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Contentious issue?

Guest Antony

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I'll regret raising this topic one way or another, but watching a video of the re-opening of the Royal Opera House made me think about something.

In a brief diversion, the cameras followed a member of the artistic staff out on to a scenic balcony overlooking the Piazza. His jovial comment: "I'm probably the only one who doesn't come out here with a cigarette".

OK, I'll wear my colours on my sleeve - I'm an avid non-smoker, and the thought of dancers smoking to keep themselves thin sickens me even more than the whole issue of self-starvation.

But in truth, what proportion of dancers (professional or otherwise) really do have a serious habit? And how does this square up with the value they attach to their physical health?

Also, is there any organised effort at the RB to dissuade younger dancers from forming a habit in the first place?


(ducking for cover)

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For the just-finished Fall Season, my company employed 16 dancers. Three of them smoked; one of those three has been trying to quit, with varying success, for the past year.

A few more dancers (3, I think) were hired for the Nutcracker now. One of those dancers used to smoke, but has also been trying very hard to quit.

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antony, i too am an avid non-smoker - hate to be around smoke! BUT: i just thought maybe i should point out (in line with what another poster has said about dancers being no more immune than others...) that, just like 'other' people, dancers smoke for lots of reasons - not just to 'keep thin'.

it certainly is a paradox - needing a healthy body, but deliberately abusing it...but the question remains HOW to get that message through effectively, to any and all people who 'enjoy' something about smoking, and to those who are in the grip of a genuine addiction.

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Thanks for the thoughts, folks; I should probably apologise for not being a bit clearer about the angle I was coming from. This isn't a random rant at smokers. Treading on other people's toes is not one of my hobbies - metaphorically at least. ;) (If anyone does want a lively discussion about freedom of the individual etc., I'm happy to engage them in the proper place, i.e. off-air - but not here.)

Via some acquaintances connected with professional dance companies, I've heard several times the anecdote that "the dancers all smoke like chimneys" (not my words), in an attempt to keep thin. I'd assumed that other people have heard this too, whether or not it's a myth.


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I too have heard that many dancers smoke. But then, I doubt that the proportion of dancers who smoke is any different from the proportion of university students (to take a group of people of similar age) who smoke. In the UK at least. I suppose dancers should be allowed one vice - after all, the rest of their lives is so regimented ... unlike students, who have no excuse ;)

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Originally posted by beckster

I too have heard that many dancers smoke.  But then, I doubt that the proportion of dancers who smoke is any different from the proportion of university students (to take a group of people of similar age) who smoke.  In the UK at least.

Hi Beckster,

That's the sort of statistic I'm after - if it's true, then my question is answered, and I'm a (reasonably) happy man.

But if the proportion of dancers who smoke is much higher (as suggested by the anecdotes), it indicates that younger dancers may be under some kind of pressure that encourages them to take up smoking. And if that's the case, then I'm worried - and I'd be surprised if anyone can persuade me that I shouldn't be.


PS. Incidentally, I'm very keen that this thread doesn't become a political argument about personal freedom - as are the moderators, no doubt.

I gave up trying to fight causes years ago - it costs too many friends.

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I'd say that beckster's personal observation on a parallel between the smoking rate of university students and dancers is fair also in the US, but the difference may be slightly more marked among dancers, who nowadays seem to be smoking less, largely owing to American Lung Association anti-smoking drives, and a number of local government initiatives against allowing smoking in workplaces. Most universities maintain "academic freedom" against such initiatives, but they can't fight a full-court press by fire insurers, who up premiums if the building contains smoking areas. Dancers most often work in buildings covered by such initiatives and insurance, and so their smoking rate has decreased, if only as a pragmatic measure.

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glad to see a reply from an american, addressing the apparent 'stats' (using the term very loosely), for dancers there - as i cannot comment at all about american dancers, so i was beginning to wonder whether what antony suggests was/is true....

i agree that i have heard people SAY that sort of thing - but not for many years (like maybe 20), and only from NON-dancers...

antony, in my experience, in australia and the UK, like mel, i would say that no more dancers smoke that 'normal' (!) people.

i would hope it would be LESS dancers - and in australia, i would say that would definitely be true.

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That's right. And my company isn't big enough to distinguish between 25% and 28% with any statistical significance.

What's more interesting is that none of the dancers in the affiliated school's Youthworks pre-professional company smoke. Or at least, not that I'm aware of.

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It's an interesting question -- don't worry, Antony (although I thank you for your sensitivity). People are generally very polite here.

I've always been surprised when I see a dancer with a cigarette, because of the effect on lung capacity. I think there is a difference in America, as Mel noted, because there has been such a concerted anti-smoking campaign here, and because of laws that make it a hassle to smoke.

I have two anecdotes from the '60s and '70s, though, that bring in another angle -- stress control. I read an interview once with Peter Schaufuss who said that when he met Bruhn and Nureyev, as a young dancer, they told him he'd have to either smoke or drink to relieve the stress if he went on the super star circuit. And when I was doing the interviews for my book, I did an interview with Antoinette Sibley and I love one of the things she said, and it didn't fit in the book, so I'll put it here. She was talking about the social atmosphere among dancers in the 1960s and said, "You either smoked or you drank. I did both." :cool:

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Trivia from 1953: I recall an exchange between Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon. She's The Ballerina, he's the Hoofer, and during their get-acquainted meeting Astaire lights up, and Charisse tells him she doesn’t think dancers should smoke.

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I think Antony meant "contentious" in the sense that while everyone agrees smoking is bad for you, there's often been controversy about how far to go in outlawing the practice, incidents of outright public rudeness to smokers, the effects of secondhand smoke, that kind of thing.

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i certainly do recall seeing old film, early videotape, and B/W photos of dancers and/or staff smoking during rehearsals - "to pass the time" - and i do recall teachers smoking in class, when i was a child - but, in australia at least, i THINK (hope?) that would be unimaginable now.

heavens, i DO even know dance teachers and ballet examiners who smoke, even now, but i feel sure they would not only NOT do it while working, but also would make at least a minimal attempt to not be seen by their students 'doing it'...

also, as someone has pointed out above about the US, in most public venues in australia, there are prohibitions on smoking - which just means that people go outside to do it.

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I'd say that in the US, local laws and ordinances have been less effective in curbing smoking indoors, but building owners have been more effective by declaring "no smoking" in their buildings because of higher insurance rates for buildings allowing smoking. Higher insurance premiums get passed on to the renters in the form of higher rents. This from serving on several boards, building committees and vestries.

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Going back to an earlier point in the discussion:

Alexandra wrote:

"I've always been surprised when I see a dancer with a cigarette, because of the effect on lung capacity."

When my daughter was at Idyllwild Arts Academy, 6,000 feet up in the San Jacinto mountains of Southern California, we were shocked that any of the dancers smoked. I had enough trouble just walking around in the thin atmosphere, let alone dancing. The thought of someone smoking, and then dancing, up there was amazing to me. Yet, every year, someone would be suspended for smoking, or sent to counselling to help them stop smoking.

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Originally posted by citibob

Hey, I don't know why smoking is considered a contentious issue (it is elsewhere also).

I guess I'm more than a little wary of upsetting people here who smoke (which would be just about everyone, if the anecdotes were true! :eek: ). I've been surprised in the past by how heated people can get in defence of the habit - I wouldn't have cared so much, except that they were also good friends (and still are. Doesn't change my opinion of smoking, though.)

An issue that doesn't square up for me is the one Alexandra touched on, in mentioning lung capacity. I always see dancers as striving, via any means possible, for the pinnacle of fitness and health - more than any other group. But if smoking has as much of an impact on one's lungs as we're led to believe, then a cigarette would be more of a no-no than having a bag of lard-filled donuts with extra cream for every meal.

I guess I can sort of understand why some doctors smoke - like everything else, we all know it carries long-term risks that you can weigh up with some accuracy, as for driving a car. But in this case, I'd have thought that the more subtle effects (such as loss of lung capacity) would simply make it impractical for a professional dancer to smoke regularly.


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I guess I will jump in here after all. :)

All of my career as a dancer was spent in Europe, and many of the dancers smoked; including, for some years, myself...stupid of me, I know.

Not all dancers smoked; but many.

There was not the publicity here that there was in the US during the late 60s and the 70s against smoking, and it shows.

(As I left the US in the early 70s, never to return, I do not know if this campaign continued or not; I imagine it did...)

As to lung-compacity: while I was dancing and smoking, I actually did not consciously notice that my lungs were compromised.

Only when I stopped did I notice a difference.

Ballet is not exactly an aerobic activity; and short-term power was possible even with compromised lung capacity.

However, jogging became much easier when I stopped.

Now I am practically an anti-smoking fanatic.

One of my daughters is allergic to cigarette smoke and gets asthma attacks if too near to someone who is smoking.

It is sheer impossible to avoid second-hand smoke here.

It is nearly everywhere.

In the ballet schools many teachers smoke, though not in the studios.


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