Photo Credit: Rachel Neville Photography
Many young girls dream of being professional ballerinas when they grow up. To these girls, nothing sounds better than a life of costumes, characters, and challenging choreography, but what they don’t understand is how much ballerinas give up to be devoted to their craft. This realization hit professional ballerina, Tanya Trombly, especially hard early in her career. Throughout her quest to become the “perfect” ballerina, she sacrificed her health which, in turn, made her lose a passion for dance.
In an effort to find herself and her passion again, Trombly broke all the traditional bunhead rules and created the “Bulletproof Ballerina” system, which teaches dancers to incorporate cross-training safely into their workout regimes. Recently, I had the chance to talk to Trombly more about “Bulletproof Ballerina” and her advice for fellow dancers who need a change in their lives.
1. Talk a little bit about your dance training and dance career thus far.
I grew up in a small town in Michigan and started dancing when I was 3-years-old. I began training at dance studios that gave me a fun experience and allowed me to try different genres, but I wasn’t exposed to cutting-edge ballet training. I didn't get focused ballet training until I went away to Mercyhurst University to major in ballet. By then, I felt way behind since my peers had all gone to ballet conservatories or been trained in serious ballet schools. I never thought I would make it into the professional realm but got a full-time contract with a ballet company as soon as I graduated. I spent the next few years moving around to several different states for company contracts and guesting before settling in New York City about 12 years ago to freelance. I currently work regularly with four classical and contemporary companies as well as pick-up gigs and guesting work.
2. How did the pressures of being a ballerina affect your life?
Whether it was ballet that brought out my perfectionism or my perfectionism that drew me to ballet, I had my struggles and still do! I was very shy and had extremely low self-esteem, which only got worse as I felt more competition and pressure to stand out in a field with so many other talented dancers vying for the spotlight. In my efforts to feel “good enough” in my dancing, I turned to eating as something I could control and be “good” at. I did a lot of damage to my body and mind while battling with anorexia for a long time. I actually don’t have many memories from a period of about 10 years where I was so brutally self-destructive with this disease. Along with anorexia, I was extremely obsessed with ballet, shutting out anything in my life that didn’t directly improve my dancing.
3. What inspired Bulletproof Ballerina?
After years of needless self-torture, I all of a sudden saw myself from the outside looking in and didn’t like what I saw. I was suffering so much for my dancing, to the point of not enjoying dancing anymore. I was giving all I could give, including my health, but it still wasn’t enough.
I decided to break all the bunhead rules I was holding myself to and become a “Bad Girl Ballerina” instead. I started to listen to my body. I stopped dragging myself to ballet class every day and started lifting weights. I turned to cross-training to stay in ballet shape. As a result, I developed the "Bulletproof Ballerina” system which was very efficient and allowed me to explore and develop other interests. I started snowboarding and surfing. I got a boyfriend and made friends. I started to fuel my body with nutrients for health and vibrancy, instead of restricting food to be skinny. This is when my ballet improved to levels I never imagined. My outside interests and experiences fueled my artistry and gave me more fire to put into my dancing. And through my “Bulletproof Ballerina” training system, I had the ability to do ballet technique with ease, where I used to struggle, rip, and tear at my body just to get the job done. The system changed my life and my career, and now I want to share those secrets with other dancers!
Photo Credit: Rachel Neville Photography
4. As a fitness expert and coach, how important do you think cross-training is for all professional athletes?
I think cross-training is super important for all athletes. But, I think that it is often overdone and overblown in our typical obsessive manner. Through my “Bulletproof Ballerina” system, I teach dancers to respect their bodies; to give their bodies what they need, instead of getting caught in the same cycle of forcing a regimen on them. I coach my “Bad Girl Ballerinas” to think of their bodies as an experiment that must be tested and observed over and over again. There is no magic formula for cross-training; you have to constantly be aware of what makes you better and what pushes you too far. At the end of the day, it’s not the cross-training that matters, it’s how well the cross-training allows you to do your art.
5. Do you have any advice for dancers who still love their craft but feel stuck in it?
If you are unhappy with how things are going, make a change. We have so much untapped power over our lives and bodies. But, we get stuck in a routine of doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results. This makes us unhappy, unfulfilled, and tortured in our art. If you want a different result, you need to change something. Stop banging your head against the wall doing something that doesn’t work. Train different. Seek guidance from a guru. Listen to your body. And, realize you are the only one in control of your body and your life.
To learn more about Tanya Trombly and her "Bulletproof Ballerina" system, visit www.bulletproofballerina.com or www.antibunheadfitness.com . Follow Tanya on social media at @antibunheadfitness on Facebook, Bulletproof Ballerina on YouTube, and @bulletproof_ballerina on Instagram.