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Abuse in Dance

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Warning: This Post May Be Triggering for Some Readers

*Words have been redacted from this statement 

** Names have been altered in this statement

“To dance is to be out of yourself, larger, more beautiful, more powerful” – Agnes De Mille. These were words that I lived by. These words were featured in my public speeches and plastered across the homepages of my electronic devices. These words were an accurate representation of how dance impacted my life prior to the horrific and life-altering experiences faced at the School of *█████ Ballet. As a child, I was an extremely shy girl. However, upon beginning ballet training I began to witness my shyness fading. As I fell deeper in love with the art of dance I emerged from my shell and began distancing myself from the meek girl that I once was.

Dance gave me something that was always exciting to hold on to while grappling with the stresses of daily life – something that was consistent in a world that was constantly changing. Ballet was my escape, liberating me from pain and filling me with excitement. This peace was soon jolted when I began taking lessons from **Kourtnae ████ at the School of █████ Ballet. During my time at the School of █████ Ballet, my love for dance and excitement to attend classes quickly turned into fear and anxiety. 

In 2012, my mother came across an ad on Kijiji for a private ballet teacher. Soon after my parents contacted said ballet teacher and I took my first private ballet lesson with my new instructor, **Annie. Annie was strict, she pushed me harder than any of my previous teachers but did so in a way that was safe and humane. I was able to grow immensely as a dancer while still maintaining my passion for dance. After my first class, Annie recommended that I visit The School of █████ Ballet (then █████ Dance Studio) where she taught pointe, to look into attending ballet classes. Upon discovering that I would have the opportunity to increase the number of weekly dance classes I would be taking I was immediately overjoyed and swiftly agreed to meet with the school’s Artistic Director: Kourtnae ████.  My first impression of Ms. ████ was a quite pleasant one. She appeared to be a kind individual who cared greatly about her students. Little did I know that this was simply a front that she put up when in the presence of parents and prospective students. I decided to take a “trial” class to see if I liked the studio, the syllabus, and the instructors. The class was both challenging and fun which was a wonderful combination. I signed up as a member of the School of █████ Ballet that night.  My first few weeks at the School of █████ Ballet seemed to be pleasant. Kourtnae kept her smile plastered on throughout the classes and gave great corrections. However, I was unaware of the fact that this was simply a way for her to lure students into her studio and her kind and friendly attitude would be short-lived. 

Kourtnae ████ soon revealed herself as physically and emotionally abusive. She would sit or even stand on her students, while we stretched in dangerous positions. Even when we were in tears begging for her to stop, she would refuse to. She would walk around the class with a long stick and poke us with it if we were doing something wrong. When her stick was unavailable Kourtnae would use any other tools she could get her hands on to use as a way to hit or poke her students, this often included her remote control or even her hands.  Kourtnae would single students out and either scream at them or ignore them for an entire day, week, month or semester. She would have temper tantrums and often act out at her students. These are not characteristics of a teacher or mentor of any kind. As an Artistic Director, Kourtnae ████ was supposed to be someone who guided her students to successful careers and healthy lives. Instead, she sent many of us into battles with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

 To make things worse, the majority of her students were encouraged to leave traditional schooling environments and choose a path of homeschooling and online programs to allow for more time in the dance studio. This meant that for most of us, the only social interactions that we had were with people from the School of █████  Ballet. Consequently, disordered eating habits, self-harm, and anxiety were normalized as it was, for the most part, all we were exposed to outside of our homes.  

Kourtnae often encouraged unhealthy eating habits and overexercising. At eleven years old, this caused me to suffer from body dysmorphia, anemia and develop disordered eating habits. Kourtney would give lectures to us on our eating habits, even shaming me in front of my fellow dancers for eating brown rice for lunch between rehearsals. Kourtnae gave us strict guidelines on foods that we were and were not allowed to eat with no guidance from a professional nutritionist.  In fact, one year, she gave out a booklet at the beginning of the semester outlining foods that were prohibited and foods that were acceptable. By the time I was twelve, I had already lost a great deal of weight and was habitually counting my calories, hiding my food and attempting crash diets behind my parents’ backs. Even when underweight, for my age and height, she would constantly comment on my appearance, criticizing my “large thighs”, “side boob” and “big backside”. At one point I lost weight so rapidly that people began to question my eating habits.

Kourtnae would call my parents claiming that she was concerned about my extensive exercise habits and willingness to lose weight while still forcing me to follow her strict dietary guidelines, do additional cardio and conditioning exercises during stretch classes and making comments in class about my stomach being too large or my “side boob” being too noticeable in my leotards. Kourtnae’s constant hurtful comments fueled my desire for rapid weight loss. As I continued to follow the dieting guidelines given to me by her I noticed that I started feeling dizzy and have low energy. I remember a time during a conditioning class where I felt extremely dizzy and was seeing black spots. I feared I would pass out if I remained standing however we were not allowed to sit down during class. I asked if I may go to the washroom however, I never made it. As I stumbled down the hallway, I collapsed and fell to the floor. The food requirements of the diet prescribed by Kourtnae ████ were not sufficient and caused me to lose essential nutrients. I was soon diagnosed with anemia: an iron deficiency and still have to take supplements to this day from the malnutrition I faced when training at the School of █████ Ballet. Kourtnae ████ is not a certified doctor or nutritionist, she should not have the authority to prescribe diets or prohibit students from eating certain foods. 

Kourtnae ████ was constantly toying with the minds of children to benefit herself and made it very clear that dancers of color were not a priority for her. The only other Black student in the studio and myself where often put in a separate class than the rest of the dancers in our level and were forced to do ballet combinations learned from a Vaganova YouTube video rather than practicing our competition dances with the other students. We were constantly subject to this type of segregation and unfair treatment. Kourtnae ████ continued to be discriminatory towards students of color when she refused to provide us with any costumes that matched our skin tone. The quite costly costumes provided to us by The School of █████ Ballet were always made for White people, forcing the Black students in the class to spend countless hours dying costume pieces while we could have been rehearsing, doing schoolwork or catching up on our sleep simply because Kourtnae refused to adjust our custom made dance costumes to match our dark skin tones. While every other dancer was given costumes that blended into their complexions, we were forced to spend great amounts of time and money to alter the costumes that we had already paid a great deal for. In addition, each member of the competition team was required to purchase a leotard in a specific color which Kourtnae referred to as “nude” to be allowed on the team. These leotards were a beige tone and everyone at the studio was required to purchase this leotard in this shade to be a member of the team. This meant that students of color were forced to purchase these costly items and once again spend time and money dying them. 

My abuse at the hands of Kourtnae ████ sent me into a pit of depression and anxiety, the longer I stayed in her studio, the more I spiraled down that dark path. My parents told me repeatedly that I should leave the School of █████ Ballet and the immense pain that it caused me. However, I feared that if I left, Kourtnae ████ would ruin my dance career. I was aware of how well connected she was in the Canadian dance world and witnessed amazing dancers fall out of the spotlight as they left her studio. I feared that leaving would end my career but soon realized that staying would end my life. 

Kourtnae ████ instilled a great deal of fear in her students.  She made threatening comments and put an excessive amount of pressure and stress on young people. This stress caused me to begin having severe chest pains and anxiety attacks. One situation that comes to mind, in particular, was during a show in which I could not find one of my arm puff costume pieces. I was so immensely scared of what type of punishment I would have to face if I did not find this $0.10 piece of tulle that I began running through the dressing room in a frenzy ripping apart my belongings in an attempt to find it. Meanwhile, I was feeling extreme tightness in my chest and began to have an anxiety attack, hyperventilating until I almost lost consciousness. My friend found the costume piece in her bag and I was able to go on stage, shaking, while praying that Kourtnae would find out that my costume piece had been misplaced in fear of being punished. 

My experiences at the School of █████ Ballet had traumatized me so much so that I developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and as recently as last year, felt extremely anxious when walking or driving by the School of █████ Ballet. Three years ago, I was unable to compete at a competition after discovering that Kourtnae would be in attendance. The fear that I would have to face her again caused me to have another anxiety attack. Initially, I was still haunted daily by the anxiety, body dysmorphia and nutritional deficiency that manifested in me at the School of █████ Ballet. It took leaving my country and dancing abroad in places where Kourtnae’s opinion had no jurisdiction for me to finally fall in love with dance again and begin to thrive both physically and mentally. Since emerging from the challenges caused by my time at the School of █████ Ballet, I have worked with some of the best choreographers in the world and danced in top dance programs in Los Angeles and New York. I was finally getting auditions and found myself having so many offers that I ended up turning down pre-professional summer contracts at prominent dance institutions such as Alvin Ailey, Bolshoi and the American Ballet Theatre – programs I had been repeatedly told that I would never aspire to. I started Révolutionnaire and began a movement to ensure that other young dancers do not feel the way that I did. Kourtnae should never have been able to be near young people much less be paid thousands of dollars to abuse them.  I encourage parents to watch dance classes and also make an attempt to speak with former dancers of the studio they are interested in attending prior to enrolling their children. I also encourage parents of dancers to check in with their children daily to ensure that they are physically, mentally and emotionally well. Had my parents not begun to notice these negative traits in me, I would not be here today and Révolutionnaire would not be inspiring the next generation of dancers of color to be revolutionary. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Teen Line – US & Canada 310-855-4673 Kids Help Phone – Canada: 1-800-668-6868

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