Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia and their prevalence amongst professional dancers were amongst the keenly debated topics at a recent conference organised by Dance UK and hosted by the Royal College of Medicine in London.
“Let’s talk about it”
Leading members of the UK’s dance professions, including Dame Monica Mason, director of the Royal Ballet, called for greater openness about the incidence of eating disorders in their industry. Dame Monica said that any dance company director who claims never to have worked with an anorexic performer is “lying”, such is the prevalence of disordered eating habits amongst dancers. She added “What we are looking for is a healthy, talented, gifted individual, and even in a company like the Royal Ballet the sizes and shapes of people vary enormously”.
“It doesn’t have to be a competition”
Delegates also heard from medical and nutrition experts, who reported that the nature of the environments in which dancers work is responsible for their emotional and physical wellbeing: dance companies which promoted competition and “egocentric attitudes and behaviour” amongst their dancers had a higher incidence of disordered eating patterns and other mental health problems than did companies which promoted autonomy and shared input from their dancers.
Conference delegates agreed that greater awareness and openness about the risks associated with eating disorders is essential, and that dance organisations need to identify staff to whom dancers can turn when they need support; including familiarising themselves with support bodies that help people tackle eating disorders.
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