Fears raised over effects of body criticism on dancers

Photo: Grace Dustin.
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Almost three-quarters of dancers have received a critical comment about their body – primarily from a dance teacher – prompting concern about the negative impact instructors’ comments can have on performers’ self-esteem.

A group of 74 female dancers, training primarily in ballet and from six vocational dance training colleges across the UK, were asked if they could recall someone ever making a “critical comment” that their body “should be a certain shape, weight, or that there was a need to diet to lose weight or increase food intake to gain weight”. Of those, 73% recalled receiving a critical comment about their body, with 63% stating that the comments had come from a dance teacher, according to research that was revealed at Dance UK’s Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers conference last week.

The findings were part of a survey carried out by researchers at Loughborough University and are highlighted in a report called Critical Comments Concerning Shape and Weight: Associations with Eating Psychopathology Among Full-time Dance Students, which was discussed at the conference. More than 60% of respondents said the comments had had an effect on them, with 20% stating that the remarks had made “a lot of impact”.

The report states that 80% remembered the event of the comment “as if it happened yesterday”.

About 6% of the dancers said the comments had not made them conscious of their body, shape, diet or need to change weight, and 8% said it had not led to any attempts to change their body.

Professor Jon Arcelus, one of the report’s authors, said: “It is clear that dancers are a vulnerable group for the development of eating disorders. Companies and dance schools should have a process for identifying dancers at risk by having clear policies of how    to work with dancers who develop    eating problems.”

The findings come after data released in another report, Prevalence of Eating Disorders amongst Dancers, showed that 12% of dancers have an eating disorder, rising to 16% of ballet dancers, with 4% of dancers recorded as having bulimia.