Body Image and Eating Concerns in the Dance Industry

I was recently sitting over a heaping pile of pasta speaking to my boyfriend about the dance industry. He was asking me to explain more about the pressure to be extremely skinny. I told him the following story:

An Apple is 60 Calories

One day I was sitting outside of my dance studio, waiting for ballet class to begin. I was in college and class was intense, lasting 2 hrs and 45 mins. My professor walks up to find me eating an apple asks, “are you sure you want to eat the entire thing before class?” I was shocked and baffled because the reason I was eating only an apple, was that I knew it was low in calories, and wouldn’t weight me down. In fact, I knew it was negative calories which means it takes more calories (about 80) to digest the apple than are in it to begin with (about 60). I asked my teacher what she suggested I eat before class and her response was, “Diet Coke and cigarettes always worked for me.”

Appalled yet? I know that I was.

I couldn’t believe that she was not only encouraging me not to eat, but that she was suggesting smoking as a positive alternative to maintain a desirable body size.

As you might guess, my boyfriend was shocked and appalled and pretty much speechless. Unfortunately, this story is only the tip of the iceberg.

I went on to share that the average weight of a ballerina is 12-15% BELOW their ideal body weight for height. The American Psychological Association diagnoses anorexia nervosa when a person is 16% below ideal, making many ballet dancers scarily close to a diagnosis. Modern and jazz dancers however tend to be ‘heavier,’ weighing in around 6% below ideal (Hamilton, 1998).

These facts greatly influenced my choice to pursue modern and jazz as a professional. It also is a large reason why I am so passionate about eating healthfully. It is also a major reason why I chose to work for smaller dance companies who had a history of accepting dancers with a variety of body shapes and sizes.

It is also a major reason why I am starting this blog and working to advocate for healthy bodies and healthy dancers.

Resource: Hamilton, L. H. (1998). Advice for dancers: emotional counsel and practical strategies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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4 responses to “Body Image and Eating Concerns in the Dance Industry

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