Opinion: Dance Can Promote Unhealthy Eating Habits


Media by Mason Kellerman

Many dancers are harsh critics of themselves, and they tend to disapprove of what they see when they look in the mirror.

I have been dancing since I was three years old. I love getting a dance step correct after hours of practicing it. I love putting on a costume and competing with my teammates. I love the adrenaline rush of performing on a stage.

Dancing is exciting and rewarding, but it does not come without a cost. Extensive amounts of body image issues, which can lead to eating disorders, plague the dance community.  

The way I see it, eating disorders in the dance world are self-imposed. 

Growing up in the dance world, I thought being a successful ballerina meant you had to be dangerously skinny and not eat. Professional ballet companies showcase dancers that are all extremely petite. The skinny dancers are put on a pedestal.

Criticism is also a large part of dance. Dancers are encouraged to criticize themselves, and dance teachers give an ample amount of their own corrections. 

Like any sport, corrections or critiques from a teacher can be about technique and how to better oneself as an athlete. But, in dance, appearance and body image are equally as critiqued. 

I have been told to close my rib cage so my stomach looks flatter, stretch my neck to make my torso look longer and tighten my core to make my body look skinny and strong. It’s hard enough to stand in a room full of other girls while wearing only a leotard and a pair of tights that expose your body, but having someone comment on your body only makes it worse. 

To have a teacher, someone you respect, tell you things you can do to “fix” your body to look more appealing to the audience is damaging. 

Linda Hamilton, professional psychologist who has worked with ballerinas struggling with body image, said ballerinas have been trained to have a perfectionist personality that can make the dancer intolerant of any physical changes.

Unfortunately, in the world of dance, eating disorders have been normalized. No one bats an eye when someone slowly stops eating, and I have heard dancers joke about not eating so they can fit in a certain costume or so they will land a certain part. 

Eating disorders are a serious problem in the dance world, and it is important we make a change moving forward. 

I don’t want younger dancers to think they have to change their body for a sport. The mental and physical health issues that come with an eating disorder will never be worth getting the lead role in a ballet.