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:
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.
October 20th, 2014 at 9:48 pm
I remember that story. He’d be appalled to learn how mild that one is in comparison to the ones we heard about “enemy” studios when we were growing up. Granted, they might not have been true, but the horror of possibly eating cotton balls dipped in coffee has stuck with me for years and years as a result.
December 3rd, 2014 at 8:04 pm
I tokd him and he was just as appalled. Oh the joyful and crazy life of dancers!
February 25th, 2016 at 8:15 pm
[…] Sometimes you’re haunted by the comments in your past: I will never forget the day my teacher told us we were leaping like elephants or when I was asked not to eat my whole apple. […]
August 9th, 2016 at 1:02 pm
[…] So many dancers experience the overwhelming pressure to adhere to a certain thin and waif like body ideal. This pressure has led to a crisis of disordered eating among dancers including, many of my own friends who have engaged in unhealthy diets and disordered eating behaviors. […]