When I was five years old, I saw the Nutcracker on TV – with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. I saw them dancing, and I said to my parents, “I’m going to be a ballerina.” Of course, we shouldn’t always trust five-year-olds. If every five-year-old could predict their career, we’d have a lot of really funny professions in the world. But in this case, I was so certain. I knew it in my bones that I wanted to become a ballerina. This seemingly impossible childhood dream came true, proving that I’m Possible.
This creation of movement, being one with the music, and reaching for something greater than myself was how I connected with myself and other people. Ballet was my form of communication. Pure freedom and joy are the only ways to describe it.
I'm Possible – Boobs and all
By high school, I had become pretty serious about dancing. I was dancing before and after school. I was in the gym at four in the morning, plus working to pay for my dance classes and training on the side to make sure I was in the best shape possible. Not only was it essential to be in optimal form for the demands of dancing, but there were often unrealistic aesthetic expectations, too.
One ballet teacher regularly told me that I needed to eat less, that I was fat, my boobs were too big, and I needed to train more if I were to become anything. Her voice began to drown out the other positive encouragement that I was getting from my other teachers, and I doubted my talent and passion. I wondered, “If I’m not good enough to be the best dancer in my studio, how the heck am I going to make it as a professional ballet dancer?”
My show choir teacher, Mrs. Leder, noticed that something was upsetting me. She pulled me aside and said, “What’s wrong? You were so joyful before, and now you’re just in this black hole. Tell me, what’s going on?”
I said, “If I’m not good enough to become a professional dancer. What am I going to do with my life?”
Mrs. Leder said, “If dancing is in your heart, then that’s what you have to do. And you just have to go out and prove them all wrong.”
I'm Possible – When giving your all is all you can do
The faith Mrs. Leder had in me renewed my faith in myself. I took a different approach to my training from then on. I was committed to putting in 100% to make my ambition of being a dancer happen. And if it didn’t work out, I would at least know I did my very best.
A couple of years out of high school, right at the beginning of my dance career, I had the joy of hearing Mrs. Leder saying, “I told you so.”
My 15-year career brought me as a performer, choreographer, and teacher throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. I had the opportunity to dance choreography from some of the most influential choreographers of the time, including Mats Ek, Nacho Duato, Merce Cunningham, and Crystal Pite, to name a few.
My last engagement was with the Staatstheater Nürnberg Ballett, a decorated and renowned European dance company. By then, I had found my authentic way of moving. I reveled in the power and athleticism in my body. I lost the fear of what other people thought about me and concentrated on the magic of dancing. In this dance company, I met the love of my life, Christian Teutscher. Like every good cliche love story, it was amplified by the artistic stage life. As a young girl, I couldn’t have imagined how dance would shape every aspect of my being. It was so much better.
I'm Possible – Even in the face of adversity
There’s another part of the story in which Mrs. Leder plays a significant role. When I was in high school, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This also factored into my doubts about pursuing a career as a professional ballet dancer. I didn’t yet know enough about MS and was scared that I would be missing out on time with my mom. It felt selfish to be so concentrated on my body as she was struggling with hers.
Mrs. Leder said, “You have to pursue your dream. It’s who you are. And your mother would want you to, too.” She was right. My mom said, “You have to follow your dreams. When you dance, I dance with you.” Later, I found out that Mrs. Leder also had Multiple Sclerosis. She just hadn’t told her students. Her insight into the situation was even more profound than I realized.
Years later, my parents were able to fly from New Mexico, where I’m from, to Nuremberg to see me perform with the Staatstheater Nürnberg Ballett. They were and still are so proud. After all, they are the ones who first enrolled me in dance classes when I was two-and-a-half. My mom doesn’t travel far anymore, but she is still going strong.
I'm Possible – Bringing my best into my second career
In 2014 I officially retired from my career as a dancer due to a hip injury. Movement has always been my passion, so I knew that teaching would be the next step. I wanted to help people experience that expansiveness and freedom in their bodies that dance gave me. Now my medium is Pilates, Yoga, and our own Barre technique.
Since 2015, I have run my own studio, Performance Fit Pilates. Christian has also retired from dance, and we teach together. We offer classes in our studio in Nuremberg, Germany, and lead international retreats for other industry professionals. Our virtual studio, Performance Fit Online provides live-stream and on-demand training to people worldwide. Our community is vast, from professional dancers to former Olympic and Paralympic athletes to people just beginning a fitness program. After completing a fitness training certification for people with neurological conditions, I also offer training specifically designed for people with Multiple Sclerosis.
We have developed our Perfitly You® method to empower everyone to “Be Your Best You.” We encourage people to love and accept themselves and confidently move in their diverse physical abilities. Movement is a celebration of human potential.
Those with MS tell us that this is the one hour per week that they experience freedom in their bodies. Giving others the chance to experience the exhilaration and connection that movement offers is the most incredible job in the world.
Our paths are the results of so many factors, influences, hard work, and luck. But the encouragement of one teacher at a pivotal moment kept me going on my most authentic way. I’m possible because Mrs. Leder was possible.
In memory of Lauren Chilton Leder (1949-2006).