DANCE students should undergo compulsory nutrition training to address the industry’s problem with eating disorders, says a leading instructor.
Penny Lancaster said that while ballet companies were aware of the issues, they were reluctant to talk about them for fear of scaring people away from the discipline.
Research from the University of Minnesota found that adults who had danced as children were more likely to display bulimic behaviour and had a greater drive for thinness.
The researchers asked 546 undergraduate females to complete a questionnaire regarding eating behaviour and body image, finding that childhood dancers reported greater perfectionism and a smaller ideal body mass than non-dancers.
Ms Lancaster’s organisation, Australian Dance Vision in Pymble, designs curriculums for dance schools across the country in ballet, tap and modern jazz.
The organisation, which was founded in 1989 to provide an alternative to overseas dance education programs, has 130 members and thousands of students in most states.
All students must also pass diet, nutrition and anatomy tests within dance examinations. She says it’s a model that encourages balance, which should be more widely employed.
“I used to work with the Board of Studies and if the little ones learnt all those things from the word go, it would be helpful for them when they got to the high levels,” she said.
Ms Lancaster said she was aware that children who danced, particularly ballet, were under pressure to be thin and have the “perfect figure”.
“Ballet dancers are required to jump high, spin fast and balance on their toes for extended periods of time,” she said. “If a dancer weighs much or her weight changes frequently, these steps are difficult to execute.”
The fact that many of them were highly driven meant they possessed the perfectionism that is common among sufferers of eating disorders.
“When I used to teach, fathers used to say, ‘If my daughter is not going to be a prima donna, then she is not going to do it’,” Ms Lancaster said. “I said, ‘Perhaps your son shouldn’t play cricket if he is not going to play for Australia’.
“Maybe it is a perfectionism thing. Nobody has really nailed the problem.”
Writer: Caroline Marcus