Between Scylla and Charybdis. Nutritional education versus body culture and the ballet aesthetic: the effects on the lives of female dancers

Tansin Benn, D Walters

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    Abstract

    A key objective of this empirical study was to investigate whether improved education for dancers about nutrition has made a positive change to the body culture of the ballet world and lifestyle of female dancers. The issues were foreshadowed by sociological theories of the body, performance nutrition, and disordered eating. An interpretive, critical research approach was used to maximise the ‘insider perspective’ of the researcher, with over 20 years experience of the training and professional ballet culture. A small-scale qualitative research project aimed to capture ‘thick description’ and authentic accounts of the human realities of ballet culture from the inside. Interview and questionnaire responses were gathered from student-dancers, professional dancers, teachers/managers, and medics at a UK vocational ballet school and a company fed, to some extent, from that training school. Findings were collated with experiential observations in the daily workplace, retrospective participant observation through personal diaries and documentation including some biographies and autobiographies of professional dancers. The �ndings indicated that there is still a gap between the rhetoric of nutritional education and the reality of the ballet world’s aesthetic and practices. ‘Cult-like’, authoritarian behaviour and ‘docile’ submissive attitudes were apparent and contributed to problems with self-esteem, body image and eating disorders. Whilst dancers in training were better informed, pressures related to the body inside the profession dominated attitudes and behaviour. The recommendations include a re-appraisal of the ballet aesthetic and body culture in the management of the profession and more empowerment of dancers to encourage them to question, critique and improve the culture of their art form rather than merely accept its ideals and demands.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)139-154
    Number of pages16
    JournalResearch in Dance Education
    Volume2
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2001

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