Royal Ballet director highlights issue of eating disorders within dance sector

Natalie Woolman

Royal Ballet director Monica Mason has claimed that any dance company leader who says they have never worked with an anorexic performer is lying.

Mason was speaking at Dance UK’s conference on nutrition and eating disorders within the sector, which was aimed at discussing the issue and possible solutions. Speakers included psychologists, nutritionists and academics as well as high-profile dancers and artistic directors.

Mason, who is due to retire from her role at the Royal Ballet later this year, said: “I think it is great that we are now talking about it more and more. I think that any director of a company who said they have never had an anorexic dancer would have to have been lying.

“Perhaps in the past we were more in denial. We are now in a situation where we can recognise it and really try to help these young people.”

She said that in an ideal world, dancers would be able to recognise eating problems themselves and be less secretive and ashamed about it and come forward for help. She added that when she was casting for the Royal Ballet company, she was looking for healthy dancers.

She said: “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. I never wanted people to come out looking like they have been produced by a sausage machine.”

David Bintley, director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, also said he was not looking for a set physical “type” but that he would “run a mile away from somebody I suspect has an eating disorder” because they are so difficult to solve.

Several speakers said they were pleased the subject of eating disorders in dance was no longer taboo and that Dance UK was tackling the issue head-on by presenting the conference. The Place chief executive Kenneth Tharp, who chaired the conference, said the event marked the culmination of a 22-year journey “where as a profession we are not afraid to say, ‘Let’s talk about it’.”

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