When Georgina Pazcoguin was 19 years outdated, she went to see a physician about her thighs. A dancer on the New York Metropolis Ballet, Pazcoguin had beforehand had what was recognized amongst dancers as “the fats discuss” with the corporate’s then chief, Peter Martins. Throughout their assembly Martins had informed her she didn’t “slot in”, silently indicating the world between her bottom and her knees. And so, following a advice from a buddy, she visited the workplace of 1 Dr Wilcox, who informed her she ought to eat not more than 720 energy a day – the beneficial quantity for the common lady is nearer to 2,000 – and gave her some sealed packets of powder. For the following 4 months, she subsisted on the powder, plus a single hen breast and two kilos of spinach or lettuce, which might make up her night meal.
“Nobody desires to be informed their physique is inadequate,” says Pazcoguin, now 36. “I imply, line is important in my enterprise; there’s a sure aesthetic [that is expected]. However I’m not an ectomorph. As a dancer you’re observing your physique all day lengthy in a mirror. However to attempt to intimidate me to make me appear like this stick determine? Some girls are simply born a selected method. And there [should be] flexibility throughout the ballet world for extra physique varieties than simply this waif-thin thought.”
Pazcoguin is speaking from her condo in New York, to which she has just lately returned after spending a big a part of the pandemic in Los Angeles. Following an 18-month break, she is because of return to the stage with the New York Metropolis Ballet two days after we communicate. Pazcoguin has appeared in critically acclaimed productions of Paul McCartney’s Ocean’s Kingdom, West Facet Story Suite and, in a quick departure from ballet, the Broadway revival of Cats. In early 2020, the New York Occasions hailed her “passionate, visceral dancing” in Alexei Ratmansky’s Voices.
Whereas she has executed what she will be able to to remain in form through the pandemic, “there is no such thing as a quantity of coaching that would even have ready my physique for this course of. I really feel like I’m Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf, morphing myself into a very completely different creature.”
Pazcoguin can be gearing up for the publication of Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina, a memoir chronicling her coming of age as a dancer. You needn’t be acquainted with the world of ballet to seek out Swan Dive a humorous, poignant and stunning learn. Pazcoguin takes us from her childhood in Altoona, Pennsylvania, because the daughter of a Filipino father and Italian mom (“one of the best stage mother and father”), and her first ballet class on the age of 4, to her first summer time programme, aged 14, at New York’s Faculty of American Ballet, a feeder college for the New York Metropolis Ballet the place Pazcoguin grew to become an apprentice. She punctures, with huge glee, the stereotype of the ballet dancer as a sublime, ethereal being, describing sweat-stained costumes which have by no means met a washer and used condoms and canine crap lurking in dressing rooms.
Underpinning Pazcoguin’s narrative is her enjoyment of her craft, which can be evident in her dialog. “Ballet is my language,” she tells me. “I really feel like my truest model of myself when I’m on stage. It’s once I really feel all is correct with the world and one of many solely instances the place the committee of voices in my head are all on the identical web page.” However she additionally talks overtly and bluntly concerning the stunning practices and attitudes which have lengthy been the norm on this notoriously closed world. Together with the fat-shaming and the disordered consuming, Pazcoguin lifts the lid on the psychological abuse, the tradition of sexual harassment and the sidelining and stereotyping of dancers of color.
Requested whether or not she is frightened that the e-book might blow up her profession, she shakes her head emphatically. “I’ve at all times been an outsider, accepted however probably not accepted due to my multicultural identification and the truth that I’m an outspoken particular person. I’ve at all times requested questions, and I can see, for an establishment that simply desires dancers to be silent and do what they’re informed, how that may turn out to be actually problematic. I really feel just like the potential to torpedo my profession was at all times there.”
Pazcoguin shouldn’t be the primary to speak about these points. “I’m on no account a whistleblower,” she says. “The whistle was already blown on the New York Metropolis Ballet.” She is referring to Martins’s retirement in 2018 following accusations of years of bodily and verbal abuse, and sexual harassment, by a number of dancers. Martins denies the allegations. That very same 12 months, three male principal dancers – Chase Finlay, Zachary Catarazo and Amar Ramasar – had been accused of sharing nude footage and movies of feminine dancers with out their data. Finlay resigned, and Ramasar and Catarazo had been fired – however their punishment was later revised to suspension; Ramasar returned, however Catarazo selected to go away.
Alongside along with her personal experiences with Martins, who she says psychologically abused her, Pazcoguin relays incidents with different workers, amongst them Ramasar, who she maintains would typically make suggestive feedback and pinch her nipples in school. She additionally recollects a day rehearsing for the spring ballet when the repertory director, Jean-Pierre Frohlich, requested dancers to think about girls in skimpy clothes reminiscent of tank tops and shorts. “JP appeared to be staring wistfully into house as he mused,” Pazcoguin writes. “He ended his lengthy pause with this loopy bomb: ‘It’s wonderful extra girls aren’t raped lately.’”
Whereas sexual harassment and objectification have lengthy been part of life as a ballerina, at no level have feminine dancers regarded it as acceptable, says Pazcoguin. “This can be a dialog that has been happening for a very long time … And each single lady [at the New York City Ballet] was paying consideration when the #MeToo motion began. However we have now needed to put it away and compartmentalise it, as a result of we by no means thought this could be a tradition that would ever change.”
In 2017, she and the journalist and writer Phil Chan based Closing Bow for Yellowface, geared toward ending outdated and racist depictions of Asian folks in dance. Pazcoguin additionally advocates for variety and colourblind casting, though on the latter she notes: “That’s one thing I really feel like I haven’t actually damaged by when it comes to the roles that I dance. A number of my casting is predicated on what I appear like, not what I can embody. I might love to only be capable of go in to work and be seen because the human I’m, and have the likelihood that I can, within the span of a day, be Anita in West Facet Story, the Sugar Plum Fairy [in The Nutcracker] and [Sleeping Beauty’s villain] Carabosse.”
Nonetheless, Pazcoguin’s marketing campaign is already making a distinction; greater than 100 dancers and dance leaders have signed a pledge to finish the observe of yellowface on their levels. She recollects a younger Korean-American dancer telling her: “I see you on stage and I see that it may be me.”
“I didn’t have that rising up,” Pazcoguin says now, tears in her eyes. “There was nobody that seemed like me. For the longest time I knew that my heritage wouldn’t be appreciated.”
Openness and transparency are very important for Pazcoguin, which is why, in Swan Dive, she has chosen to share some painful tales, together with a quick affair with a married dancer. “That is an examination of my very own story and my very own path, and I’ve made errors too,” she notes. “Nobody goes by this world with out making some fairly huge fuck-ups.” Extra important is her try, in her early 20s, to deal as soon as and for all with the problem of her thighs by liposuction. Trying again, Pazcoguin says, she did what was proper for her – the best way she noticed it, it was that or starve herself – though she would by no means advocate it to a younger ballerina. “I used to be in a very tough place,” she says. “I had a frontrunner that was asking me to show my loyalty to him one way or the other and [he] didn’t care how I did it. I knew that that was an excessive choice, however I used to be in an excessive place. It was a method for me to seize my company in a spot the place I had none.”
She hopes that Swan Dive will convey “how superior my job is whereas being sincere concerning the fucked-up issues that occur on the earth. I didn’t write this from a bitter place, I wrote it as a result of I used to be compelled to share the story. We owe it to youthful generations to not keep silent [about] what we skilled any extra. It’s about greater than ballet. The message is greater than simply me.”
Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina (Picador) is out on 7 October.