How Dancer Lindsey Wawrzyniak Learned to Cope with the Pressure of Perfectionism

by Bridget Conrad | 6/26/2019 4:13 PM

Photo Credit: courtesy of Lindsey Wawrzyniak

Lindsey Wawrzyniak had an amazing childhood surrounded by a loving family and lots of friends. She not only excelled in school, but constantly won dance awards and scholarships and received tons of recognition at conventions and competitions. In addition to training at her dance studio, Wawrzyniak made her high school’s varsity dance team as a freshman, which was a huge accomplishment since dance was such a big part of her life. Suddenly, during her junior year of high school, Wawrzyniak's life took a dark turn when she experienced a series of traumatic events that caused her to fall deep into an illness that almost took her life.

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In 2016, Wawrzyniak stopped talking to her best friend, her dad was diagnosed with cancer, and her great-grandmother became ill all in a matter of two months. At first, she found comfort in dance, but when she started dieting for dance team nationals, she took her diet way too far. At the time, losing weight was the only thing that made her happy. Since she wasn’t giving her body the fuel it needed, dance team became very hard for her. She had no stamina, started having asthma attacks, and couldn’t breathe. In 2017, she decided to quit dance team and just focused on training at her dance studio. Although, during a summer master class at the studio, Wawrzyniak's heart began hurting so bad that her mom had to take her straight to urgent care. After the doctor examined her, he officially diagnosed Wawrzyniak with anorexia.

Photo Credit: courtesy of Lindsey Wawrzyniak

At first treatment went well, but it wasn’t long until Wawrzyniak started to cheat her way through her weekly wellness tests. She soon found herself in another downward spiral that put her in the hospital. After undergoing a week of treatment, Wawrzyniak started to show improvement, but regression set in again when she joined the dance program at Arizona State University in August 2018. In the beginning, no one knew about her eating disorder, but she was still starving her body. Wawrzyniak started to lose her hair, her vision became blurry, and dance was almost impossible. It finally hit her that she was incredibly ill when she was at Disney with her dance team for a competition. Instead of finishing the competition with her team, her parents took her to a nearby hospital for treatment. Wawrzyniak then was admitted into an inpatient treatment center on April 1, 2019. She was there eight weeks, and went on to a part-time hospital treatment center for another week before going home. Now, she's at home feeling stronger and participates in an intensive outpatient program.

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Recently, I was able to speak to 19-year-old Wawrzyniak about her dance training, the pressures of perfectionism in dance, and what helped her to overcome her illness.

Photo Credit: courtesy of Lindsey Wawrzyniak

1.) When did you start dancing? What styles did you train in?

When I was still in diapers, my mom used to watch me dance around the house to Barney and The Wiggles and knew I had a passion for dance. At 3-years-old, she enrolled me in a ballet/tap combo class. When I turned 7, I started competition dancing. At first, I wasn't sure if I could handle the commitment of competition dancing, but I quickly got used to the busy rehearsal schedule. At age 9, I  began training in all styles of dance including, ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, acrobatics, modern, vogue, tap, lyrical, partnering, pointe, heels, and musical theatre. 

2.) A lot of young dancers fall victim to perfectionism. What role did that play in the course of your illness?

Perfectionism was the fuel to my eating disorder and caused me a lot of issues. I still struggle with it, but I am learning to cope with it in healthier ways instead of controlling how I eat. I usually dance, pray, meditate, draw, or take a walk when I feel worthless or anything less than my high expectations. I believe perfectionism is a common trait in dancer's because they are literally getting judged on what they do wrong in a dance and are constantly getting critiqued. Being in that type of environment can sometimes teach one to judge and critique themselves and can mess with one's mental health.  I truly believe that I wouldn't be able to let go of my eating disorder if I didn't let go of my perfectionism.

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3.) What advice would you give to any young dancer that may not feel enough compared to their peers? 

Comparing is also a common trait not only among young dancers, but people in general. The best advice I have is to appreciate and focus on the things you have rather than the things you lack. Dwelling on what you don't have in comparison to what others do does nothing good for you. I believe that waking up and living each day is an accomplishment. I learned to give myself some grace for showing up to the world and being me. It's about letting go of control that you don't have and trusting your higher power. Something that has helped me stop comparing is to practice daily affirmations and realize that I am not perfect, but I'm perfectly imperfect and that is good enough. 

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