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  • Casey Taylor

Dancer Stories: Why I am minding the gap

I left ballet due to mental illness that I could not manage. An illness so severe that I felt my only way out was to abandon one of the things that I loved most in my life.

It has been two years since I left my job as a ballet dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I left in the middle of the summer, breaking my contract, in tears in the director's office. I couldn’t live with the pain anymore.

It has taken me that whole two years since to finally be completely honest with myself (and others) about the true the reason why I left. Of course, I was very honest in that conversation with my director that it was that for health reasons why I had to leave so abruptly. But I still hid the true severity of my illness and all that was wrapped up in it from him. And I definitely didn’t tell any of my former colleagues, except for the few whom I was incredibly close with. I was embarrassed, I was sad, and I was so depressed.

I loved dancing so much. I still do. I still struggle with redefining my identity now that I am no longer a ballerina. I still have the desire to wake up every day and dance my heart out, perform something beautiful, and to get paid to do what I love. Dancing in my kitchen while I prepare lunch is not nearly the same. But I am also incredibly happy now and can wake up ​every morning and enjoy myself and my life for what it honestly is.

Casey in Serenade

Today, I feel very confident that I made the best decision for me and my health by leaving the ballet world behind. But up until very recently, I questioned that decision a lot… Could I have gotten through that rough patch and healed while still dancing? What if I moved to a different company, would that have made it better? Why didn’t I try harder?

I did try though. I tried as hard as I knew how. I sought help from mental health professionals. But it was not enough, and it was too little too late. They did not understand the unique challenges that I faced in the ballet world and I did not understand that my ballet-brained desire for perfection was limiting my understanding of the scope of my issues. I didn’t fully trust them, I wasn’t completely honest with them, and my issues had spiraled too far out of control at that point for the quick recovery that I was seeking. That is not a recipe for success.

This is why I am whole-heartedly joining this movement. I want to help bring awareness to the issue of mental health in the dance world. I have lived through it, and I know the unique challenges that it brings. I want to see that dancers are able to get the treatment they need from professionals that understand the unique complexities of the dance world. Before it is too late.

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