When people picture a ballerina, many often think of the same image. A young girl, tall and slender, who has been training intensely since she was three years old. Starting ballet classes for the first time last year at 25 years old, Lauren McKeown may not match this mental image. But her work and practice in ballet classes makes her just as much a ballerina as the New York Ballet’s prima ballerina.
“Starting out was very challenging. Although I signed up for an adult class and my classmates were around my age, most of them had prior ballet experience,” Lauren tells Love What Matters. “Being in a room full of mirrors, attempting to leap and spin across the floor one by one, figuring out which foot to move where and remembering the choreography, all made me feel so vulnerable. But, I made the decision early on that I was going to try my best to do what I could, even if I looked silly doing it.”
For Lauren, her journey to dance started with beginning to fix her relationship with exercise and her body. Before ballet, her relationship with exercise existed only to lose weight. As she searched for new ways to move her body, she decided to try ballet because of her love for the arts.
“I’m grateful that I’ve found a form of physical movement that I enjoy,” Lauren says. “I hesitate to call it exercise because my brain will always associate exercise with the scale, so instead I like to call it movement. I’ve learned how to move my body in a way that’s positive for both my physical and mental health.”
In a world like the ballet world, this approach is radical and important. Many studios, dancers, and choreographers still uphold outdated ideas about what a ballerina can and should look like. But this is beginning to change.
“Finding leotards and tights that are flattering and comfortable is a feat. Browsing online at many different dance retailers, there are very few options for mid-size and plus-size dancers,” Lauren tells Love What Matters. “All this being said, I’ve learned that even though I may not be the ‘typical’ ballerina, I can still be a ballerina. And there are many places doing their part, including my dance studio and my local dance supply store, to make dance inclusive to everyone.”
Starting a new journey like this as an adult can be challenging, but it is important for people of all ages to search for a passion and outlet in their lives. Starting later in life can be scary, but it creates a place to learn and grow in all aspects of life.
“I found that by attending class every week and ultimately performing in a recital, I was proud of myself,” Lauren tells Love What Matters. “It was unlike any academic or professional accomplishment, because in ballet, I did it for myself. I challenged myself purely for the sake of learning something new and I was proud of myself for following through and trying my best.”
Lauren just danced in her first recital with her friends and family cheering her on from the audience. Her dance journey is just beginning, and her growth and passion for ballet shows that it can be for anyone, if they are just willing to give it a try.
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. You can follow Lauren McKeown of Pennsylvania on TikTok. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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