My Arts Issue - Are dancers pressured to be so slim? If so, why?

I am sharing my Arts Issue because I think it would be interesting to get comments on this issue from people that I don't know who are also interested in the arts.

My Arts Issue - Are dancers pressured to be so slim? If so, why?

I have chosen ‘body image in dance’ to be my main arts issue. I have chosen to talk about this because through the years there has been many views on this matter and there are many points for both for and against of if all ballet dancers should be very skinny. I am going to give points of why people agree and disagree on this matter and i will conclude with my overall personal opinion. 

Firstly, these are the reasons of why people would agree on the matter that all ballet dancers should have the perfect skinny body image to be a professional. Gillian Lynne suggests that it's no big deal for dancers to watch their weight, and that it's all part of the professional discipline when training to be a professional. Beryl Grey also says that dancers should be pushed to the limit. English National Ballet School posted a message on its Facebook page at the beginning of the new term inviting students to "work off" the Christmas calories. This is encouraging the dancers to not eat and the directors of the ballet school obviously think it's more attractive and nicer to watch when a dancer is skinny (especially a ballet dancer). Male and female ballet dancers are expected to look and be very thin in physique as females are typically lifted by the male and need to look as if they are ‘floating’ making them look easy to lift. The ideal weight for a ballerina depends on the ballet company and the individual ballerina. Ballet has attempted to move in a more modern and sensitive direction by accepting larger dancers, but there is still a certain body type that is considered most appealing on the stage. There was a programme called ‘Big Ballet’ on Channel 4 which challenged what size dancers should be. It took novice dancers who were over a size 12 to train with and as professional dancers for a period of time to see what it was like. They then choreographed on these dancers and got them to perform in a professional setting. This was a smash hit with audiences watching it on television but was more of a one of scenario as people were worried that bigger ballet companies were more of a gimmick.

These are the reasons for why people disagree with the statement that all ballet dancers should be skinny. Firstly, i found out while researching this matter that the highest risk of eating disorder development in ballet dancers is age 11-15 and that eating disorders is most common for ballet dancers because of the way they are expected to look. I discovered that In 1997, a member of Boston Ballet, Heidi Guenther collapsed while on a family vacation. She was 5’6” and weighed only around 6 stone. Her death forced large ballet companies to realize that girls were dying in order to advance their ballet careers. Since around this time, many studies have looked at body image and eating disorders in the ballet world. When a ballet dancer that is becoming a teenager and is reaching puberty starts to develop more of a chest, they begin to panic alot because they might think this is all down to eating alot. This then leads to unhealthy dieting and risks of health issues. A ballerina had a conversation before going on stage in which her friend said ‘dancing on a empty stomach is easy, you just eat hard candy all day to keep your blood sugar up.’  

Within the dance world, it is thought that dancers should look a certain way because it is the most aesthetically pleasing type of body to watch on a stage. It is argued that dancers should be light enough to be lifted easily and effortlessly and if they are not slight then this could affect how different lifts might go.

On an online source i found a girl that had been affected by this matter. Victoria is one of about 1.6 million people in the UK affected by eating disorders, the prevalence of them are in dancers, particularly ballet dancers, and is said to be nearly 10 times higher than in non-dancers. This shows that by the ballet dancers looking at themselves all day in rehearsals comparing themselves to the person stood in front or next to them it is affecting their mentality and making them feel like they cant be short, a bigger size than a size 4/6 or have a bigger bust or bum. Victoria said that she ‘started restricting my diet to keep that body shape and I became obsessed with food. I was just eating enough to get through my training and performances, which looking back was nowhere near enough.’ ballet dancers do not realise that a couple of missed meals is dangerous, and dancers are restricting their diets to stay a certain way, it's just not normal.

My view on this is that i think that no dancer should be expected to have a certain ballet type. Misty Copeland, the most well known ballet dancer, was told that she had big legs so she would never be a ballet dancer. She proved everyone wrong and is now one of the most sensational, well known ballet dancer. Many dancers do not get into to their dream ballet school because they are a bit bigger than what they want. Ballet dancers are prefered to have big eyes, long necks, no bust, long legs. This is no necessary because people with short legs and smaller eyes can probably do the exact same thing as the other dancers. Having researched both sides of the argument I can see why casting agents would probably go for skinnier dancers because they want them to fit into the same costumes that have been work for years, and for all casts to look very similar to the last. I can also see that there is a point that having larger dancers might make it harder to lift them. I actually disagree with this statement - ballet dancers are like athletes! They are very strong and would be able to lift even an overweight person! I think it is so sad that lots of ballet dancers end up with eating disorders because of the pressures of the dance world. It is for these reasons that my opinion hasn’t changed since starting my arts issue research. I have found it a very interesting subject though and have learnt a lot about perceptions of audiences.

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amelya tonge

amelya tonge

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  • Jess Smith

    On 11 July 2018, 11:15 Jess Smith commented:

    Hi Amelya,

    I really liked reading your Arts Issue and found it really interesting. I am a dancer too and I sometimes feel like I am a bit short for dancing so it was good to learn about attitudes in the industry. I agree with you and dancers come in all shapes and sizes which doesn't affect their talent at all!

    Jess xx

  • Luke Taylor

    On 12 July 2018, 09:56 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    This is a really interesting issue to talk about.

  • Emrys Green

    On 17 July 2018, 18:04 Emrys Green Voice Team commented:

    This is such an important issue Amelya, and great piece exploring it. Body comfort is vital and everyone can bring their own skills and flair to whatever they're doing. We've got a number of pieces on Voice exploring this that you might want to take a look at: especially this similar issue piece from last year which you might like to add your comments to also:

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