Real-Life Black Swan
Watch a rare backstage interview at Lincoln Center with Jenifer.
Jenifer first stepped up to the barre at 10 years old. Now 37, she has devoted her entire life to dance—pushing her physical and mental limits with every graceful movement. She says the wear and tear from years of 12-hour days has started to catch up with her. "My bones and my joints will crack and crunch," she says. "Sometimes, you know, when I lift my leg to the back it doesn't go quite as high as it used to."
Despite her physical pain, the constant pursuit of perfection keeps Jenifer going.
This struggle with food at one point even resulted in Jenifer's decision to leave the world of professional dance. "I had left the company and I was probably 30 or 40 pounds overweight. I had a ballet teacher say to me, 'You've just got to come and dance. Come into my class. Listen to the music and dance. You need to be dancing,'" Jenifer says. "And at this weight, which was the heaviest I had been, I remember clearly looking into the mirror and seeing myself at that weight and saying, 'You're beautiful just like that.' It was a huge deal for me to just accept myself like that."
Jenifer says fitness is important in dance, but there is room for more than one body type. "We do have to be honed to a fine point. ... We do need to be thin. We need to be in the best physical place we can be," she says. "But the thing is, there's room for all body types. In my company every body type is represented. We have tall, we have waif-like, we have womanly, we have petite. The danger is when the dancer can't appreciate their own body and starts hating the fact that they're not fitting into the waif-like mold."
"It's horrible to read something about yourself like that, so it made me feel bad," she says. "It was embarrassing."
On the other hand, Jenifer says, it made her realize that she had conquered her eating disorder. "My first thought was, 'It's happened. My worst nightmare. Somebody has called me heavy in the press and lots of people are going to read about it.' But then my next thought was, 'It's happened and I'm okay and I'm fine the way I am and I have survived it.' I think it's just because I had gone through my eating disorders, I had gone through depression, I had lost dance for a while because of my eating disorders."
Being a "senior" dancer brings pros and cons, Jenifer says. "I definitely notice a difference in my body. I don't recover as fast, I don't bound out of bed like a Walt Disney cartoon in the mornings," she says. "But, on the other hand, being at this age I feel like I'm a better artist. I feel like I'm bringing a lot more life experience to my roles."
Jenifer says the movie's first part is a good depiction of the hard work it takes to be a dancer. "I thought Natalie Portman was amazing. It's hard [enough] for a dancer to look like a dancer, and she actually managed to look like a ballerina. I thought it was impressive," Jenifer says. "And then, you know, when the craziness started it was an exaggeration and a dramatization. I mean, I thought it was fun!"
Watch Jenifer explain the sacrifice and beauty of dancing with a partner.