As an extremely challenging and physically demanding pastime, it makes sense that a career in dance has lots of pressures that go along with it. This should come as no surprise seeing that every professional sport requires hard work and at least some sacrifice. It is questionable, however, if there is maybe too much pressure put on dancers in this day and age. Many people do not realize what it takes for a person to make it as a dancer, the dedication and drive the person must have. The fact of the matter is, the outcome of a dancer’s career may not outweigh the physical and emotional damages left over from the long journey to the top.
In the eighteenth century, the most prominent dancer of the time, Marie Camargo, set the standard for the typical dancer’s physique. The body characteristics of no hips, breasts, or stomach became the customary body shape for dancers at that time, and in the future (Gim). George Balanchine, one of the most prominent dance choreographers in dance history is responsible for the basic look of a
thin ballet dancer. His goal within a dance company was for all of the females to look as identical as possible. He wanted dancers who were tall and streamlined with beautifully arched feet, long, elegant legs and a graceful extension (Solway 57). He believed that the thinner the dancer, the better one could see their bodies and movements.
Due to the views of George Balanchine, it soon became the norm for a dancer to be a certain height and weight. Soon that is what company producers, directors, choreographers, and the public expected. Even today, “an ideal has been set in place in the dance community which reflects the general public’s desire to see thin women on stage” (10-6). The main goal of a dance company is to have viewers, and for that to happen the public must be visually pleased. Cultural ideas of feminine beauty cause young women to feel a strong desire to be thinner than their bodies naturally tend to be (10-1). This idea is even more widespread in the dance world; literally, people who are not thin do not get jobs.
Certain sports create environments that harbor unhealthy eating habits, and dance is one of the most common (Despres). These eating habits can eventually escalate into an eating disorder if not treated correctly. Every eating disorder begins with a diet (Applegate). Typically, eating disorders start with skipping meals, twenty-four hour fasts, and calorie restriction. “The combination of a demand for a thin shape with endurance training increases the need for dieting, which puts the dancer at risk for developing an eating disorder” (Thompson 62). Fitness has come to mean complete repression of body and appetite, and many athletes are viewing eating disorders as a means to an end; to be the best no matter what (Despres). In fact, female athletes are ten times as likely to develop eating disorders than women in the general population (Hood).
The personality archetype of a dancer with an eating disorder is a perfectionist. The person is a compulsive high-achiever, and is always striving to be better at any cost. He/she will be eager to please, a lot of times shy, someone who needs constant reassurance. This is because many dancers with eating disorders question their self worth, and feel they have little value (Thompson 76). They feel that there is only so much they can do to make a spot for themselves in the world, to have any significance. Studies show that many people who are affected with an eating disorder come from strict, overbearing parents with very high expectations, causing the constant need to be superior. A dancer maintaining an eating disorder may be doing so to assert some kind of control over his or her life. Regulating their eating habits in such a way makes them feel powerful, and less under others’ command (Dobie).
The eating disorder anorexia nervosa affects about one in every one hundred girls between the ages of ten and twenty. It is a disorder of self-starvation, diagnosed by having a body weight that is twenty percent below the estimated normal weight (Applegate). Many dancers are affected by anorexia because of high expectations set by company directors. Dancers think not eating will make them be able to jump higher, spin faster, and stay on their toes for longer periods of time (Despres). Unfortunately, this is a large misconception, as starvation creates many negative effects on dancing abilities, rather than positive.
The other most prevalent eating disorder among dancers is bulimia. Bulimia is characterized as the process of binge eating, followed by purging in the form of vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise, or the use of diuretics. Approximately fifteen to sixty-two percent of female athletes suffer from bulimia. This disease is more difficult to diagnose because it is easier to disguise. Many dancers eat normal amounts of food in front of other so