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Elmhurst Ballet School helping dancers with body image

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4 hours ago, taxi4ballet said:

This is not in relation to any specific training establishment. 

 

It seems to me that vocational schools all take it upon themselves to put as much psychological pressure on their students as they possibly can, so that they 'weed out' all those who are not mentally resilient enough to survive the rigours of a professional dance career. They keep being told that 'it's tough out there' and how pressured it is, the constant rejections and negativity and how tough they have to be.

 

What other industry would treat its employees like that? The unions would have a fit. What other industry would put its trainees through both physical and mental torture, so that only the strongest survive and the rest are cast by the wayside? This is particularly appalling when you consider that these trainees are children.

 

 

Other industries definitely have treated employees like that, though I think the tide has turned in many. Certainly my experiences at medical school in the 80s were not dissimilar, though the humiliation was centred on intellectual ability rather than physique. But the need to be "tough" if you were going to survive the profession was  very much stressed. Quite a lot has changed now, but only in relatively recent years, and I think the undercurrent is still there.

And there is an element of truth in it. Protecting young people from the reality of highly competitive and demanding professions does them no favours. If someone doesn't have the necessary attributes for any given profession and is not likely to be able to develop them, or indeed if the job isn't actually as appealing to them as they thought, then it is surely better to realise that soon enough to hopefully be able to change direction relatively easily.

And resilience is a vital thing to learn. That basic premise is correct. The problem is the methods by which it is "taught". Most professions have realised that fear does not get the most out of people, that there are ways measure aptitude and progress relatively objectively, and that even unpalatable truths can be delivered in ways that are not psychologically damaging. I have a feeling that fields where tradition is valued very highly tend to be slower adopters of more scientific approaches to training, and dance, particularly ballet, seems to be one of those. That is difficult because of course there is much wonderful and valuable tradition in the ballet world, but some of it is very ugly. The challenge is to get rid of the bad stuff whilst maintaining the good, and I have no idea how that can be done. But some of the professional contributors to recent threads on this general topic give me hope that it is indeed possible.

 

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I am not sure if there is input from psychologists or psychotherapists in this school? I work professionally with young people who have eating disorders. The weight of a young person is a symptom of the problem but this needs to be addressed from multiple angles. Accessible counselling/psychology services out of school are extremely important to provide early intervention before someone resorts to expressing distress through eating. Young people don’t just wake up one morning and decide not to eat etc for no reason. The ‘distress’ part is what really needs to be heard here. If a school provides a route where students know that their distress will only be noticed by the school through their weight then it ‘can’ provide a very accessible non-verbal route for expressing distress. Unfortunately, it can be a bit too convenient for some dancers who have already chosen a non verbal form of self expression from an early age through their art form. The reason I say that therapy should be available to students out of school is that it perhaps provides an environment where they are more likely to open up and it reduces fear of feeding back into a school unless there are safeguarding issues. It also helps to safeguard young people as there is more of a possibility for a dialogue if the distress is caused by something/someone within school. 
 

My comments are not levelled at any school in particular. They are based upon what I have seen ‘can’ work in some schools in addition to what I hear reported by dance students. 
 

Eating disorders can become ‘contagious’ within a dance school but there is alot that schools can do to look at how they respond to eating disorders that can help. Is the thinnest dancer featured in all advertising? Are the thinnest dancers given all the best parts? How do students see the school responding to eating disorders? Is it ignored, praised or something which is seen as a restriction? The unconscious biases of a dance school and its teachers will also come into play here. Work with the teachers in addition to the students as no doubt many are replicating their own past experiences.

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36 minutes ago, oncnp said:

 

There's this but I don't know how old/accurate it is

 

http://www.balletposition.com/countries/britain

 

Equity definitely represents dancers in the UK in most of the companies and they have negotiated agreements with most of the dance companies governing pay and rations for dancers.  

 

I've a couple of professional dancer friends who are members and find the benefits (insurance, pension etc) very helpful.  

 

I'm not in Equity but as a union member in my own profession and the daughter of a shop steward, I'd definitely recommend union membership as being worthwhile.  

 

 

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2 hours ago, Jewel said:

 

This thread is a very good example of that.  Parents are not able to comply with the forum rules when talking about negative experiences at these schools because to do so would identify themselves and their child.  So the positive experiences remain and the negative ones are hidden.

 

That is not accurate.  Please read the bullet points in this notice.  #1 specifically refers:

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I think it is up to you if you post something that identifies yourself or your child, but you must not post something which identifies someone else.  

 

There are a couple of specific schools that we cannot discuss on the forum, whether we post positive or negative comments, and this is for very specific legal reasons.

 

We should be mindful that there is a risk that discussions on the forum could lead to other institutions threatening legal action and so being added to the list of schools which should not be discussed, which would be a shame as it would severely limit the value of the forum to parents and young dancers.  

 

I think it is wise to keep comments generic (ie not name specific schools) as @taxi4ballet has done.  

 

 

Edited by glowlight
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It is Clause 4 of the acceptable use policy I was referring to. Understandably, members mostly do not wish to reveal their full names so the critical posts can not be made regardless of whether they are first hand experience or factual. 
 

If a member chooses to make highly critical comments this must be done in their own full name and not behind an anonymous user name and email address. 
 

Perhaps it would be a good thing, in the interests of balance is all posts were generic whether positive or negative, and schools not named at all. 

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1 hour ago, Jewel said:

It is Clause 4 of the acceptable use policy I was referring to. Understandably, members mostly do not wish to reveal their full names so the critical posts can not be made regardless of whether they are first hand experience or factual. 
 

If a member chooses to make highly critical comments this must be done in their own full name and not behind an anonymous user name and email address. 
 

Perhaps it would be a good thing, in the interests of balance is all posts were generic whether positive or negative, and schools not named at all. 

 

It should also be noted that posts both critical and praising are all scrutinised by the volunteer moderators.

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9 hours ago, taxi4ballet said:

This is not in relation to any specific training establishment. 

 

It seems to me that vocational schools all take it upon themselves to put as much psychological pressure on their students as they possibly can, so that they 'weed out' all those who are not mentally resilient enough to survive the rigours of a professional dance career. They keep being told that 'it's tough out there' and how pressured it is, the constant rejections and negativity and how tough they have to be.

 

What other industry would treat its employees like that? The unions would have a fit. What other industry would put its trainees through both physical and mental torture, so that only the strongest survive and the rest are cast by the wayside? This is particularly appalling when you consider that these trainees are children.

 

 

I completely agree. I have known many girls who have had to leave dd’s US due to mental health because of the amount of pressure they place on the young students. Unfortunately times have not changed a great deal.

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On 31/07/2020 at 20:18, taxi4ballet said:

It seems to me that vocational schools all take it upon themselves to put as much psychological pressure on their students as they possibly can, so that they 'weed out' all those who are not mentally resilient enough to survive the rigours of a professional dance career. They keep being told that 'it's tough out there' and how pressured it is, the constant rejections and negativity and how tough they have to be.

 

What other industry would treat its employees like that? The unions would have a fit. What other industry would put its trainees through both physical and mental torture, so that only the strongest survive and the rest are cast by the wayside? This is particularly appalling when you consider that these trainees are children.

 

Sounds just like law school to me! And to a lesser extent, life in a top tier law firm (also not unionised I would note...) Pressure is heaped on young people because 'well they treated me worse than this and I survived', and also from the sense that you are toughening someone up for a challenging career. I recently heard from a friend that their coworker was bragging about belittling a graduate to the point that the poor grad burst into tears, and then the coworker continued to castigate the grad while they just stood there and sobbed! When seniors in the profession are challenged about the structural issues within the law, they tend to respond that there's a certain type of person who can survive in this life, and if you're not one of them then they're doing you a favour in forcing you out early. Which means that some of the best and brightest minds quit within the first 5 years and everything they could contribute goes with them... Things are beginning to change now, people are being much more open about mental health, but the focus in mental health discussions is still on resilience, not in the sense of bouncing back from a tough situation, but in the sense that if you are weak enough to succumb to depression or anxiety then you clearly aren't resilient enough! Instead of changing the systemic and structural issues that cause the highest rates of depression of just about any profession, let's just offer everyone free yoga...

 

I see a lot of similarities in the ballet world. A small pool of jobs, a large number of people in training, some frankly indecipherable decisions being made to differentiate between the people who succeed in the career and those that don't. The fact that most of the people who make up the senior ranks are those who have survived and thrived in the frankly dangerous environments that cause other people to quit as juniors. A focus on hierarchy and tradition, where to question the status quo is the highest sin. The fact that many people aspiring to these careers are 'Type A' with a tendency to perfectionism. Long hours, high expectations, a great deal of work going unpaid or underpaid, the idea that there is always someone waiting in the wings if you're not up to it... In ballet, this is made all the more disturbing by the fact that most people training for and entering these careers are so young. In fact when people start complaining to me about law, I say the only thing I can imagine that would be worse is a career as a classical dancer! At least I don't have to stand before the judge in a leotard and tights 🤭

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Let me add nursing to the list where we are often accused of "eating our young" with the added stress that, like Pups_mum, our "failures" can be fatal. 

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Posted (edited)
21 hours ago, Pups_mum said:

Other industries definitely have treated employees like that, though I think the tide has turned in many. Certainly my experiences at medical school in the 80s were not dissimilar, though the humiliation was centred on intellectual ability rather than physique. But the need to be "tough" if you were going to survive the profession was  very much stressed. 

 

How old were you when you were at medical school?  I'm guessing you were over 18 and an adult. 

 

The situation is somewhat different when they are 16/17 and living away from home, desperately in need parental help with an ongoing and very distressing issue that they can't cope with on their own, and the school refuses to either acknowledge it or allow the parents to speak on their child's behalf.

 

Stressing the need for toughness is one thing. Demoralising and humiliating someone to the point of a nervous breakdown is tantamount to child abuse.

 

(My dd wasn't at Elmhurst by the way, I thought I'd better point this out as it is on a thread with their name in the title)

Edited by taxi4ballet
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34 minutes ago, taxi4ballet said:

 

How old were you when you were at medical school?  I'm guessing you were over 18 and an adult. 

 

The situation is somewhat different when they are 16/17 and living away from home, desperately in need parental help with an ongoing and very distressing issue that they can't cope with on their own, and the school refuses to either acknowledge it or allow the parents to speak on their child's behalf.

 

Stressing the need for toughness is one thing. Demoralising and humiliating someone to the point of a nervous breakdown is tantamount to child abuse.

 

(My dd wasn't at Elmhurst by the way, I thought I'd better point this out as it is on a thread with their name in the title)

I don't disagree. Though I don't think it is acceptable to treat minors or young adults abusively. 

But you asked what other industries treated their trainees like this and I answered, from personal experience. These issues are not unique to ballet. It doesn't make them ok, for anyone but lots of professions, sports, art forms etc treat their young people very poorly, Many have addressed them more effectively than ballet however.

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18 hours ago, Thecatsmother said:

I am not sure if there is input from psychologists or psychotherapists in this school? I work professionally with young people who have eating disorders. The weight of a young person is a symptom of the problem but this needs to be addressed from multiple angles. Accessible counselling/psychology services out of school are extremely important to provide early intervention before someone resorts to expressing distress through eating. Young people don’t just wake up one morning and decide not to eat etc for no reason. The ‘distress’ part is what really needs to be heard here. If a school provides a route where students know that their distress will only be noticed by the school through their weight then it ‘can’ provide a very accessible non-verbal route for expressing distress. Unfortunately, it can be a bit too convenient for some dancers who have already chosen a non verbal form of self expression from an early age through their art form. The reason I say that therapy should be available to students out of school is that it perhaps provides an environment where they are more likely to open up and it reduces fear of feeding back into a school unless there are safeguarding issues. It also helps to safeguard young people as there is more of a possibility for a dialogue if the distress is caused by something/someone within school. 
 

My comments are not levelled at any school in particular. They are based upon what I have seen ‘can’ work in some schools in addition to what I hear reported by dance students. 
 

Eating disorders can become ‘contagious’ within a dance school but there is alot that schools can do to look at how they respond to eating disorders that can help. Is the thinnest dancer featured in all advertising? Are the thinnest dancers given all the best parts? How do students see the school responding to eating disorders? Is it ignored, praised or something which is seen as a restriction? The unconscious biases of a dance school and its teachers will also come into play here. Work with the teachers in addition to the students as no doubt many are replicating their own past experiences.

Thecatsmother, so much of your post rings true. An eating disorder is a symptom of one or many issues and it is indeed, a silent way of expressing distress. An understanding of the child's distress is key to helping them. My dd had an unhappy two years at her school and the eating disorder (and I call it this as even though it was mild in comparison to others, I feel a mental illness shouldn't be difficult to talk about) was most definitely a symptom of the way things were handled over those two years. And I totally agree with you over a school needing to be careful about who and more importantly how, they visibly promote.  A few months after leaving her school she is healthier and happier than I've seen her in a long time. It's enormously difficult for schools to get their handling of eating disorders right for everyone though, but a kind, caring and nurturing environment surely helps. Also, good and non combative communication with parents is key, too. 

I also believe that in order to become resilient in the arts, or indeed anywhere, the right encouragement and support is needed or confidence will always suffer, no matter how one seems to be 'dealing' with it on the outside. I say this as someone who's been at a vocational school (not ballet) and works in the arts. 

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I’m so shocked at this discussion . My daughter attended finals at the named school and can lip read very well , she watched the artistic director say “she’s the wrong shape and very masculine for a girl “ luckily it wasn’t about my daughter , but if it had been she would of walked out , after this we withdrew out application . Shocking that these young dancers are put through so much upset x 

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16 hours ago, Pups_mum said:

I don't disagree. Though I don't think it is acceptable to treat minors or young adults abusively. 

But you asked what other industries treated their trainees like this and I answered, from personal experience. These issues are not unique to ballet. It doesn't make them ok, for anyone but lots of professions, sports, art forms etc treat their young people very poorly, Many have addressed them more effectively than ballet however.

 

and others  pay lip service and still have an incredibly  toxic culture  Nursing  in particular .   The  lack of  leadership and credibility among  nursing so-called Management is marked. 

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Posted (edited)
On 31/07/2020 at 18:38, Pups_mum said:

Protecting young people from the reality of highly competitive and demanding professions does them no favours. If someone doesn't have the necessary attributes for any given profession and is not likely to be able to develop them, or indeed if the job isn't actually as appealing to them as they thought, then it is surely better to realise that soon enough to hopefully be able to change direction relatively easily.

 

@Pups_mumI think this is such an important point. We need a balance, and a society which doesn't pathologise normal ordinary feelings of stress, anxiety etc and particularly the normal ordinary confusions of puberty!

 

I had a young student of mine take me aside at the start of a 3 hour studio session to tell me that they thought I ought to know that they'd not slept well because they'd been having lots of anxious thoughts. My spoken response was to smile be reassuring and say  "It's OK. You know what you have to do. Do the breathing, be in the present here in the studio, focus on that. You don't have to think about anything else."

 

What I was thinking to myself was, however, "Welcome to the adult world."

 

Lovely hard-working student - but I can't help feeling that they were not served well by not being taught that anxious thoughts are normal ... and being taught how to deal with them. And insomnia from them! Resilience is so important.

 

Edited to add: So I"m interested in what can be done to train young people in realistic ways in areas where standards are exceptionally high, and competition for places is tough, and some aspects of the high standards are perhaps beyond the individual's control?

 

Given classical ballet aesthetics as they currently are, there are going to be some bodies which are just not suited. And before we get to aesthetics, the rigours of the physical training also mean that some bodies are just not suited. And the work ethic is necessarily tough, and aesthetic & technical standards necessarily exceptional.

 

What are the ways of preparing young people for these aspects of the world they aspire to enter, which offer realistic assessment to pupils, but don't become abusive?

Edited by Kate_N
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10 hours ago, Kate_N said:

Lovely hard-working student - but I can't help feeling that they were not served well by not being taught that anxious thoughts are normal ... and being taught how to deal with them. And insomnia from them! Resilience is so important.

 

I've frequently thought that our 21st-century society does our young people no favours by not instilling in them ways of coping with adversity, or perhaps by trying to remove any situation in which they might have to face it.

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4 minutes ago, alison said:

 

I've frequently thought that our 21st-century society does our young people no favours by not instilling in them ways of coping with adversity, or perhaps by trying to remove any situation in which they might have to face it.

 

Yes - Building Resilience through graded exposure i.e. face the feared situation, in incremental steps,  experiencing small successes along the way

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10 hours ago, DD Driver said:

 

Yes - Building Resilience through graded exposure i.e. face the feared situation, in incremental steps,  experiencing small successes along the way

 however for all too many people this means the 'graded exposure' they themselves recieved as young people - i.e. thrown in the deep end but without the  constantly analysis  and  ability  for even the simplest mistake to be replayed  again and again in glorious technicolour 

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1 hour ago, NJH said:

 however for all too many people this means the 'graded exposure' they themselves recieved as young people - i.e. thrown in the deep end but without the  constantly analysis  and  ability  for even the simplest mistake to be replayed  again and again in glorious technicolour 


Exactly this. The world our children are growing up in is a million miles from our childhood. They see images of perfection all around them 24 hours a day. I absolutely believe that they can’t learn to cope with anxiety without being exposed to it; however some understanding from the adults around them that they are constantly bombarded with reminders of what they are anxious about, would go a long way to helping them. 

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22 hours ago, Kate_N said:

Edited to add: So I"m interested in what can be done to train young people in realistic ways in areas where standards are exceptionally high, and competition for places is tough, and some aspects of the high standards are perhaps beyond the individual's control?

 

Given classical ballet aesthetics as they currently are, there are going to be some bodies which are just not suited. And before we get to aesthetics, the rigours of the physical training also mean that some bodies are just not suited. And the work ethic is necessarily tough, and aesthetic & technical standards necessarily exceptional.

 

What are the ways of preparing young people for these aspects of the world they aspire to enter, which offer realistic assessment to pupils, but don't become abusive?

 

I think there's a difference between helping children and young adults to understand barriers in the career they want, and building those barriers up for no apparent reason. In the ballet world, children learn about failure and favouritism and not being right for this particular part through the process of auditioning and exams and other things like that. They get to experience the rejection, or the joy of success, and they learn resilience on a small, child-size scale. That is a normal and healthy way to prepare children for the life they want and the obstacles they will face.

 

What is not normal is creating an artificial environment with extra stress and pressure heaped on for no reason other than to make things tougher and to see who can handle it. I mean, you wouldn't crank up the heat and make kids do three hours of allegro in 50 degree heat purely because 'it's a tough profession and if you can't handle it you should quit'. Ballet schools enforcing archaic rules, making students weigh themselves multiple times a year, forcing kids to repeat the same moves over and over without correction and expecting them to magically fix themselves - that is the mental equivalent of cranking up the heat. It's unnecessary and it serves no purpose. It doesn't prepare students for the real world because those situations are unlikely to happen in the real world. And if they do, we need to question why they're happening. Should we really be preparing students for the tough so-called 'realities' of the ballet profession, instead of encouraging the profession to change and holding it to a higher standard?

 

If a child wants to be a ballerina because they enjoy the pretty costumes and being on stage, but they aren't prepared for the hours of hard work and sacrifice, they'll drop out pretty quickly when the latter starts to outweigh the former. I don't think there's any need to force kids out of a career that they might be unsuited for. If they are unsuited, they'll naturally start to move away from it if given enough time. And perhaps, if given the opportunity, they may rise to the occasion and surprise you! I hear a lot of talk about kids today being special snowflakes and parents not allowing their kids to fail, which breeds entitlement. I'm sure there are some kids and parents like that (I've even met some of them) but I think the idea that as a generation kids today are bratty snots who are sheltered from ever failing is a bit of a straw man. I think there's a very clear line between never allowing a child to fail, and deliberately setting them up for failure. 

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"  forcing kids to repeat the same moves over and over without correction and expecting them to magically fix themselves"  ... 

 the ability to self correct  is an important part of  developing  physical skills , but the  basics have to be in place   for the self correction to be effective 

 

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Posted (edited)
57 minutes ago, NJH said:

"  forcing kids to repeat the same moves over and over without correction and expecting them to magically fix themselves"  ... 

 the ability to self correct  is an important part of  developing  physical skills , but the  basics have to be in place   for the self correction to be effective 

 


As someone whose ds has been on the end of this particular torture, expecting someone to fix something but not being told what the something is, is extremely difficult for an 11/12yr old!! They’re at school to be taught, ballet isn’t a voyage of self-discovery.  You can’t self-correct if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.  And in this particular context, not being given corrections was definitely used by the teacher as a way of bullying and excluding. 

Edited by Farawaydancer
Spelling mistake!
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9 hours ago, Farawaydancer said:


As someone whose ds has been on the end of this particular torture, expecting someone to fix something but not being told what the something is, is extremely difficult for an 11/12yr old!! They’re at school to be taught, ballet isn’t a voyage of self-discovery.  You can’t self-correct if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.  And in this particular context, not being given corrections was definitely used by the teacher as a way of bullying and excluding. 

in the whole  ' the only  thing  worse than  being talked about, is not being   talked about '   sense i agree entirely  

i've recently put some  (pretty shoddy) pointe work of mine on facebook  -   i'd actually originally  recorded it  to see if the shoes  i;ve got  at the minute  were broken in properly ... 

and  it may be crass  but  the tellings off i;ve got and more importantly  who i got them from  for  technique  are  gifts ...   ( not going name drop ) 

 

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On 02/08/2020 at 03:06, Coffeemum said:

Thecatsmother, so much of your post rings true. An eating disorder is a symptom of one or many issues and it is indeed, a silent way of expressing distress. An understanding of the child's distress is key to helping them. My dd had an unhappy two years at her school and the eating disorder (and I call it this as even though it was mild in comparison to others, I feel a mental illness shouldn't be difficult to talk about) was most definitely a symptom of the way things were handled over those two years. And I totally agree with you over a school needing to be careful about who and more importantly how, they visibly promote.  A few months after leaving her school she is healthier and happier than I've seen her in a long time. It's enormously difficult for schools to get their handling of eating disorders right for everyone though, but a kind, caring and nurturing environment surely helps. Also, good and non combative communication with parents is key, too. 

I also believe that in order to become resilient in the arts, or indeed anywhere, the right encouragement and support is needed or confidence will always suffer, no matter how one seems to be 'dealing' with it on the outside. I say this as someone who's been at a vocational school (not ballet) and works in the arts. 

My daughter was at a uk ballet school and has since graduated and quit ballet. The idea of resilience and being “ stoic “ despite the situation around the student and whatever issues they are dealing with was always called “ professionalism” and it was expected of the students at the school. They are told to make it in the industry you need to exhibit professionalism.   Also the feeling that troublemakers or complaints would be held against the student. Especially if parents complain and seek clarification of the treatment experienced by the student. Also the weighing of students was regular and constant. The passing of a note to a student in class to attend the nurse or nutritionist- openly done and everyone in the class knew it meant issues with body.  The whole body image was marked on the assessment form each year. You did get a number ranking. You are spoken to about being “ audition ready”. Students were removed at the last rehearsals as being too big in the eye of the guest choreographer. Costumes were sometimes sent from Japan and girls who couldn’t fit the costumes were told they couldn’t dance in the performances. Praise was openly made in class when a student had lost weight. Weight and size are a constant for girls - even the audition applications around the world ask height and weight as the first questions. Some company applications restrict height to even apply. The image of the girls is paramount to this industry and seems to be if they have the right look but lack the technique etc. They still get offered a job or place. I’m sure nothing has changed - but the  schools need to appear to have changed their process to protect children and their management. It should be remembered and enforced (by relevant authorities) that these are schools and they have a duty of care to the students first. And this should be in co-ordination with the parents and with full disclosure to the parents at all times. 

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Teaching resilience is important but certain basic things need to be in place in order to be able to reach this point. If a dancer feels threatened or is unable to trust the system (understandably in many cases) then I very much doubt they would ever get near looking a issues such as resilience. When anyone is in a great state of fear as a result of a systemic dynamics or past experiences then it is clear in the hierarchy of emotions that fear will top anything else as a young person is trying to keep themselves physically and emotionally protected.   
 

The problem is that this really needs to be addressed at a systemic level amongst staff in schools as so many teachers are actually re-enacting what was done to them even if on an unconscious level. Perhaps if we could start to help the teachers, directors etc to heal emotionally then they can be in a better place to hep dancers. There is a culture of ‘we had if much tougher than you’ that still exists and reinforces the problem. 
 

 

 

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