About 28.8 million Americans will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Among the many individuals affected by this issue, are professionals who are often judged as greatly on their image as their ability: ballet dancers. About 16% of ballet dancers indicated they had an eating disorder, according to study by the Loughborough University Centre for Research into Eating Disorders that examined data from 1966 to 2013.

While launching her ballet career, UCF senior Sabrina Landa was one of those affected. To help process her experience, Landa choreographed a dance that tells the story of her struggle to achieve her dreams amid pressure to maintain a strict body image. Her dance will be performed at TECH-nique: A Dance Concert, as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts 2023.

Landa has been performing ballet since the age of 3. Growing up, she felt a constant sense of insecurity surrounding food and in trying to conform to dance companies’ physical ideals.

“For as long as I can remember, ballet has been my passion,” Landa says. “But I always struggled with my body type, which isn’t considered ideal for dancing. I was a very muscular dancer and found it hard to fit into the ideal ballet aesthetic.”

TECH-nique: A Dance Concert will be performed April 8 during UCF Celebrates the Arts 2023. Find more information and tickets here.

After graduating high school a year early, Landa was offered a scholarship to dance with the Philadelphia Ballet — a dream come true. While she achieved success on stage, the pressure caused her eating disorder to worsen. Eventually, a foot injury caused by malnutrition forced Landa to move back home to recover. She started dancing again just as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic darkened performing arts venues across the country.

Landa took the pause to hang up her dance shoes and enrolled at UCF, pursuing studies in social work. Immersed in her courses for the next two years, she still longed for the stage. That’s when Landa discovered UCF’s dance minor. There, she says she  found an inclusive, safe space where she could feel comfortable dancing in her own body.

Landa was given the opportunity to choreograph a dance for TECH-nique: A Dance Concert to be performed at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts 2023. The concert includes 16 dances from a variety of genres, including hip-hop, tap, musical theater, jazz and ballet. Each dance tells a story choreographed by UCF students, faculty and alumni.

Landa’s choreography expresses the conflicting feelings she had when deciding to say goodbye to ballet in 2020. Her dance illustrates a race against the clock — an homage to the short career of ballet dancers, which often concludes by the age of 30.

Often, the battle with an eating disorder is never truly over. Landa says she hopes her dance will help raise awareness and make others feel seen.

“Eating anxieties are so sadly common with women because of what society has made us believe about our bodies,” Landa says. “I love that this concert is going to show that no matter your shape or size, you can dance. Dance is a work of art, it’s a work of love, and it’s not something that you have to be a specific shape to do. There are so many different shapes and sizes of [people] in the dance minor, and they all dance so beautifully. And that’s well represented in this show.”

The concert explores the ways technology impacts humanity, from how new inventions are used in war, to how social media influences the body image of young women. Beyond serving as a storytelling device, technology itself is used to enhance the performances. For a performance she choreographed, concert director Judi Siegfried collaborated with engineering professor Carolina Cruz-Neira, inventor of the CAVE System, a virtual reality environment, to create a visually immersive experience for the audience.

This new collaboration between dance and virtual reality could be a steppingstone to future innovations in dance performances at UCF.

“I’m looking forward to more collaborations with the College of Engineering and Computer Science. We are really excited about working together,” Siegfried says. “Ultimately, this concert is about showing off the talent of our dancers. I’m looking forward to every piece because as an instructor, I love seeing my students’ creations come to life.”

TECH-nique: A Dance Concert will be performed on Saturday, April 8, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Dr. Phillips Center’s Walt Disney Theater as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts 2023. More information and tickets can be found here.