The Link Between Ballet And Eating Disorders

ballet-food“There is an unspoken competitiveness between dancers,” Couldn’t that be the tagline for 2008′s camp psych-thriller Black Swan? Unfortunately it’s part of the real-life ballerina experience and it leads to rampant eating disorders.

Victoria Ferguson, a West London ballerina said the above quotation when she recently opened up to Sandish Shoker of BBC News about the relationship between eating disorders and the elite dance world. The 22 year old developed bulimia at 15; the disorder escalated when she started professional dance school. Here’s another

“Every day you are looking at your friends in tights and leotards which isn’t normal, and the whole purpose of dance is to be self-critical and constantly pushing yourself, and you strive to be better. It was all self-imposed.”

It’s a shame that she believes she brought this upon herself. There are pressures outside of her control that contributed to her illness. To most people with the slightest bit of layman knowledge about eating disorders, the tie between a troubled relationship with food and the world of dance is glaringly and heartbreakingly obvious. The dance community is a crucible for disordered eating and body image problems; with so many contributing factors like the aesthetics valued, the discipline and athleticism required, and the highly competitive personalities involved, it’s amazing that anyone survives unscathed.

According to the BBC article, eating disorders are 10 times more prevalent in dancers than the non-dancing population. The Royal Ballet even has a specific Eating Disorder Policy created in part by Professor Jon Arcelus of the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust Adult Eating Disorders Service. The Royal Ballet’s support of the Leicestershire service allowed them to open a new residential center to the tune of £1.2 million.

Dancers start making their way up to elite levels at very young ages, often too young to understand the strain they’re putting on their bodies whether they’re mentally well and properly nourished or not. Let’s hope the tie between dance and eating disorders pirouettes it’s way into being a tie between dance and eating disorder recovery.

Check out the original article for more information and insights from real dancers who have suffered from eating disorders.

Story via BBC//Image via Shutterstock

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    • aLady

      I was a serious bunhead until I was 16. I trained with some of the best instructors and after a summer dancing with one of the most elite companies in the U.S. I decided that this wasn’t the life I wanted. Dancers (ballet dancers more so than others in my experience) tend to be perfectionists, so you want your arabesque to look “just so,” or your petit allegro to look “just so,” or your body to look “just so.” I’ve always been thin, but I felt fat around all my friends and I knew then that that feeling I had was unhealthy. I’ve seen quite a few girls with eating disorders in the dance world and those girls (my friends) were definitely perfectionists. I think that’s why dancers are more susceptible to eating disorders- they are perfectionists in a world where everything must be done “just so.”

    • Sylvia

      I`m not very informed about these problems, I always thought that ballet is very refined and all girls who perform this dance improve her style and behavior, become more feminine and deep. Too bad if they have eating disorders and don`t have the power to control this .