Arab Today, arab today the light fantastic ballet dancers and anorexia
Last Updated : GMT 20:09:10
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

The light fantastic? Ballet dancers and anorexia

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today The light fantastic? Ballet dancers and anorexia

Rome - Arabstoday

In recent weeks, it seems that ballet has barely been out of the news. First there was the young dancer Sergei Polunin's shock exit from the Royal Ballet, a story that rocked the dance world and sent reporters scurrying around in search of motives. Then, over the weekend, came reports that the Italian dancer Mariafrancesca Garritano had been sacked from Milan's prestigious La Scala. This, too, was a colourful tale: Garritano claimed her training at La Scala's ballet school had pushed her and many of her fellow students into severe body dysmorphia and eating disorders; she argued that one in five ballerinas now suffer from anorexia, and suggested many are unable to get pregnant as a result. La Scala dismissed her for "damaging the image" of the company. The Garritano affair seems scandalous, at least on the face of it: a whistleblower sacked for speaking out. But is it that simple? Garritano, now in her mid-30s, is talking about training that took place 15 years ago; while the school accepts there have been past failures, it claims a new culture has been introduced. Other dancers have been quick to condemn her accusations as false; whatever is going on behind the scenes is no doubt more complicated than might at first appear. Perhaps the light this case sheds on the wider issues is more interesting than the story itself. As the brouhaha surrounding Natalie Portman's disturbed and bulimic ballerina in Black Swan demonstrated, the issue of female dancers and their body weight is an issue we can't seem to let go of. But why? Ballerinas used to be plump by modern standards; indeed, the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova was criticised in the late 1890s for being too thin (mocked for her long, slender limbs, she was nicknamed "the broom" by fellow students). And during the last century, as off-stage fashions have changed and the demand for a streamlined athleticism has increased on stage, so dancers have been pressured to become leaner. There is a gruesome little anecdote recorded in the memoir of the American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, Dancing on My Grave, that describes the late choreographer George Balanchine in the early 1970s, running his finger down Kirkland's sternum and saying he "must see the bones"; even then her weight was only 100lb (45kg). Many dancers have had their health and confidence damaged by trying to fulfil an impossible ideal – and we should remember that some of those were men, too. Yet Balanchine was from a different era. Much more is now known about eating disorders, and companies understand they need to do more to educate dancers about nutrition, just as they use advances in sports medicine to take care of their dancers' bodies in other ways. When you do, occasionally, see a dancer who is half-starved, you can also see it in the quality of their dancing. What exactly constitutes abuse, damage, or even abnormal behaviour? Sportsmen and women, musicians and singers have to take care of their bodies in ways that most people would find extreme. The baritone Simon Keenleyside recently had to cancel performances because he had strained his voice – from talking too much to his children over Christmas. Instrumentalists who rehearse for hours a day have to take extreme care to counteract the skeletal and muscular distortions that can occur. Eating disorders remain an issue in the profession – as they do in the whole of western society – and it's incumbent upon teachers and management to remain vigilant, especially when it comes to the youngest and most vulnerable dancers. But we should be wary of assuming that dancers are "anorexic" simply because they are very lean. There are amazingly slender performers who are perfectly fit and who, yes, go on to have babies. There is a scandal I'd like to see featuring in more headlines – one that affects the whole of the dance world, male and female, and yet which remains almost entirely ignored by wider society. A couple of years ago I interviewed Jonathan Goddard, who performs with Rambert Dance Company, one of the UK's leading ensembles. Goddard is exceptionally talented: the first modern, non-classical dancer to be awarded best male dancer in the National Dance awards. If he was a scientist, an engineer, a visual artist (let alone a banker), his talent would be financially acknowledged. Yet he told me that he earns so little he has no idea how he'll be able to buy a house of his own, still less start a family. We have some of the world's best dancers performing in this country, yet we pay most of them pitifully little. There are all kinds of abuse. Some are just less newsworthy than others. Theguardian .  

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