Since she was two, Alexandra Bodnarchuk wanted to dance.
She attended jazz, tap, ballet and folk classes and found a home with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. But when she was a freshman in high school, a track injury stopped her from performing.
“I remember being really dramatic after I tore my ACL,” Bodnarchuk recalled. “When the doctors told me I couldn’t dance, I was like, ‘they told me I couldn’t breathe.’”
During her months-long recovery, Bodnarchuk developed something familiar to many dancers: an eating disorder.
“As I was bedridden, I was like, ‘I don’t need to eat,’” Bodnarchuk said. “And that was not something I really talked about, I was never diagnosed, but it was something I knew that I had done to myself and stuck with me.”
Bodnarchuk, 26, chronicles her struggle with her eating disorder in her new project, Something Pretty, with performances at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty on Thursday and Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m., performances begin at 8 p.m.
Something Pretty is an expansion of Bodnarchuk’s junior project at Ohio University. She choreographed and performed what is now a section of the piece, “take your skin off and put it on the floor.”
“If you’re a dancer, you stare at yourself in the mirror,” Bodnarchuk explained. “You try to put your body into all these different shapes and it just felt like, with my history with it, that I had a lot to say.”
The piece opens with Bodnarchuk deciding whether to accept her body or become “obsessed with an idea or an image.” An idea, she believes, is seducing many young dancers into depriving their body of nutrients.
The “normalization of thin” to the 1950s and 60s when the fashion industry began advertising smaller models and choreographer George Balanchine opened the first American ballet school.
“He wanted thin dancers and he wanted dancers that have a long neck, small head, long legs, everything,” Bodnarchuk said.
Fellow dancer Brandon Musser said he isn't optimistic change is coming anytime soon for the dance industry.
“I’m not hopeful,” he said. “I mean, I think we all kind of follow the lead in some way. So if we had the top of the ballet world saying, ‘no, this is what we’re going to do now,’ then it would trickle down rapidly.”
According to a 2014 study on the prevalence of eating disorders amongst dancers, an estimated 16 percent of dancers will struggle with anorexia, bulimia or a form of disordered eating.
Bodnarchuk said just the fact that her dancers are participating in her project is a statement against the thin narrative. She said she hopes the performance will resonate with audiences and help destigmatize eating disorders, especially among dancers.
Self-respect factors into Bodnarchuk’s Something Pretty as well. A final section portrays her decision to take care of herself and reject weakness.
“We have to change the standards, I think, because right now by participating in the system you’re accepting that,” Bodnarchuk said. “There has to be push back.”