Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Dark Side of Ballet

Last week I wrote of my love of ballet.  Ballet in the fifties and sixties was a magical art. But today although the ballet technique has improved beyond the impossible ballet for women and increasingly for men too has become a  Dark Art where starving to dance  has become the norm and socially acceptable.

Obviously I have been aware of the Eating Disorders for some time and I have been surprised that steps have not been taken to prevent this condition but this week I became aware of just how emotive this topic is when I commented on the excellent Facebook site Ballet News who invited members to comment on this emotive subject.

As I have had much experience and have witnessed these Eating Disorders at a professional level I broke a rule I made to myself and commented on the subject. The Ballet News editor who is nameless wanted dietitians to recommend a Safe diet for young dancers when I pointed out perhaps too forcefully that there is NO SAFE DIET all my posts were removed and a deathly silence has ensued.

I have no intention of making Eating Disorders a life priority but suppose I must take a stand. If ballet vocations were cigarettes a sign would be put on the package to say that ballet as a vocation could ruin your health with pictures like this to discourage the applicant.

What has ballet come to that we are prepared to let out girl and boy children starve themselves for their art? In my day Eating Disorders were unheard of. Even GP's and I was married to one had never come across the affliction. Ballet Companies employed normal women. Margot Fonteyn's figure at the time would not make it today. She would be considered obese! Not so today. Everybody has heard of Eating Disorders and one in eight sufferers die of it and yet in ballet it is still regarded as Taboo! It is unseen!

I was born in an age where food was short, ordinary life was beginning again and perfection was not required.  At my ballet school we looked and behaved like ordinary school children. Diet was never mentioned. At AES we were well fed and made to eat lunch every day. Chocolate semolina  had to been eaten! At Covent Garden I saw steak on the menu for the first time on a regular basis. Dancers were fed when the rest of then population was still rationed or steak priced like gold.

I was a size 10/12 all through my musical career and was considered normal. All of us were this size. At Covent Garden it was the odd thin ballerina, Annette Page was the first ultra thin dancer and she stood out because it was painful to watch. Belsen was never far from our thoughts at that time. It was unfashionable to be ultra thin. The pictures of starving adults were in our minds and alive.

Even in the 70's when I ran a professional ballet company my dancers were of slight build but in  now way skeletal and they look perfectly acceptable. You can see this in my Children's Ballet Series Dance Tales for the BBC or my pilot Bluebirds danced by The Royal Ballet Sadlers Wells.  What is unacceptable about them?

Today technique and styles have changed. The huge, spectacular lifts which were unknown in Petipa's time require female dancers that are liftable. The current style in everyday street fashion is for models to look like an inmates of Belsen. Male Fashion designers appear to hate the women they dress as they make us look so unattractive and this has spilt over into the world of ballet.

I gave up teaching ballet and rhythmic gymnastics when I became aware of the danger to young girls of eating disorders. After a lifetime I felt I had to give it up as my conscience would not allow me to continue just as I could not cast a young boy as Miles in The Turn of the Screw  as I know what the plot is about. It was a personal decision and one I have not regretted it as I can live with myself but I think it is time for the world of ballet to put an end to starving dancers to give pleasure to a few. Dancing Skeletons even dressed in white tulle are not attractive and dangerous to health.

Change has to come from the top. It is up to the Companies and Schools to put the house in order. They could do it if public opinion and dancer's parent force them to do so. Dancers today are not appreciated. A recent ballet programme of a well known company gave notes on bio notes on everyone except the dancers.  Dancers who are the companies' bread and butter  were overlooked. Their years of training, starving and self discipline were not worth a mention but the set designer was.

Dancers are worth more than that.

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