Zibby is joined by Megan Fairchild, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, to discuss her memoir, The Ballerina Mindset. Megan shares how the book grew out of her podcast, Ask Megan, to answer questions from mothers of young dancers and the advice she offered there for how to train without harming your body or mind. Megan and Zibby talk about the importance of meditating or just finding time to focus on yourself, the ways in which Megan reframed her relationship with eating and exercise that everyone can adopt, and what lessons she hopes to pass on to her three daughters.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Megan. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Ballerina Mindset: How to Protect Your Mental Health While Striving for Excellence.

Megan Fairchild: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I need this book. In fact, every chapter, as I went through, I was like, okay, a chapter on anxiety, great. A chapter on eating, yes. Everything went on. I was like, I need this one. I need this one. Thank you for sharing your story and for all the advice.

Megan: I’m so glad it resonated.

Zibby: Yes, thank you. Will you tell listeners a little bit more about this book? Also, what made you decide to write this? You’re this super successful ballerina and have had an amazing career and all the rest. Why take time out to now write a book?

Megan: I actually was always really shy with the idea of ever having a book. There’s been other dancers that write about their careers. I always thought that was so not me. Then it just happened super naturally. I did a little podcast. I spent a year on Broadway. It was a big departure from the ballet world. I felt like I realized everyone thinks ballet dancers are such an intense type of person. So many people, even the stagehands on my Broadway show were like, wow, this is not what I expected a ballerina to be like. I was also feeling the need to give back to all of the fans and stuff that I had developed, young dancers, to show them, this is what our industry is like. We’re really normal people, and blah, blah, blah, and kind of to demystify it. I made a podcast called “Ask Megan” just to help mothers and their kids who were dancers understand our industry a little better because I really felt the media misconstrues it. Then an editor from Penguin Publishing contacted me. She was like, “I’ve been using your advice to help myself run a marathon. I’m not a dancer at all. I really think you have a book here.” We met together and fleshed out ten big life lessons that I felt were worthy of sharing and things I wish my younger self had known. She really helped me to pose it in more of a universal light because she felt it had that type of message.

Zibby: Which it does. Let’s go through a few of them because they’re all super helpful. Let’s see. Let’s start with the beginning with facing anxiety because, obviously, this is pervasive right now. You did a good job of spelling out why anxiety makes no sense even though we all do it. Tell me about your experience with anxiety, how you’re managing it now, and what’s been the most helpful for you.

Megan: I’ll give a little example that I give in the book. The very first time I had my first big role — it wasn’t even huge, but I was wanting to do so well. It felt like I was being really featured for the first time. I stayed up until four in the morning the night before crying on the phone to my mom. My back hurt from working on the piece a lot. I was just so building it up into this enormous thing, and especially at night. We all really stress at night. I got no sleep. I ended up really sabotaging my opportunity. I was okay. I got through it. I look back at my younger self and all of these times when I was really wasting time freaking out, and I would tell students now, that’s time that could be used to just make yourself more consistent in what you’re working on. I’ve had to really learn to reframe it and also to know that those butterflies you’re going to get before something important are actually a useful tool to help you prepare if you can channel it in the right way.

I also try to look at it more as not something to doubt myself with, but something to give me energy. This is an important adrenaline rush that I need to take this to the next level for performance. Also, I talk later in the book about, something that really has helped me just in general stay more balanced and cope better under difficult, stressful times is meditation. I don’t even have that much time to meditate these days. If I really need to reroute my energy, I have this tool. I can go be like, I’m tapping out, to my husband. I need twenty minutes to myself. I need to change my mindset. I need to change my energy. I go and I meditate. I come out feeling fresher. I feel like the things that were imploding in on me are further away and I have more space around me. I just can be the person that I want to be in life. That’s been the best benefit for me, is that I feel like I properly treat all of the people around me in the way that I want to. I don’t let stress get in the way of all those things.

Zibby: Wow. Goals.

Megan: I’m still working on all of it. Just ask my husband. He’ll probably say I still have lots of work to do, but I have the tools now. The younger me didn’t know this. That’s why I wanted to write this book. I feel like, for me, meditation was such a game changer, such a game changer.

Zibby: I have not been able get into meditation at all. I know it’s supposed to be so good, but I don’t know. I usually take a time-out and read or something or take a walk.

Megan: I think it’s whatever works for you. For me, the reason that meditation, I got really into it first was because someone more senior than me at work suggested that I would benefit from it. Then also, she had me doing TM. You have to pay for it. It’s a thousand dollars to do your lessons. I was like, okay, well, this is a commitment. Honestly, I feel like that amount of money made me be like, I’m making a commitment towards this that I’m not going to squander. I really am going to give this its full effort. Somehow, the money part helped me to be consistent in the beginning and understand how much it could help me. Of course, it’s going to pay the teachers and everything. It’s how they function as an organization. For me, that was a good motivator because I don’t like wasting money.

Zibby: No. Let’s talk about your whole section about your food intake, times when — well, you just go.

Megan: I’m sure a lot of people think dancers have really weird eating habits. Having a magnifying glass on those things and what you’re putting into your body can kind of mess with your brain. I had to learn that, over time, it’s not that you can’t — as a dancer, you have to be in control of what you’re putting into your body. That is important. We can’t say that, oh, you can look like whatever you want as dancer, and that’s fine. We’re really working towards an ideal of everyone’s optimal health. It’s not that everyone has to be rail-thin like this or that. We have all different types of muscularity in the company. Especially in American ballet in general, there’s a wider range of physiques. I think that’s good for young dancers and people to know in general. We’re not trying to not be who we are. We’re trying to be our best selves. I got really stressed out at the beginning of my career before I had meditation and all of these tools to cope with all of these moments where I had to execute well under pressure. The way the stress manifested in me was I started binge-eating. I think it was also the stress of, okay, I had that costume fitting. The costumes are very tight and thick. You don’t want to feel uncomfortable when you’re dancing because then you don’t even have the range of motion to do arabesque. You really want your costume to fit exactly like the way you tried it on in that fitting. The idea that I had to stay in the same place weight-wise and physically, that stressed me out. Didn’t really understand how to do that. It all manifested as, I would try to eat really, really healthy. Then the stress would get to me, and I would just eat an entire box of cookies or two pieces of pizza and then an enormous sugar cookie from the bakery down the street, or even two of them. It was disgusting. I didn’t feel good.

Zibby: That’s like dinner, by the way.

Megan: Now I look at it — I remember feeling a lot of shame when I was having those moments. I was even hiding some of the food from my boyfriend thinking that I was gross. I look back and I’m like, no, I needed to refuel my body. My body was telling me important signs and signals. I’m just so much more in tune with it now. How I got there was being able to give myself permission to have a real meal. It stopped this vicious cycle of insane snacking. The biggest thing I do now is that I do not deny myself a craving. Actually, there is some nutritionists on TikTok and Instagram now that I follow that I think have it so right. There’s one. She’s called To the Point Nutrition.

Zibby: I’m writing this down.

Megan: She’s for dancers. Everybody has this — we want to be our best selves. We want to detach ourselves from the stress of the anxiety of food and the scale and all of this stuff. It’s about giving yourself that craving. By not ever denying things, you’re never going to have this huge bingeing session because you’ve limited yourself. It took me a while to learn that I do get to deserve to have a cookie. I just don’t need three each time. Giving that permission — I also am married to a French guy now. I feel like there’s always this stigma that French women, they give themselves pieces of chocolate. They eat croissants and whatever. They still have amazing bodies. I went, look at how they eat. They eat really rich food. They sit down and they take time to eat. They don’t eat on the run. It’s a social event. They have the placemat set. There’s no diet food on the menu. You get full when you take your time, when you give yourself that fat or whatever to fill yourself up.

Zibby: Have you read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat?

Megan: I think I skimmed it. Totally. How are they doing this? They’re very conscious about what they’re looking like. From the outside, it’s a good lesson of how to let go and have a little bit healthier approach, is just how I found to do it. It’s so, so freeing when you get to that place where you go sit down at a restaurant with friends and you’re not like, okay, what’s the skinniest thing I can eat? I feel like I used to do that to myself. Now I’m like, what do I want? What’s my body telling me? Ooh, I want something salty. I must be dehydrated. I need some sodium. I’m going to get some fries. I don’t need all the fries. I can have until I feel full. I never get that feeling now where I’m feeling disgusted with myself because I went too far past. That’s a really nice place to be. I think it’s a journey. We all have to learn the balance for ourselves. I’m enjoying my thirties more than I am my twenties. Let’s put it that way.

Zibby: Nice. I’ve heard it often comes down to regulation, how we regulate our moods, how we regulate what we eat, when we eat. It’s not something to feel so punitive about. It’s just, you’re trying to regulate.

Megan: What do I need?

Zibby: Yeah, regulation, almost, which sounds much less judgmental or something.

Megan: Totally. That’s the truth of it. You can’t be judging what your body is telling you you need. When you start to, you get a whole issue in your head about it that takes it to a really unhealthy place.

Zibby: Is it hard in the ballet world? It’s one thing to say this as a mom. What am I doing? Nobody sees me in my sweatpants. It’s another, you literally do have to be on display, as you were talking about with the costumes. Your body is your career. You can’t mess it up. You would lose everything.

Megan: You can’t hide either. It’s something you have to really come to terms with at the beginning. If you can’t get past those first couple years — people sometimes leave because they can’t get a good, healthy understanding of their body and its needs and what it’s supposed to look like. It’s difficult. Also, we all get in the company when we’re going through puberty, like seventeen, eighteen. That’s a time where your body’s changing a lot. That’s hard to be trying to fit in costumes and showing up to work one day and suddenly, your boobs are twice the size they were the day before. I found that stressful. Really, truly, the schedule that we pull is the best thing you could do to keep yourself in shape. If you know how to have a healthy mental approach to your eating on top of that, you’re going to be looking the best that you could look doing what we do. People ask, because I’ve had babies, they’re like, how’d you get back in shape? I’m like, my job is going to the gym. I’m very lucky in that way. I’m not trying to multitask that aspect. That is my job, is to train myself. That’s a benefit.

Zibby: Do you feel like you’re in a good place? I don’t mean to talk so much about eating. I’m sorry. Do you feel like you’re in a good place with the babies, how you’re going to approach food and all of that?

Megan: With them?

Zibby: With them.

Megan: Absolutely. I think I got a little nervous with my firstborn because she could seem to eat endlessly. I was nervous about that. I had to let go and know that, no, her body’s telling her what she needs too. I have three girls. They’re all very, very different. I really want to make sure that I support them in that journey of young adulthood in a healthy way because it can be really damaging. Also, when you’re different than your siblings, that can be difficult too. I’m definitely super aware of it. I have one former colleague, when she had her firstborn, she would make her stand in front of the mirror and talk self-love to her body, like, look how beautiful I am. I’m not going that far, but that kind of mindset. That’s a little bit why I would be fearful of her to enter into this world, because it is super judgmental. We’re being judged in front of a mirror, in front of people all day long. Then you do it front of an audience. I’ve come out on the other end. I’ve survived it. I would be very protective of my daughters to go into that environment. I wouldn’t want them to feel insufficient. I wouldn’t want them to feel, also, that they had to achieve what I achieved. In a way, I’m like, I hope they appreciate ballet, but I also hope they find their own thing.

Zibby: How old are they now?

Megan: I have twins that are nine months and a toddler that just turned three. It’s really a lot of fun; stressful, as you know. Really, I’m having the best time. The other night at dinner, my toddler sat down and she said to my husband, “Babe, so how was your day?” What?

Zibby: They say the funniest things. It’s amazing. My son, this morning, was like, “Do you want a blanket?” I was like, “Aw, that is so sweet of you to offer. Thank you.” He’s like, “No worries. I got you.” Where is he even saying this from? I have twins too, which is its own thing. Now they’re fourteen and a half, which sounds ancient compared to yours. I actually wrote this thing. Maybe I’ll send it to you. I self-published this when my twins were tiny. What did I even call it? Little Morsels: How to Survive Having Twins or something.

Megan: I love that. I would love to see it.

Zibby: As a fellow twin city mom — not twin city. Twins in the city.

Megan: Are they the same gender?

Zibby: Boy/girl.

Megan: That’s fun.

Zibby: Yeah, kind of.

Megan: No? Okay.

Zibby: No, it’s okay. They’re so different. We have to remind them, you just happened to share the same space to be born, but you’re really just siblings.

Megan: Exactly. Mine are so different too. They’re two girls. The only thing they share is a birthday. Everything else about them is different. It’s incredible.

Zibby: It’s hard having to go through the same things and be such different people. I think that’s the hardest thing. Someone’s always ahead or behind on everything.

Megan: Exactly. You wouldn’t normally even notice. I have one that’s always — she’s standing up before the other one. She was crawling before the other one. The other one always gets there in her own time. It should be interesting learning how to mom and navigate that.

Zibby: I would say, honestly, a lot of the characteristics of my twins at nine months have stayed, who does things first, just a lot of the behaviors, even, like how they act in playgroup. I have found that to be fairly consistent.

Megan: That’s so interesting. I can’t wait. I can’t wait until they’re talking to each other.

Zibby: I never did this, and I wish I had, but just spend twenty minutes or something and write down their behavior in a group, their behavior alone, personality traits. Then put it away and bring it out in ten years or something. Just see.

Megan: That’s cute, like a little time capsule.

Zibby: Not that you’ll remember. You might, but I probably wouldn’t. You probably get asked this all the time, so I’m sorry to be trite. I’m curious, when you are on stage and you’re dancing and doing a whole performance in front of all these people at the very top of this field, what are you thinking and feeling in that moment as you’re doing all your moves on stage? Where is your brain? What is going through your head? How does it feel to you?

Megan: When I was younger, I used to be thinking, oh, here comes that scary step that I didn’t get in rehearsal a lot. I was way too in my head. Now, especially with the help of meditation, I am really — first of all, the older I get, the more I just love what I do because I’m getting so used to it. How many years? I’ve been doing this for twenty years now. I love what I do. I feel my most comfortable in that space of performing in front of thousands of people. It’s a special thing because you’ve worked and rehearsed and rehearsed, but then it all comes together in the show in this amazing way because you have an orchestra and the lights and the makeup. Your body kind of arrives in the moment and does things that sometimes you even couldn’t do in rehearsal. All of that stuff coming together in that one moment in time, it’s so special, and then the audience witnessing it. You don’t even know what’s going to happen. That’s the thrill of it. I’ve learned to love that. I used to be terrified of it. I’ve learned to love it.

Now what I really focus on when I’m out there is hearing the music. We have a sixty-piece orchestra I didn’t really appreciate until I went to Broadway and everybody was so excited we had a twenty-piece orchestra or something. I was like, that’s nothing. We rehearse to piano, the same melodies and stuff. Then you get to the live show, and you hear this music that’s so incredible. It brings it to life in this even more spectacular way. Doing what we do, you got to love the journey. That’s why the pandemic was hard. I really also feed off of that performance aspect and hearing the audience’s applause. The only way that you can communicate with them is what they sound like after you perform. It’s this connection you share. We silently communicate and share something in that evening. I just love it. That was a big thing missing from the pandemic. A lot of younger dancers in the company left because it was just, this isn’t worth it. They forgot or didn’t know what was waiting for them on the other side.

Zibby: Wow. I’m sorry. Everybody’s pandemic experience — I remember, at the beginning, thinking, oh, my gosh, all the stories I’m going to hear about this. Ballet dancer, what do you do when you’re used to that?

Megan: When we were dancing, our company sent five-by-eight square foot marleys. It’s the surface that we dance on. With pointe shoes and the satin, it’s very slippery unless we have this special surface. They sent it out to all of us. We had this little rectangular patch to dance on after — our stage is enormous. We’re known for covering space and traveling. Then we were diminished to this teeny, little space for a year and a half. It was just heartbreaking. It was truly heartbreaking. I also knew, if we can make it through this, we are going to be so resilient. We’re never going to complain again. We’re going to always be grateful for every opportunity to be together even if it’s not performing. Just to come together and dance to our pianist and take class together, even just that is something that I will never take for granted ever again.

Zibby: That’s so nice. Do you ever worry when you’re in the middle of a performance that no one can reach you? What if something happens to your kids? What if?

Megan: Oh, my god, I never thought of that. My performances are only half an hour long, usually. We’re part of New York City Ballet, so it’s a repertory kind of format instead of long full-lengths. Even if I was doing a full-length, because we do some of them, I go back to my dressing room at intermission. Every half hour, I kind of check in on my phone. I don’t ever feel super far away.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I like to manufacture things to worry about, so there you go.

Megan: I never really went there. Now I will.

Zibby: No, don’t. No, oh, my gosh. Do you think you’ll go back to Broadway again? What was that like?

Megan: It made me realize what a hustle it is. First of all, those people really scramble each time they’re trying to get into a new show.

Zibby: Can you talk about what play you were involved in and that whole thing for people?

Megan: Absolutely. In 2014, I was part of the revival of On the Town. There’s a movie with Gene Kelly and I forget who else. It was originally on Broadway. Then they did a movie with it. It’s different music. It’s that song, “New York, New York,” “It’s a Wonderful Town.” It was this fifties show. It was so fun. I was the love interest of the lead. I had to sing and act on stage. It was just the wildest experience. I learned from that that they work really, really hard. We did eight shows a week for a year. You don’t have a night to hang out with friends. Your day is resting. It’s really intense. I highly doubt I would say yes to it, especially with three kids now. I’d say yes to a little project that was for a little bit of time. I love that world. I think they are amazing people. It made me realize how jaded we are as dancers. The ballet world is a little more like, ugh. There’s more of a perfectionist aspect to what we do. We’re really hard on ourselves at the ballet. In the Broadway world, it’s like, just sell out for the audience. Everyone’s going to enjoy. Let’s have a good time. Such talented people. I developed a lot of respect for what people do on Broadway. It’s not easy.

Zibby: Not to keep you here forever, but the book itself, what’d you learn that could help other aspiring authors from writing your first book?

Megan: Interesting. It was really just like fleshing out journal entries about certain lessons. There wasn’t any huge lessons except I learned a lot from my editors on how to structure a chapter in order to make it interesting, starting with a little lead-in and then going into further — the way they helped me structure it was very helpful. I also really relied on them to help me understand what was interesting to the readers. I would go off on tangents. They were like, “Oh, we don’t want to hear about that. We want to hear about this.” I’m like, “Really? You guys want to hear about that?” It was always something different than I expected that people would want to hear. That was interesting. My connection with them was really important. I definitely would not have felt confident putting anything out there into the ether if it wasn’t for my two amazing editors. They’re both fans of the ballet. We’re friends now. It was a fun experience and relationship. I didn’t have any time crunches. We really spaced it out. I finished over the pandemic, but we had started in 2017, I think, or ’18. Really, I took my time with it, which is good.

Zibby: I saw your picture on Instagram of you at The Strand. I was like, that’s so exciting. Congratulations on the book and everything else. It’s really such an accomplishment. It’s just really amazing, especially with three little girls and a huge, all-encompassing career and everything. I would applaud. It’s not the theater, but you could hear the sound of two hands clapping or something.

Megan: Thank you so much. It’s so nice to meet you.

Zibby: It’s so nice to meet you too. Take care.

Megan: Bye.

Zibby: Thanks. Bye.



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