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DT Article on Ballet and Eating Disorders


Nana Lily
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Scarey but i am not suprised. Young children training to become ballet dancers constantly observe the professionals. They notice the physique and shape. Also our young dancers are in the mirror every day, my daughter actualy said to me 'I don't know what I look like, as every mirror in my school (studios) is different'.

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Can i just give my own, very small example of someone i knew who was assessed out of WL a few years ago? I don`t know the ins and outs, but she had been there for a few years. Maybe i ought to take what she said with a pinch of salt, and therefore everyone else on here ought to do the same. She told me it is not only really competitive but incredibly bitchy, and there was great competition amongst the girls, in particular, to be thin. She told me of girls there "encouraging" one another to eat more, because they wanted to be the slimmest in the class,and that none of the girls there really had a true friend, because each one was directly in competition with everyone else,so they had friendships at the school, but not in the true sense of the word. Again, i can only go by what this one girl who was assessed out told me, but i was really shocked. Maybe it was sour grapes on her part as she had been assessed out, or maybe she was fabricating the whole thing, i have no idea. But this person is the only person i have ever met who had gone to the Royal, and i have to say, from listening to her, it did give me quite a negative view of the place. So, feel free to contradict this if you know it to be so.!! Hope i`ve not posted this in the wrong place,BTW!

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Can i just give my own, very small example of someone i knew who was assessed out of WL a few years ago? I don`t know the ins and outs, but she had been there for a few years. Maybe i ought to take what she said with a pinch of salt, and therefore everyone else on here ought to do the same. She told me it is not only really competitive but incredibly bitchy, and there was great competition amongst the girls, in particular, to be thin. She told me of girls there "encouraging" one another to eat more, because they wanted to be the slimmest in the class,and that none of the girls there really had a true friend, because each one was directly in competition with everyone else,so they had friendships at the school, but not in the true sense of the word. Again, i can only go by what this one girl who was assessed out told me, but i was really shocked. Maybe it was sour grapes on her part as she had been assessed out, or maybe she was fabricating the whole thing, i have no idea. But this person is the only person i have ever met who had gone to the Royal, and i have to say, from listening to her, it did give me quite a negative view of the place. So, feel free to contradict this if you know it to be so.!! Hope i`ve not posted this in the wrong place,BTW!

 

I do know people that have been - and still are- at WL and Elmhurst and I am afraid that the report is probably quite accurate. things seem to be different at "local" ballet schools as the children to not live in each others pockets.

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Just wanted to say that this has not been our experience of WL so far. Maybe we have been lucky or maybe we are being naive but the girl's in DD's year do seem genuinely supportive of each other.

 

For us so far the experience of WL has been a positive one - just wanted to add this for the sake of balance.

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Well, was a bit taken aback to read thequays post and just ran it by my daughter, as she has never mentioned incredible bitchiness or girls encouraging each other to eat in order to sabotage them. She is not at WL, but was adamant it is nothing like that. They all love chocolate and pizza and are really good friends, (except for when they are not, they are teenage girls after all)

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I think it is a difficult subject to discuss on an open forum and we should be mindful of only discussion our own personal experiences and not hearsay.

 

Most of the girls I know at vocational schools have a very healthy attitude to food, but of course there are some that haven't, the same as in the general population. But as I only hear about them second-hand I'm not going to comment on them or how the schools deal with it. But I do agree with Lisadebs in that we've found the students are generally very supportive of eachother.

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When my daughter was at White Lodge she found the support of her friends the best part of the whole experience and is still in contact with most of her year group. There was very little bitchiness and a great deal of fun and laughter.That said every year group is different!

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Oh dear, it doesnt take you straight to the topic, but I am sure if you google Ballet News and type in the topic Nutrition for ballet dancers it will come up.

 

 

Sorted it now, the second link works.

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Eating disorders don't just happen in White Lodge, it happens in a lot of ballet schools. I have notice lots of children who have lost a lot of weight during these 6th form auditions. Although they all still look healthy and well, some will go too far. I could say a lot more but I daren't in the case of any reprecussions.

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Eating disorders happen in all walks of life. I only realised comparatively recently that a school-mate from 40 years ago suffered from an eating disorder.

 

Some years ago a friend lent me an American book that was fairly condemnatory of SAB in Balanchine's day. I can't remember the details of the book but what stands out in my memory is that it alleged the girls were weighed every day and derided if they had even put on a couple of ounces. I hope it is not like that now and, indeed, that it does not happen at any ballet school in this country.

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I saw a horrible but fairly old video about a 15 year old at NYBS. She was so skeletal and so lacking in energy I couldn't tell if she was a good dancer or not. It was terrifying how thin she was.

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Lots of teenage girls to through 'disordered eating' phases, especially those that put pressure on themselves to succeed. It's less about losing weight and more about being in control. And how many women are permanently 'on a diet'? It also doesn't help that due to our fast food/processed food culture, more than half of the country is now classed as 'overweight' which has the effect of making overweight look normal. My DD is slim and a very healthy weight, but compared to the majority of her friends, she looks tiny - unfortunately most of them are overweight but look 'normal'.

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Tulip, I have seen a few girls lose weight for the 16+ audition rounds, only to put it all back on again and more in their first year of 6th form. This is usually made worse by the fact that they are away from home for the first time and fending for themselves on the food front, as well as going out 'socialising'.

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Before puberty many girls who do ballet are naturally thin (my daughter is one of them) as I suspect that the ones that are not tend to drop out early on (leotards are the most unforgiving garments). At and after puberty girls can start to gain weight even if they are not eating more than before; their bodies just become "chunkier" as they become young women. It must be so hard for these young women who then feel that they have to diet to achieve to body that others naturally have and which they thought that they would have because they had been thin when they were younger. These young women must be at particular risk of eating disorders.

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Sadly it is sometimes the ballet mothers who are to blame...I personally know many mothers who have put their dd on diets for the audition period...some of these kids were only 11 years old-very sad that a parent could do that to their own kid at such a tender age.

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I don't think that it is coming from the schools at all. The girls know what shape the ballet world is looking for and sometimes it is a very very unrealistic one. Ofcourse there are eating disorders in all walks of life, but it does have to be acknowledged that it happens a lot in the older ballet world.

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Goodness me. Very scary and I agree that with some children it's a case of desperately needing to control a tiny bit of their life. :-(

 

I know there are either in-house nutritionists or nutritionists brought in to talk to Upper School students - can anyone with US experience shed any light on the schools' advice on weight and diet?

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I recall when my dd went to RBS summer school when she was 11, on one lunch time she was told she hadn't eaten enough and had to eat more or she wasn't allowed to dance in the afternoon. I was impressed to hear this, and it impressed on her how important it was to keep up her energy.

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It is the same experience at Tring, the nurses check at meal times that the children are eating enough. However during a nutritional talk that was geared at all the children so performing arts etc, the nutritionalist spoke about unhealthy choices with high fat content. Ofcourse the children who are already concious about weight gain zoomed in on that one. I know this for a fact as I could hear them all down the phone, when I was talking to my daughter. Not everyone will have an eating disorder, just one or two even three maybe, but it definately goes on in ballet schools. I don't believe it comes from the teachers, it comes from the children themselves. I also do not believe that it is peer pressure, an eating disorder is a secret that soon becomes a mental issue.

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I must admit we've had to tackle the food issue at home when my dd's blood sugar went through the floor during a long class last year and she was quite poorly for a good few hours. I liken it to asking a car to get you from London to Edinburgh on £5 worth of petrol.

 

Luckily we've managed to find a fussy-teen-friendly eating plan which works well...maintaining her very healthy weight whilst keeping blood sugar and energy levels stable (and allowing for the odd treat). But I must admit I'm glad she's at home where we can work out any food issues before they become an issue. :-)

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An eating disorder is a serious mental illness. It is even more dangerous when the sufferer exercises excessively (as a ballet dancer or ballet student has the opportunity to do as part of his/her daily life) because weight loss is more rapid, leading frighteningly quickly to organ damage which is not always reversible. I thought that academic boarding schools routinely weighed girls at least and I'm surprised that vocational ballet schools don't do this as well, but perhaps they don't want to because the assumption would be that they were weighing the girls to make sure that they hadn't put on weight rather than the other way around. I think that it's really important to pick up eating disorders quickly because the lower the sufferer's weight falls the more mentally disordered s/he becomes and the harder it is for him/her to tackle the problem and regain the lost weight. I'm probably going to make myself unpopular for saying this but IMO a person who develops an eating disorder should not pursue a career in ballet. An person who has an eating disorder does not really recover from it but learns to manage it, and relapses frequently occur. A highly competitive environment in which there is so much focus on the body is probably the worst possible choice for a person who has suffered from an eating disorder.

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