Jump to content
dirac

Eating disorders and ballet

Recommended Posts

An article from The Washington Post discusses how companies today address the issue of disordered eating among students and dancers.

Quote

Most ballet schools have incorporated nutritionists and other programs to help dancers stay healthy, but “often you get mixed messages,” [Linda] Hamilton says. The companies and schools may talk about health, “then you see that the skinniest dancers are the ones who are getting cast” in lead roles.

 

Share this post


Link to post

I just finished reading Maxwell King's biography of Fred Rogers, who was mentored by a handful of key child development experts, especially Margaret McFarland, all of whom were based in Pittsburgh.  One of the things the biography emphasizes is how exacting Rogers was in analyzing what the child listener might hear in any message from his program, and to anticipate the follow-up questions -- if they were lucky enough to be expressed -- and the unspoken anxieties, and to either change the message or address the follow-up questions.

I don't think, "I'm sorry [person A] interpreted it that way" cuts it, especially with an explosive issue like weight as aesthetics in dance (and figure skating and gymnastics), or in places where absolute weight, but not aesthetics are key, like in sports like wrestling, boxing, martial arts, and other sports where making weight/weight class is key.

Share this post


Link to post

"I'm sorry you feel that way. .. "

"I'm sorry that ___ interpreted that way. . ."

Is NOT an apology. But it's a very clever, device to make the person think  he/she is hearing an apology.  It's slimy IMO. 

Share this post


Link to post
58 minutes ago, balletforme said:

"I'm sorry you feel that way. .. "

"I'm sorry that ___ interpreted that way. . ."

Is NOT an apology. But it's a very clever, device to make the person think  he/she is hearing an apology.  It's slimy IMO. 

A non-apology apology.  Yup, that's a thing.  I've gotten them.

Share this post


Link to post

It can be very confusing for dance students and young professionals. You can honestly believe that another dancer got a role you wanted because she is thinner than you are. Later on, looking back, it's easier to understand that that dancer had attributes that you didn't recognize at the time. In the meantime you tried to starve your way to success. I truly think things have improved a lot since back in the day when I danced professionally. In my day lots of people simple tried to stop eating. Now so much more is know about nutrition and cross training. Cross training is a big factor. A corps member can be in the studio for 6 hours of rehearsal without burning a lot of calories. It's very start and stop, and stretches of time can be spent posing. It's tiring but not necessarily calorie burning in a big way. Cross training can be more aerobic, burn calories and make you stronger.  

Share this post


Link to post

In the ballet culture, kids take in messages about thinness in various ways. This is why I fear having someone like Wendy Whelan as head of NYCB and, therefore, SAB. Her ultra-thinness, a skeletal look, could trigger eating disorders in young students and dancers. It won't matter what she might say; her physical presence alone, in a position of power, has the potential to do plenty of harm.

Share this post


Link to post

I'm not sure it's gotten better. I think with social media many dancers become fixated on how X dancer looks, and I've seen "you're so thin I want to lose 15 pounds by next week but how can I" type comments on instagram pages. I've also seen some dancers pose in a way that can be construed as "anorexic chic." Maybe this is not intentional as dancers often get offers to pose/model and many of them are promotional glamor shots. But the message still seems to be "thinner is better." 

One thing that has changed with time is that I see the same kind of comments and also the "ana chic" pictures equally among males and females. It used to be considered primarily a female problem now I see both males and females who seem to struggle with body image issues.

Share this post


Link to post

And watch pictures that COMPANIES actually post.  Unfortunately, they also send mixed messages. 

I want to hear an artistic director say, "If you have a documented eating disorder, we will not cast you until you get help. "

Share this post


Link to post

This is a good example of "ana chic." I saw Maria Khoreva dance Terpischore at City Center. She in no way shape or form looked unhealthily thin. However this picture is shot from a weird angle designed to make her look all bones and no muscle. This is what I mean by "ana chic" because it's a distortion of how she actually looks. 

 

Share this post


Link to post

I do think that the aesthetic in Russia is way thinner than here. Just follow a few dancers living and working in Russia and you can see the trends.  To be a ballerina is to be ultra thin.   I don't really know that culturally eating disorders are considered as serious there? I don't know.  But they don't seem to see the pathology?  When you see a 23-year-old who looks like they are 14, then there is an eating issue. 

Share this post


Link to post

Isn't there a great deal of defensiveness within the ballet community about eating disorders?  Whenever it's discussed outside the  worlds of major companies and major ballet academies - particularly in pop culture -  dance professionals seem to get angry.

I think about how pissed off so many people were with the dramedy horror movie Black Swan. It was as if they were terrified that implying that some dancers might have eating disorders was an accusation against all female dancers.   The reaction by so many within the classical dance community struck me as over-the-top and it led me to suspect that  too many classical  dance people are too insular and devoid of a sense of humor.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post

I saw far more eye-rolling about "Black Swan," expressed by ballet professionals because it gave the impression that ballet companies were full of dramatic dysfunction, and that ballerinas were hysterics and either Madonnas or whores, the stereotypical tropes, instead of the focused professionals that they are.

Share this post


Link to post

Most people in most professions are focused professionals. But where's the drama in that? 

I think  people are hypersensitive about how ballet dancers are portrayed because there are so few movies made about ballet. 

Ballet dancers are like underrepresented racial, ethnic, religious or sexual minorities when it comes to film. People get angry because the films that do get made have the impossible task of being all things to all people in the underrepresented community. 

 

Share this post


Link to post

And most underrepresented people are angry when the drama simply reinforces stereotypes. 

"Mao's Last Dancer" managed drama quite well, without resorting to crazy, but that was anchored by a biography.  

Share this post


Link to post

I didn't see Black Swan as reinforcing stereotypes because the Natalie Portman  and Winona Ryder characters were clearly  outliers. I never got the feeling that the story was implying that all ballerinas are neurotic and sexually repressed.  Just these particular ones.

Share this post


Link to post

A lot of ballet professionals thought that the movie reinforced stereotypes about ballet and ballerinas, in which Portman and Kunis were equated with "real ballerinas"* knowing that that was the only adult reference point for ballet for a vast majority of the movie's audience.  It's not as if most popular movies are terribly realistic.  Although Kunis described the diet that put her at 95 pounds.

*Unlike in Center Stage, the Black Swan producers bore down on Sarah Lane for disclosing she was Portman's dancing double.

Share this post


Link to post

I'm an outlier myself because I like ballet but didn't like Center Stage. It's so beloved that I figure there must be a special place in hell for dance fans who don't like it. I found it to be impossibly corny, unrealistic and predictable. Also, Aesha Ashe didn't get the credit she deserved for being Zoe Saldana's dance double. 

On the other hand, I like Black Swan because it's  an unconventional  horror movie with a ballet setting that winks at it's own preposterous conceits.

As to eating disorders in ballet, they may not be as common as they were in the 1980's but they still exist and probably always will considering how important one's lines are in classical dance.  

 

 

 

  

Share this post


Link to post

I love Center Stage because 1. It was one big soap opera and 2. It was cast in NYC and every other actor in it had been on Law and Order.

Share this post


Link to post

I have to agree with Helene's analysis of Black Swan.  I found it hypergraphic, shocking, disturbing and truly distasteful and hyperbolic and I would have taken exception to a movie like that about my profession-- there are negative stereotypes about all professions.

It just sells tickets to aim at a cloistered, mysterious group of mostly talented, beautiful women.

It fed into so many really negative ideas about ballet-- ED, the whoring, bawdy performing artist, grasping mother, lecherous AD, drug use, the damaged dancer with a hard background, suicide, the dehumanizing casting process (remember the Russian woman at the audition (kind of Kopakova) who points to a girl and says out loud- "Hips too wide?"), insanity, the politics of casting, .  . the art veritably devours the artist.   It was not just a few neurotic characters.  It was MOST IMO. 

I did not find it humorous it was too graphic and assaulting to the eyes, psyche, and heart.  

How could anyone think anything positive about ballet after that? In fact, there was almost no real ballet in the entire thing. It was constantly cutting away from the dancing. 

Horrid. 

Edited by balletforme

Share this post


Link to post

We have discussions of “Center Stage” and “Black Swan” here and here

As you will note in both discussions, "Center Stage" was also disliked by many dancers.

Quote

I do think that the aesthetic in Russia is way thinner than here. 

That was certainly true of the Eifman company when I last saw them a few years ago. The girls looked like swizzle sticks, to borrow a line from Paul Rudnick. I'd be interested to know if disorded eating is an issue in Russian troupes. I wouldn't be surprised if it is.

Share this post


Link to post

I thought that merely mentioning the fact that some ballet dancers might have eating disorders, was offensive to many classical dance fans. 

But how can you work to resolve an issue if you're afraid to confront it? 

Share this post


Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×