“I like to say dance was my first language. I learned how to speak through movement before I learned how to through words,” says Simoné Bart, a 27-year-old actor/dancer/painter/fitness professional/all-around badass artist in all of the mediums. In fact, she started taking dance classes at just 3 years old.
As a child, Simoné loved ballet, modern dance, and jazz. Later she transitioned to gymnastics with an ease and talent so fierce it earned her a spot at the Junior Olympics when she was still in middle school. Simoné trained daily, completely committed to her craft and self-motivated to succeed.
One day, at age 11, she was in the gym practicing her grand jétés, a leap in which the gymnast aims for a full split in mid-air. Simoné went once across the floor, but her coach shook her head, “No, it’s wrong. Go back.” Again, Simoné tried bounding high with every jump. The response was the same: “No. Go back.” After a handful of attempts, Simoné felt frustrated, unsure of what she could be doing wrong. The instructor looked at the little girl in the leotard and told her, “The reason you can’t reach a full split is because you’re too fat.” Mortified, Simoné ran out of the gym in tears.
If you are a woman (although this experience isn’t female-specific), you likely remember an experience like this. A comment or a look that made you think (inaccurately!) that your body wasn’t just yours, but that its purpose centered on accepting other people’s judgements too.
At this point in our story, we are going to take a brief interruption to implore the adults out there with children under their care to kindly knock this off. Please stop projecting your feelings, your concerns, your insecurities, and especially your criticisms on little girls. It’s not that hard. Every word matters, so just make sure yours are kind.
Okay, back to Simoné…
The gymnastics coach couldn’t have known the impact of her words at the time, but this one interaction would later contribute to a destructive cycle of disordered eating for Simoné, which caused serious physical, emotional, and mental harm.
“It was this crazy moment. They’d thought everything was fine and in control, but to me, everything felt completely out of control.”
Through high school, Simoné transitioned her efforts from gymnastics back to dance and eventually to acting, her abilities growing in the performing arts. However, in her teens and early 20s, feelings of a lack of worth and dysmorphia intensified. A battle with bulimia ebbed and flowed. “So many times, I would say to myself, ‘Okay, we’re starting over,’” she says. Some days it worked out and it was great. Then sometimes in the next hour, I’d be going back to doing the same thing.”
One particularly frightening moment came at age 15. After dinner with her parents, she went in the bathroom to throw up when blood started coming out, which triggered an anxiety attack. Her parents brought her to the doctor right away. “It was this crazy moment,” says Simoné. “They’d thought everything was fine and in control, but to me, everything felt completely out of control.”
Although it took a number of years with fits and starts, thanks to a supportive family, close friends, and the help of therapists and other medical professionals, Simoné was able to slowly heal.
“It wasn’t an overnight thing, and I still struggle with thinking not the kindest things about myself sometimes,” she says. “But it eventually became a matter of what is the most important thing to me. I’m an actor through and through and you need endurance, you need stamina. I had to choose one thing or the other.”
Today, Simoné has been able to create the career of her dreams. She recently wrapped a run as Charmian in Shakespeare's “Antony and Cleopatra” and before that starred as the lead in a Civil War–inspired adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” She’s also appeared in the New York–based performance sensation “Fuerza Bruta” and Comedy Central’s “Broad City.”
“Sometimes it’s 1 a.m. and I’m having all these crazy thoughts and I think: What am I going to do in this hour?”
Simoné says she keeps herself healthy by focusing on the concept of living in the moment, the hour, the day she’s in—understanding that even if things didn’t go your way today, there’s always the opportunity for tomorrow to be better.
“Sometimes it’s 1 a.m. and I’m having all these crazy thoughts and I think: What am I going to do in this hour?” she says. “Maybe let’s use this hour to sleep. When we wake up, tomorrow we might feel differently.”
To stay connected to her spirit, Simoné likes to practice power vinyasa yoga and boxes a few times a week. With her focus on acting, she now uses dance as a form of release rather than performance. When asked about her favorite dance move, she says, “I love leaps and jumps, the power in trying to go as high as possible, as big as possible, to take up as much space as possible.” In other words, those grand jétés.