own as well as with their siblings, parents, and additional family members.

Should you want to process your concerns and fears with a professional, we highly recommend that you reach out to local therapists and mental health/family therapy centers in your area, as many have established telehealth sessions to accommodate the needs of the public.

This piece was cowritten by Hara Wachholder.

Hara Wachholder is a licensed mental health counselor with the State of Florida and received her master's degree in counseling from Nova Southeastern University. It was after the resolution of the long-winded custody battle between her parents that Hara recognized her calling to help others going through the same struggle. Hara Wachholder is currently the clinical director for a family therapy center located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Karen Kaye, LMHC and Hara Wachholder, LMHC are a mother-daughter team of therapists as well as coauthors of My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, an interactive discussion book that helps provide a bridge of understanding between parents and their children based on the personal and professional experience from the authors. The book creates a safe space for children to share their innermost thoughts and feelings while also teaching healthy coping skills for children to empower themselves during a chaotic and confusing time in their lives. The goal is to take children out of the middle and provide them with a voice as well as the tools that will allow them to grow into healthy, balanced individuals. For further information, please visit www.imstillmebook.com.