Jump to content

Elmhurst Ballet School helping dancers with body image


danceparent
 Share

Recommended Posts

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.

 

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

  • Like 11
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.  

 

 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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:

 

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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
  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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 🤭

  • Like 13
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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
  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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. 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I’m afraid to say the reality beneath the gloss of articles of such nature is not what happens at ground level. It really does not matter how many times you weigh and measure the Ballet students in a school, what is more important Is how this information is assessed and utilised to move each student forward. 

No minor in a school should be given their weight but rather a much more scientific approach needs to implemented and parents informed and if needed brought on board much earlier. I have observed too many students where too little too late has been the result. 

There are many examples where the warning signs are there for all to see, but only when it is too late is  reactionary intervention applied often resulting in the student simply being told to go home to get better. These are observations to date and I’m afraid the ballet world in this country is still hugely lacking in its approach to these young artistic athletes. 
Great facilities does not make a great department unfortunately. 
I agree with the above comments of ‘ in our day’ we had it much harder. Sorry, times have changed, the science is there, time to move with it! Time also to not see strength and conditioning as the enemy for ballet dancers but thats another whole can of worms!
 

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
  • alison changed the title to Dancing and issues with body image, resilience, etc.

NOTE: Posts relating to wider concerns have now been moved into a separate thread here, although there may still be some overlap: 

 

If you click on the arrow in the top right-hand corner of any quote, it will take you to the original post, regardless of which thread it's in.

If you spot any posts which are obviously in the wrong thread, please let me know.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...