While the ballet conjures up visions of beauty, glamour and elegance, a New York soloist has revealed what she says is the dark truth of life as a top dancer.
Georgina Pazcoguin joined the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, full-time in the autumn of 2001, eventually moving on to the corps de ballet – which she described as an ‘elitist cult’.
By the time she was 29, Georgia was a soloist with the company – which at the time was run by Peter Martins, who in 2018 retired amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, which he vehemently denies.
Now 37, Georgina, who is of Filipina and Italian descent, has penned an explosive memoir titled Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina, in which she details her life in the company, making allegations of sexual assault, racism, emotional abuse and fat-shaming.
She recalled joke being made about rape by a director, ballerinas being reduced to tears by how painful their classes were, and routine ‘fat talks’ where young women would be ordered to lose weight for the sake of their jobs.
Such was the pressure not to miss training, she was scolded for taking one day off to see her brother before he was deployed to Iraq, while a colleague technically died after a cocaine overdose and still turned up to class the next morning.
Georgina, pictured in 2015, has penned an explosive memoir titled Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina, in which she details her life in the New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet dancer Georgina Pazcoguin, pictured in purple performing in New York in 2008, has made claims about the dark truth of life as a top dancer in a new memoir
Georgina’s dance training began at the age of four at the Allegheny Ballet Academy in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she lived with her parents and five siblings.
At the age of 14, she was offered a full scholarship to the summer program at the School of American Ballet where she was one of the youngest ballerinas training at the highest level of the scheme.
Instantly the teen noticed how little dancers were eating, recalling young women spooning ‘enough yogurt to feed an infant’ into their bowls followed by fruit and ‘an impossibly small sprinkle of granola’.
One of her first training sessions was with the late Antonina Tumkovsky, a legendary teacher at the school whose classes young ballerinas dreaded because of her ruthless methods.
Georgina’s dance training began at the age of four at the Allegheny Ballet Academy in Altoona, Pennsylvania – where she lived with her parents and five siblings. She is pictured in New York in 2017
‘The lore goes that just about anything could happen to a dancer in Tumey’s class. You could pass out, throw up, s**t yourself, or just drop dead from exhaustion’, writes Georgina.
She claimed that ballerinas would throw themselves to the floor, pretending they had fallen over, just to give their classmates slight respite during the class.
When her first class was finally over, she says the relief in the room was palpable, with disorientated dancers stumbling around the room, some in tears because of how painful the lesson had been.
In 2001, she took the plunge and moved into the dorms at the School of American Ballet to train full-time while studying at the Professional Children’s School.
Shortly after joining the company, Georgina’s commitment to the school was questioned when she decided to take one day off to see her brother get married, which was also the day before he was sent to Iraq to fight.
‘I was informed that taking the time off for that would be unwise. Yet I got up and actually apologized for my lack of ‘commitment’, said Georgina.
In January 2002, Georgina had her mid year review, where she says it was implied she needed to lose weight on her thighs.
‘Fat talks are almost a rite of passage at the New York City Ballet and come with alarming regularity,’ she writes.
Georgia claimed ballerinas were admonished for their baby weight weeks after giving birth while dancers would regularly be reduced to tears because they couldn’t shift one or two pounds.
Her explosive memoir titled Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina sees her make allegations of sexual assault, racism, emotional abuse and fat-shaming
As she struggled to lose weight, Georgina visited a doctor who weighed her before telling her she would need to shed five pounds, saying it made her feel ‘subhuman.’
He put her on a diet of just 720 calories a day and gave her ‘chalk-dust’ weight loss supplements, which she was meant to have three packets of a day with one plain chicken breast and two pounds of spinach or lettuce for dinner.
Around the same time, Georgina was suffering from bulimia, having developed the eating disorder after the school introduced ‘food nights’ to promote unity as a response to the September 11 attacks.
She says that despite getting ‘very, very thin’, nobody commented on her low weight aside from her mother, admitting she spent six months purging every single time she ate dinner.
Georgina recalled her first experience dancing in the Nutcracker, which she refers to as the ‘Nutbuster’ because of it’s grueling schedule and high injury and sickness rate.
‘I was a raven-haired apprentice newbie, cast as a maid in my first City Ballet Nutcracker because I was new. But it was clear I’d made B cast for a very different reason: my race,’ she writes.
She claimed that older dancers joked about the B cast meaning people of colour and the A cast referring to Caucasian dancers.
She said the famous ballet featured Asian tropes such as the Chinese Tea Dance – which she claimed featured a dancer ‘garish in his rice paddy hat, Fu Manchu mustache, and slanty-eye yellowface makeup’.
The ballerina was chosen to perform as Victoria in the 2016 Broadway revival of Cats, which she said ‘smudged out’ her insecurities
Georgina, who in recent years co-founded the organisation Final Bow for Yellowface, wrote: ‘The Chinese Tea dance is, in my opinion, over-the-top offensive, and every night I was forced to go onstage to make a mockery of Asian heritage.’
In 2003, Georgina found out that she would no longer be an apprentice at the New York City Ballet and would be joining the ‘elitist cult’ of the corps de ballet.
She was told the news on a the company’s annual trip to Saratoga, where she claims that repertory director Jean-Pierre Frohlich told her it was ‘amazing more women aren’t raped these days’ because of the short skirts and dresses they wear.
Frohlich was approached by the New York Times and the paper says he would not comment on the allegation.
Later she alleged that the director kissed one of the dancers during a demonstration in a rehearsal in ‘one of the most bonkers displays of toxic masculinity I’ve seen’.
On her 18th birthday, Georgina recalled being sexually assaulted in the lift when a senior male dancer ‘stuck his lounge down her throat’ without reason or warning after she struck up conversation with him.
She alleged that the company’s principal dancer Amar Ramasar spent years in class greeting her by making inappropriate comments and tweaking her nipples. He has vehemently denied these allegations.
In 2017 Georgina co-founded the organisation Final Bow for Yellowface to help end racism in the performing arts industry
Amar came under fire, alongside another male dancer, back in September 2018 after they were accused of sharing sexually explicit photos of female ballerinas and was dismissed from the company.
He was reinstated just months later after an arbitrator ruled the New York City Ballet had overstepped in firing him and a court later cleared him of any wrongdoing when a lawsuit from one of the female dancers was thrown out.
When Georgina had been in the corps for a while, she was asked to fill in for another dancer in a performance of The Firebird – but ended up breaking her wrist in rehearsal.
Despite being in pain, she was asked by a senior member of staff to ‘man up and pull through’ telling her that the show could ‘make her career’ but she refused.
By the time the dancer had graduated to senior corps, she was dancing less and began to fear weight creeping up on her thighs – opting to spend £7,000 to remove fat from her thighs, a practice she says is common among elite ballerinas.
In 2007, Georgia played a role she has ‘tried to erase from my memory’, in Peter’s publicly televised rendition of Romeo + Juliet.
She played a hypersexualised version of the nurse, who was groped on stage by two male dancers while they try and retrieve a note hidden in her bosom.
‘I knew voicing my displeasure about being harassed onstage would be viewed as ungrateful. Someone else would surely be slipped into the role, and I’d be reminded later that when given a shot—I’d turned it down’, she writes.
By February 2013, Georgina had become a soloist at the company and a year later got a taste of life outside the City Ballet when she stepped into the role of Ivy Smith in the Broadway revival of the On the Town.
Through her performance in 2014 she was chosen to perform as Victoria in the 2016 Broadway revival of Cats, which she said ‘smudged out’ her insecurities.
Soon after her Cats debut, Martins retired amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. His retirement came before an internal investigation was due to be handed down.
Five dancers had come forward and alleged he had verbally and physically abused them but a New York City Ballet did not corroborate the allegations.
Martins denies the allegations. He also did not comment on Georgina’s allegations in her memoir when approached according to the New York Times.
Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina is published by Picador at £18.99