By Barbara Corbellini Duarte
With one look in a mirror, Lani Scozzari’s life changed.
She was 9 years old, and attending a ballet class. At one point, Scozzari turned around to look at the teacher, and caught her reflection in a mirror. She says she saw a different person staring back at her.
“I think that moment shifted my connection to myself,” Scozzari, 34, says. “When I looked at myself, I was suddenly so much bigger than I felt or had felt. And I think I kept spiraling, and I developed this lie about myself that I was heavy or fat or big. And, really, that wasn’t the case at all.”
Scozzari, of Tequesta, has spent most of her life pursuing dance and other performing arts while fighting anorexia and bulimia. She saw herself as overweight, even though she has always been thin.
She turned her experiences into poems, and choreographer Donna Goffredo Murray, of Jupiter, turned the poems into an hourlong contemporary ballet.
The production, “Ballet’s Child,” will be one of the main attractions during the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, returning Jan. 19-24 to the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square. The festival features workshops, panel discussions, public readings and other events. “Ballet’s Child” will be presented on Friday, Jan. 23. It tells Scozzari’s story through dance, video and poetry.
“I immediately was drawn to the story. I felt it was so personal and so honest, and at the same time, not cliched,” Murray, 44, says. “I felt like the darkness in her poetry also had beauty in it. In the performance piece, I try to keep that always in mind, that even when we’re dealing with a dark scene, there’s beauty in it.”
While Scozzari’s eating disorders began when in childhood, she didn’t start therapy until she was about 18. At the time, she was a freshman acting student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“They very, very strongly recommended that I not return next year unless I had documented treatment,” she recalls.
Scozzari returned home to Jupiter on her summer break, when one of her therapists recommended she write about her disorder. “A lot of the things started out as journals. It was crucial to my recovery,” she says. “And I remember thinking, ‘This is nothing. It’s all my spiral of thoughts. Who would ever want to read this?'”
She didn’t realize it then, but that was when her interest in poetry began. She went back to school for her sophomore year, but decided to leave the performing arts. “I didn’t need to stand onstage and have somebody say, ‘You would be really great if you looked a little different,'” she says. “I was ready to make a change, and I was able to find another way of expression.”
She changed schools and majors, and earned a bachelor’s degree in poetry. Scozarri didn’t enter a dance studio again until she was pursuing a master’s at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. “I went back to the ballet studio and reconnected with dance,” she says.
She also revisited her journals. “I found that most of them were poems,” she says of her journal entries. “I was able to look back at what I have actually written and make a more formal decision to make them into poetry.”
At the time, Scozzari was pregnant with her first daughter. She writes about the experience of dancing while pregnant in the poem “With.”
“First position. Right hand at the barre,” the poem reads. “I no longer see my feet. For the first time in my life, I have no fear of weight and my body has purpose.”
She eventually moved back to Florida, and met Murray. The choreographer fell in love with Scozzari’s poetry. “I didn’t even get to the second half of her poem, and I was texting her asking her if I could turn it in a movement play,” Murray remembers. “I felt she had written a script, whether she realized it or not.”
Murray completed the project about a year and a half later. Scozzari wrote about 60 poems, though not all of them are included in the ballet.
While “Ballet’s Child” follows Scozzari’s struggles with eating disorders, she and Murray believe anyone can connect to the story. “I don’t think there’s anybody, any person that’s alive that doesn’t think, ‘Oh, gosh, maybe I’m not good enough, or I’m not this, or I’m not that,'” Scozzari says. “We’ve been finding that this really kind of speaks to the idea of feeling like you’re not good enough.”