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Monica Mason (and David Bintley), eating disorders and hiring dancers


alison
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Janet's already flagged this in the Links section, but I thought it might be useful here, too: http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/36057/royal-ballet-director-highlights-issue-of

As part of Dance UK's nutrition and eating disorders conference, Dame Monica Mason (and later David Bintley) discussed eating disorders and what they look for in hiring dancers.

 

If anyone who's more familiar with this part of the forum than I am knows of a thread it can usefully be merged into, please let me know.

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This is something that has to be tackled head-on, and until very recently it seems to have been something of a 'taboo' subject.

 

Years ago, a work colleague of mine decided to lose a few pounds so she would look better in her wedding dress. She became totally obsessed with losing weight, and by the time of her wedding she was terribly thin, and the dress was hanging off her.

 

Nothing anyone said made any difference, she was in and out of hospital for a long time, and several years ago she died.

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I still think that it is wrong to assume that a) all ballet dancers are anorexic and B) only ballet dancers are anorexic. Although Taxi did not say, I am assuming that her colleague was not a dancer and her sad story goes to show that this is something that affects people from all walks of life.

 

I totally embrace David Bintley's words but hope that the wider message is "Note to everyone - don't have an eating disorder!".

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I still think that it is wrong to assume that a) all ballet dancers are anorexic and B) only ballet dancers are anorexic. Although Taxi did not say, I am assuming that her colleague was not a dancer and her sad story goes to show that this is something that affects people from all walks of life.

 

I totally embrace David Bintley's words but hope that the wider message is "Note to everyone - don't have an eating disorder!".

 

not sure where the emoticon came from - it was meant to be point b!!

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Its about time that eating disorders amongst dancers is being publicly acknowledged. It seems to be some sort of dark secret within the dancing world that must not be spoken about. Well from what I can see its a big problem. No not all dancers have an eating disorder but many do. So many people seem to be very defensive about ballet dancers and EDs which in my opinion only makes the situation worse. We know that EDs happen in all walks of life, but since this is the doing dance forum I think its ok to be refering to the dancers. I know of four girls all in vocational schools in this country all aged 16 and under who have a diagnosed ED. Two I know have had to have treatment in residential clinics, i dont know what treatment the other two had. (All are no longer in vocational training). I think our young dancers need educating in good nutrition, and told exactly what type of foods they should be eating. Its no good saying to a child you need protein, carbs etc, they need to be told exactly what that is.

Sorry to rant on, but my eyes over the last couple of years have been opened very wide where eating disorders are concerned. Thank goodness my dd is not suffering from this awful illness and I hope she continues along that path.

 

I just want to say that EDs dont just happen in vocational schools, it just so happens that is where I know the girls to come from.

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I overheard a conversation between two girls in a London dancewear shop over Easter. One was saying to the other that just before they broke up for Easter, they had all been told to lose weight. The other one said "All of you?" and she replied "Yes, everybody"!

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I think our young dancers need educating in good nutrition, and told exactly what type of foods they should be eating. Its no good saying to a child you need protein, carbs etc, they need to be told exactly what that is.

 

I thought vocational schools were supposed to be doing that sort of thing now?

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They are taught about EDs in Vovational schools but I dont think my dd was ever taught exactly what type of foods and how much to eat to be healthy but to also follow a classical career. I will always remember my dd going back to school after the Christmas holidays, she had lost weight in preparation for her 6th form auditions. She looked very slim and very toned due to extra private lessons and swimming. Her first ballet lesson with a male teacher was met by him saying to the class, but also my dd thinks looking straight at her, that Somebody had been eating too many turkey sandwiches. She was devastated and once again her confidence was slashed. I will never forgive this idiot for making his stupid unforgivable comments. I am certain that he thought he was making a joke, but to children who are taking their training seriously and know they need to look good for auditions and on top of it all doing GCSEs is simply unforgiveable.

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Primrose, the incident you describe is disturbing. I suppose that people never complain about this type of comment because they are worried that a complaint could adversely affect their child's future.

 

Whilst it is obviously a good idea that schools teach about nutrition I don't think that this will prevent a person from developing an ED which is a complex mental illness triggered, I think, by a combination of factors. Certainly, the kind of careless remark that that teacher made could contribute to fostering an environment in which EDs flourish. As well as talking about nutrition, the schools need to encourage children to speak to the school nurse or counsellor if they are worried about their weight or eating habits but I appreciate that it will be hard to persuade children to do this given the nature of the illness. As I said on an earlier thread, the sooner a problem is tackled the better the outcome, both for the person's health and for his/her career.

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" I will always remember my dd going back to school after the Christmas holidays, she had lost weight in preparation for her 6th form auditions. "

 

I think this in itself concerns me a little. if it is necessary or desirable to lose weight for auditions a child is already making themselves into something that, naturally, they are not. This could easily become a trend or the start of an ED when it is seen that success depends on losing weight. if the weight is subsequently regained, what then?

 

All children, dancers and non dancers alike, should be encouraged to eat sensibly and maintain a healthy weight but I, personally, do not advocate losing weight in these circumstances.

 

Primrose, these comments are not meant to be personal and I have no reason to believe that this was a problem for your daughter. it is just that it might for some!

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That is not the way I read it but it is for Primrose herself to say one way or another!!

 

Either way, I am sure that her dd is not the only one to have lost weight before auditions and my comments could apply equally to them!

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Actually she purposely did lose a few pounds, (about 3 or 4). I am going to be honest as I am sick to death of people pushing these issues under the carpet. She wasnt the only one, all the other girls auditioning with her for classical schools had also lost a little bit of weight. Look at what the top classical school students look like. Do you see any student from the age of 16 weighting more than 8 and a half stone. For girls of around 5ft 5/6 this would be regarded as a slim weight. Girls of this height should NOT be weighting less than 8stone. However, like any athlete the dancer needs a diet that gives them all the nutriants to stay healthy but also helping them to maintain a slim weight. It is so hard for teens going through puberty and wanting to eat junk food, and to be honest they need to do that also. They just have to be more disiplined than the normal teenager. I was angry with the teacher I mentioned as my dd looked slim and most definately did not need to lose any further weight as then she would have become too thin.

However we also have to be honest and say that the girls cannot weight too heavy otherwise the boys/men would never be able to lift them. I really feel that the students need a lot more education in the right things that they need to eat to maintain a healthy weight and one that can give them all the nutrients they need to help them maintain their strenght and energy levels. Also teachers need to be educated as much as the students, they know they are working with students who are more body aware and should be careful with the words that come out of their mouths regarding size and shape.

 

Edited to add that my dd didnt go on a diet as such, she just didnt have as many crisps or chocolates as she may have had in the past. Also she maintained private dancing lessons and swimming over the 3 week holiday as a family we went out walking more often than we would normally have done so it benefited all of us.

Edited by primrose
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I still remember with horror my son casually telling someone "the sixth form girls have a big bowl of salad they eat until the teachers leave, then they stop."

 

He was in year 7 at the time. May have got entirely the wrong end of the stick, and purely anecdotal. But he perceived this as "normal" behaviour.

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I agree that the teacher that Primrose mentions was totally out of line. It does, however, throw up the important question of how these issues should be handled. It is a fact that aesthetics are important in ballet and a fact that some dancers may not be successful because of their weight. I maintain what I said earlier that I do not agree with having to lose weight and think that the industry is better suited to those that are naturally slim. however, there will be times when students will be told by their school that they need to lose weight. How do you think this should be handled in a positive way?

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Jellybeans, you make very good points. Related to this, a few months ago I saw a horrific television programme in which very young (poor) teenage girls from Eastern Europe were being scouted by modelling companies. Their contracts specified that if they gained more than tiny amounts (something like 2cms) around the bust, hips their contracts would be cancelled. These girls had barely reached puberty and it seemed to be almost inevitable that as they grew up (and were eating more in the West) they would get bigger and would therefore be in breach of contract. The programme was really upsetting. I felt outraged and I wish that I had done something about it.

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Well if you talk about a natural weight then lets be honest how many of us would be an entirely different shape if we cut out, junk food, like crisps, biscuits, cakes and wine. None of these things are good for us but they taste great and are very comforting. Now then, we would all lose weight by cutting these foods out of our diet. It is not natural for us to carry extra pounds through not eating properly, and it does not reflect the weight we should naturally be.

Is it wrong then to tell our youngsters to eat what they like and if you still stay slim then that is natural and its ok to pursue a ballet career as you are naturally slim. Or do we educate our children into making good food choices and getting them to maintain a healthy weight that way.

We however should never tell our children to cut back on good nutritious food and we should let them know that it is ok to have our favourite foods as a treat. When children are away at school they have to make them choices themselves. Good food and other not so good food is on offer to them. My dd if she had have wanted could have chosen the unhealthy stuff everyday followed by deserts of toffee pudding etc. The school did offer a fantastic choice of foods, but it brings me back again to educating the students about what to have and how much.

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If any teacher felt that either of my daughters needed to lose weight I would prefer a phone call first to discuss the matter with myself first before any negative comments were directed at them.....It is far to easy for a teacher to make a general comment to the whole class...some will brush it off and others will take it to heart and its generally the ones that take it to heart that the comment is not aimed at in the first place....not forgetting anorexia is a mental illness and doesn't always start with dieting ....most people who want to stay at an ideal weight will have to watch what they eat.

I always tell my daughters to make wise choices and dont deny themselves anything.

 

Does anyone out there with DD's and DS's at vocational school have an issue with tuc ? should I start a new thread ;) ?

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Well Hairbelles, Tuc and the quality, taste and choice of food at vocational schools is a whole topic in its self, let's face it the food is not the same as home cooked food and I believe that's an issue which then feeds the tuck habit. Albeit it is difficult for the schools to cater to such a variety of tastes when childrens' experience of food in their own homes will vary enormously from the totally traditional cooked from scratch to the homes where only convenience junk food is served, to some where in the middle where most busy families find themselves. Giving guidance and sound advice and educating your children at home can help prepare them to make wise choices, but with the race of the human being there is something called "free will" and thats what the kids will exercise when not under the watchful eye of their parents when making choices in the refectory or dining room!

All that said, The quality of the food in 4 of the 4 establishments where my girls have done courses and now board needs to be improved. I will say though they both agree the best food was during White Lodge summer courses, though other children may disagree! Interestingly no tuck was aloud at all when my girls attended in 2010 and 2011.

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Well if you talk about a natural weight then lets be honest how many of us would be an entirely different shape if we cut out, junk food, like crisps, biscuits, cakes and wine. None of these things are good for us but they taste great and are very comforting. Now then, we would all lose weight by cutting these foods out of our diet. It is not natural for us to carry extra pounds through not eating properly, and it does not reflect the weight we should naturally be.

Is it wrong then to tell our youngsters to eat what they like and if you still stay slim then that is natural and its ok to pursue a ballet career as you are naturally slim. Or do we educate our children into making good food choices and getting them to maintain a healthy weight that way.

We however should never tell our children to cut back on good nutritious food and we should let them know that it is ok to have our favourite foods as a treat. When children are away at school they have to make them choices themselves. Good food and other not so good food is on offer to them. My dd if she had have wanted could have chosen the unhealthy stuff everyday followed by deserts of toffee pudding etc. The school did offer a fantastic choice of foods, but it brings me back again to educating the students about what to have and how much.

 

I do not see not eating crisps, biscuits cake and wine (although hopefully the letter does not apply to our children!!) as dieting. I see that as healthy eating to be encouraged at all times. Living on such things does not provide a suitable diet for young dancers (or anyone else) regardless of whether there is potential for an ED or not and, in saying that I don't think that it is right to lose weight for auditions etc I suppose I was assuming that these items did not makeup a large part of the diet to start with. As for treats, these are essential - as long as that is indeed the way in which they are viewed! Something that is consumed every day or very frequently is not a treat. Something that is enjoyed once a week is.

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I definitely have an issue with tuck - I can't believe my DD has eaten 20+ cereal bars in 1 week. They may well know what the healthy food choices are and they may be available but that doesn't mean at the age of 11 that they will make healthy food choices unless supervised.Tonight she had potato waffles for tea ..but "with a bit of salad".Bless her she likes salad but rightly says it doesn't fill her up.

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