Verbal, non-verbal conversation about eating disorders explored in Elon senior’s thesis

Senior Cecilia Potter's "Reflections" examines eating disorders through a unique viewpoint: theatre, dance and dialogue. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Senior Cecilia Potter’s “Reflections” examines eating disorders through a unique viewpoint: theatre, dance and dialogue. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

Dancers in Cecilia Potter’s senior thesis, “Reflections,” emitted several emotions related to eating disorders throughout the performance Friday night: anger, guilt, wonder and hopelessness.

“It’s that constant negative cycle that everybody who has had an eating disorder can relate to,” Potter said.

The dance follows the story of a young woman struggling with bulimia, how it affects her friends and how she ultimately overcomes it.

Potter, a theatre studies major and dance minor, dedicated the performance to one of her best friends from home is currently struggling with bulimia and anorexia. She said “Reflections” is for her friend and for other dancers in Potter’s demographic who have an eating disorder.

“People say it’s limited to adolescents but I really believe it’s a college thing, too,” Potter said. “I’ve noticed it on Elon’s campus and other campuses. This is my way of bringing awareness to the community as much as I can.”

Initially, Potter and the other dancers participated in acting exercises. Then, she transferred them to learn how to get the same message across, but through dance. Potter hoped this would serve as a bridge between verbal and non-verbal expression.

“It trained them to communicate better and be aware of each other rather than just dancing,” Potter said. “It was communicating – having a movement dialogue.”

Eating disorders are a big problem for dancers, Potter said. Many of the dancers in “Reflections” can relate to the issue through their own lives or through people they have seen struggle with it. The dancers did many exercises where they could explain these battles.

“It’s definitely unlocked a different level of emotion that I don’t think could be brought just through movement,” Potter said. “We needed to talk it out and we needed to have these kinds of exercises to get it out.”

Potter decided to do an independent senior thesis because she wanted to do a show that wasn’t “straight-up acting,” she said. She wasn’t interested in writing a script and performing it; she wanted to dance. While there are theatrical elements in the show, the story is told through dance.

Jane Wellford, professor of the performing arts, and Kevin Otos, associate professor of theatre, have advised her through the process. Potter said it was helpful to have professionals help her with both the theatrical and dance sides of the production.

“I was really proud of her for going for it and making it happen because she had to make it happen by reserving the space, getting the dancers and seeing her vision through,” Wellford said.

Potter is expecting a mixed review from her audience. She described the performance as a movie when a truthful thing is exposed and people giggle because they are uncomfortable.

“I think the subject is pretty forward so it might bring some discomfort but that’s kind of what I’m going for,” Potter said. “It’s not a dance where you leave and think, ‘oh, that was fun and happy.’ It’s something to think about it and I just wanted to have some resonance in the audience’s mind.”

Potter had a certain picture of the show in mind when she started planning the performance and as practices started, this picture slowly changed into something she said she is happier with. She said she hopes the message in “Reflections” will help spark conversations about the prevalence of eating disorders. Dancing helped the conversation become both verbal and non-verbal.

“What could be more personal or more revealing than the human body as the instrument for portrayal?” Wellford said.

All photos by Stephanie Butzer. 

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