With the new film Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky, Woodbridge Senior High School CFPA senior dance students opened up about their opinions on the coveted body image that so many dancers strive for, and the issues that ballerinas face.
"At my old studio, one girl's mom wanted her to be better than anyone. She would cry, because she couldn't live up to her mom's expectations," WSHS dance student Janae Madric said.
Growing up with dance culture and with experience in other dance studios, half of the class at WSHS has been dancing since they were five- years old or younger.
"My mom made me (begin dance lessons), and then I realized it was something I really wanted to do," Madric said.
Most of the students said their mothers entered them in dance classes, with others enrolling in classes on the heels of a friend that was already there. And although most students didn't feel pressure from their parents to excel in dance, some did witness that pressure first hand by observing fellow classmates.
"My daughter dances, and personally if she said, 'no, I don't want to do it anymore,' I 'd be fine," instructor Nancy Gross said. However, Gross added that she has seen parents "who have an agenda, and it's not clear whose it is, but it is the same thing with soccer and football."
When asked if there is pressure to fit a certain body type, everyone agreed they feel it to some extent.
"I started (dancing) at six," dance student Jasmine Bagnerise said. "At ten and twelve I was kind of chubby and my teacher told me I had to lose weight. I cried."
Dance student Abrey Foley said that no one tells her to lose weight, but has noticed how "the older you get, the smaller the (dance) costumes get."
Gross said when she was a teenage dancer, everyone in her class would get publicly weighed once a month. Each dancer's weight would get announced out loud, and if a dancer was thought to be too heavy, they were subtly, yet openly, criticized.
"I know what I grew up hearing. I hear something (negative about body image) every day in my head," Gross said, adding that she's never been interested in cookie-cutter dancers because she clearly remembers the pressures she was subjected to.
It also doesn't help that there is fierce competition between the girls. Like in Black Swan, dancers also experience rivalries.
"You're always trying to prove something to someone," White said.
"In a studio the instructor makes her favorites known," dance student Lindsey Kras said. "And if you're not the favorite, you don't get the special parts."
Kras said that dancing for the CFPA has helped her to develop her confidence. "Maybe being put in a different situation, I realize they (her former studio) were wrong. And I learned not to take everything personally."
But White added, "I find it not so much to be better than the person next to me, but to have something that makes me stand out."
That one glint of positivity is also demonstrated by Black Swan, and CFPA dancers recognize that attitude can trump precision. "You can be the most technical dancer, but you have to also port-de-bras (carry your arms with emotion), " Kras said.
While the girls struggle with body image, all felt that the CFPA provided a supportive environment where they could talk about these issues, rather than be subjected to them.