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Unhealthily thin.


Tulip
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I am shocked, my daughters friend has posted a photograph of one of her student friends, looks like a graduate dancing. The girl is clearly ill, she is beautiful, legs that go on and on etc, etc. But every single bone is visible and her face which is very pretty has that prem baby look about it (no fat). The shocking part of this  how ever are the comments they are all positive saying how beautiful she is. Physically she is stunning but so so thin. The dancer in the picture is Russian, is this how thin they want their dancers to be, and when they do come to Britain, is this thinnest exceptable in our companies? I only know of one girl who was an exceptionally gifted dancer at the Royal Ballet, I won't go into detail as she may then become identifiable, where her mother pulled her out of the school as she was clearly ill. When I saw her photographs I could clearly see how ill she was (she was 15), but my other friend who has a dancing daughter viewed the pictures as stunning.

 

I worry for our dancing children (male and female), when I asked a ballet teacher from a top vocational school about this subject she replied, 'we do our best with nutritionist etc but this is the world they are in, we can watch out and educate them, but they are at that age of comparing themselves etc'.

 

There are more positive images of ballet dancers about at the moment and I think more companies are looking more at healthy dancers. I ask this question to any of you professional dancers who are in companies on the forum, is it still excepted or wanted to be unnaturally thin, by directors or even yourselves? 

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It's a very difficult topic to discuss without generalising and risking upsetting people. I wouldn't like to say that the Russian nation as a whole prefer any particular size of dancer because we'd be in danger of generalising.

 

What is seen as thin in photos or close up can go hand in hand with extraordinary grace and beauty on stage; I was watching Uliana Lopatkina in a youtube video yesterday - thin, certainly, but just stunningly graceful (I swear she's part swan). I never focus on her weight because her grace outshines everything else. But I remember watching "A beautiful tragedy" where the teenage dancer was encouraged to eat more, and weighed regularly to make sure she hadn't lost any weight. Now she looks more healthy and her career seems to be doing well, which is wonderful. There were clearly concerns that the girls didn't become too underweight.

 

Perhaps the girl you saw in the photo is naturally very thin? Or perhaps behind the scenes there is already concern for her and measures in place to help her? We will probably never know.

 

One thing I love about ENB and RB is the range of shapes, sizes, feet shape etc in their dancers - they really are a mixed bag with only the quality of their dancing in common.

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Tulip, I'm a ballet watcher and I state here categorically that I DO NOT like to watch ultra thin dancers.

 

I can remember years ago going to Manchester to see the Mariinsky perform Giselle.  I was sat at the back of the stalls.  The dancer performing was beautiful but so thin that I stopped using my opera glasses as I could not bear to watch her in close up.

 

PS - I posted this as Spanner was posting.  I agree with a lot of what Spanner said but I have, over the years, occasionally (and fortunately only  occasionally) seen dancers who are obviously too thin and, if nothing else, on the verge of a problem.

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You do have to be careful with this one. I know a couple of teenage dancers who are always having to deal with 'concern' over their thin physique and it is completely natural. They have always been that way and it is genetic.

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I wasn't generalising that Russia prefer ultra thin dancers, I was expressing my shock at seeing these images of a CLEARLY unhealthy teenager. The question was has attitudes in British companies changed towards healthy dancers. I asked the question to dancers who are already in companies, as they will 100% be able to answer this question.

 

I do remember a long time ago when my daughter had the opportunity to dance with ABT in London where she thought that one of the principle dancers who was incredibly thin was just perfect, she was 12 at the time. She now has a very healthy view to how thin a ballet dancer should and shouldn't look, and also how to stay healthy including smoking. This is definitely promoted at her school. That's another subject altogether, the amount of dancers who smoke outside the stage doors.

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I don't know any professional dancers currently in companies who frequent this forum regularly, you'll have to put up with answers from the rest of us in the meantime. :-)

 

From watching ENB and RB, and reading Dancing Times, in my humble opinion our UK companies are making great efforts to recruit healthy dancers and recruit them on the basis of their dancing, not thinness.

 

I was most impressed to follow Olivia Cowley's "Day in the life of a corps ballerina" on Twitter a few months ago. Olivia posted photos of her meals and snacks and not only were they similar to what my teenage dd eats, but there was no shortage of food. Lots of porridge, bananas, cereal bars etc.

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You do have to be careful with this one. I know a couple of teenage dancers who are always having to deal with 'concern' over their thin physique and it is completely natural. They have always been that way and it is genetic.

Absolutely ! my DD has this all the time and eats like a horse!

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That is good news. Some people are naturally thin I am, but there is a difference, look into the face of a healthy thin dancer and then look into the face of one who is starving themselves you can tell.

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One of my elder daughter's friends successfully battled with anorexia - it was just awful. I find it hard to believe that an anorexic dancer could have a career, they need the calories to fuel their  intense schedules. Horrible to think about the damage that can be done. 

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Back sometime in the 1980`s the Royal Ballet School Upper School Prospectus showed a photo of a boy and girl dancing together.They actually looked like brother and sister they were so alike. The pair of them were incredibly thin, especially their thighs. But you could tell they were both naturally that way, as they were both as thin as each other. What shocked me though, was that the School chose to use these two students to include in their Prospectus, as if that body type was somehow the norm for everyone, when clearly it wasn`t. Remember the photo vividly.

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Somewhere on YouTube following one of the students(can't remember now who it was) but she said she ate a lot but just burned it all off dancing. I agree that if you were a professional you couldn't survive long as an anorexic as you just wouldn't have the energy required. Having said this I do still think there is pressure on girls particularly to keep their weight down....makes a bit of sense as a professional as you do have to be lifted....but shouldn't be made too much of for younger students especially those just going into puberty.

There is also a particular body frame which is small so if you re taller with that frame you are going to be thinner. However all parents should watch out for any unnatural thinness developing in case an eating habit has started(ages 13-16 are most vulnerable)

As a rule the Russian dancers do seem to be thinner but I think especially at the Maryyinski they go for the taller thinner type like Yuliana Lopatkina(who is a beautiful dancer.....though I like Diana Vishneva also thin but not so obvious as not so tall) but the Royal and ENB re a great mix of sizes.....watch the RBS class on Youtube....where this can clearly be seen!!!

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I don't agree that there is a great mix of sizes at the RB, ENB (and the other UK ballet companies). While the women may differ in height they are all thin or very thin by "normal" standards. They all have small frames but some have more "flesh" on their frames than others. Some women look skinny and I suspect that they are the ones who have slightly larger frames and who feel that they have to "compensate" for this by really keeping their weight down.

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Probably may not have seen that closely then as when watching the video was looking at the dancing more!! And it's difficult unless you actually see them all lined up together to gauge the actual frame sizes unless perhaps you were in the room with them. But when I go to the Royal I don't get the impression they are all anorexically thin though of course by normal standards against the general population they will undoubtedly be thinner! Try buying a comfortable leotard if you are a size 16(back to ballet posts!!)

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I don't agree that there is a great mix of sizes at the RB, ENB (and the other UK ballet companies). While the women may differ in height they are all thin or very thin by "normal" standards. They all have small frames but some have more "flesh" on their frames than others. Some women look skinny and I suspect that they are the ones who have slightly larger frames and who feel that they have to "compensate" for this by really keeping their weight down.

Well obviously all the dancers are slim in comparison with the average woman on the street, because of the amount of exercise they do on a daily basis. What I meant was that some have bigger busts than others, some have bigger or stockier legs, some have wider ribcages, some have short torsos and long legs, some have shorter legs and longer bodies. Some have banana feet, some have quite straight feet.

 

There is certainly not one desirable body "type" (e.g. tall, very slim, all with swayback knees and banana feet, all with short torsos and long legs) in the UK companies - thank goodness! Long may we keep that diversity.

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Absolutely ! my DD has this all the time and eats like a horse!

 

I agree! My DD is very slim. But she does eat healthy, sometimes even more then I think she should. She does exercise ( ballet + Pilates) a lot but I think that she is just like her dad - stays very slim whatever she does or eats. She (or me?) does get comments that she is too thin and should build muscles etc. But she has strong and long muscles. So it's not always an eating disorder or a bad mother.

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I don't think anyone has said that thinness is down to bad parenting, infact I mentioned easier about the strong m who pulled her daughter out of the Royal. I just wish that the pressure wasn't around our dancers but it definitely is from images and lots of fabulous role models, some were naturally thin and others weren't, they all have one thing in common thin. This does and will put vulnerable young teenagers under pressure, especially when they are going through puberty.

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My DD is naturally very slim but not skinny and although she usually eats well but not excessively, she has days when nothing seems to fill her up (hollow legs!). Her teacher told her to 'go home and eat lots' after a lesson last week and I was very pleased at this attitude, especially as his own teacher was renowned for telling his students to drink water when hungry and he himself has battled eating disorders. Obviously his teacher's ridiculous way of living is not in turn being passed on to his students.

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A few years ago, Luke Jennings interviewed some dancers (including RB's Laura Morera) about body image: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2007/apr/15/dance.healthandwellbeing

 

I know I link to this every time this topic comes up here, but I've never forgotten some of the things Morera said; "The truth is that if you become half a person in weight, you become half a person in spirit"

 

I'm not sure how much I agree that we really are 'there' yet with regard to getting away from the thin 'ideal' in ballet...but progress has obviously been made and hopefully with people like Tamara Rojo pushing for healthy dancers on stage, we can get there someday.

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I think the appointment of Tamara Rojo will be excellent for dancer health, as long as she sticks to her principles and isn't swayed by the executive board!

 

It is true that a dancer who isn't eating enough will struggle to do what they are asked to on a day-to-day basis but that's partly why the injury rate in ballet is so high compared to other physical activities. The injury rate in ballet is about 80% (as in, 80% of dancers will get an injury that affects their performance for at least a day over a year) - compared to rugby at 30%!

 

The main causative factor in ballet dancers' injuries is fatigue. This is either caused by not taking in enough energy, not having a good enough aerobic fitness level to avoid fatigue, or a schedule that is too demanding. 

 

I did a research piece on how body composition affects injuries a while ago: We found that the type of injury, the rate and the length of timen it took to heal from injury were all affected by the dancers' body compositions. The article can be found here https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44392575_Body_composition_and_ballet_injuries_a_preliminary_study?ev=pubfeed_overview

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  • 2 years later...

Sorry to resurrect an old thread but I'm desperately in need of some advice.

Today I started back at my dance school after not being there for just under a year however whilst I was there I realised that one of the girls in my class was looking a lot thinner then I remember her being. This girl wasn't exactly slim a year ago however now, almost a year gone she looks unhealthily thin. My worry is that she might have an eating disorder which may or may not have been dealt with however as I can't really speak to her about it I don't know what to do. As I haven't seen her in a year I really noticed the weight lose however for everyone else who has been dancing with her every week they may not have noticed.

 

Sorry if this doesn't make sense I'm just really worried about this girl and in need of some advice about what to do next . Thanks x

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Why not have a quiet word with your teacher and raise you concerns? Any good teacher will have all their pupils best interest at heart and without breaking any confidences be able to reassure you about this girl. What I wouldn't do is get involved in any class or changing room gossip regarding the matter.

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Sorry to resurrect an old thread but I'm desperately in need of some advice.

Today I started back at my dance school after not being there for just under a year however whilst I was there I realised that one of the girls in my class was looking a lot thinner then I remember her being. This girl wasn't exactly slim a year ago however now, almost a year gone she looks unhealthily thin. My worry is that she might have an eating disorder which may or may not have been dealt with however as I can't really speak to her about it I don't know what to do. As I haven't seen her in a year I really noticed the weight lose however for everyone else who has been dancing with her every week they may not have noticed.

 

Sorry if this doesn't make sense I'm just really worried about this girl and in need of some advice about what to do next . Thanks x

Hi Nutcracker, I have known several girls/women with eating disorders in the last 30 years. While it is really good that you are concerned, it is such a complex business that it is never just a matter of confronting the sufferer or 'dealing with it'. They have a million rituals and excuses and ruses to conceal what they are doing. Whenever someone extremely thin claims to eat a lot, I am instantly suspicious unless I see them eating publicly. So while I applaud your concern, I would suspect that people close to her are probably only too aware if she has an eating disorder. But nobody can help unless or until she wants to change. Sadly, many of them honestly believe they are in control of it, which is part of the problem.

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