Why is it that so many young dancers abandon ballet?
Daisy Scott discusses the difficulties young dancers face in the ballet industry and why so many give up on their dreams.
The majority of children and infants are, at some point or another, put into ballet by their parents. Sadly, many do not stay at it for long. The question is, why do many children give up the sport they apparently love?
Since the eighteen hundreds, when ballet originally formed, it has epitomised the image of perfection. Ballet companies project an image in many cases of creating groups of ‘skinny’, petite and uniform dancers. Most young girls, who continue past the first few years grades consider becoming professionals. These young, impressionable minds look up to these top companies in search of inspiration. They may search for an image of what they need to become in order to succeed. They see prima ballerinas rehearsing and performing, who are also incredibly thin and compare themselves to this standard.
What many do not see is that the world of ballet can be rife with drugs, depression and eating disorders. Ballerinas are overworked, underpaid, and held to excessively high standards. The stereotype of the ‘perfect’ ballerina would appear to be extremely thin and can become unhealthy. However, in the ballet world, everyone looks the same and will simply do anything they can to stand out. A disturbing number of dancers suffer from eating disorders, generally attributed to the constant rituals of dance classes. A study has found that 16.4 per cent of female ballet dancers develop some form of eating disorder. Dancers have to wear skin-tight leotards and tights in front of large mirrors, critiquing themselves with every move they make.
Ballerinas are overworked, underpaid, and held to excessively high standards
Injuries are another primary contributor as to why so many people abandon the art form. Many dancers suffer from disordered eating and malnutrition and are, therefore, putting their bodies and careers at risk. A balanced diet is key in an industry which requires constant exercise and discipline. If it is not achieved, injury is sure to ensue. Training can be postponed for long periods of time in the event of injury. This can compromise technique and muscle development, qualities which are very difficult to regain. A good teacher would encourage dancers to slowly re-introduce dance to their schedules so as not to worsen injury. In many cases, however, performers are forced to dance on sprained limbs, newly healed bones and endure many other injuries. Sadly, it is not only students who suffer injuries. In 2013, Wendy Whelan former principal of the New York City Ballet , feared she would never dance again. In an interview with NPR, she stated: “It was terrifying to lose that mode of expression that I was so in touch with, that I love so much”.
Ballet can also have a significant impact on mental health. Competition is an integral part of the world. Students compete with their peers for a limited number of highly competitive places in training schools. If they are not successful in their pursuit of these highly coveted positions, it is likely to diminish confidence and self-esteem. This can lead to a total abandonment of ballet not only as a career, but also a pastime.
In addition, ballet teachers play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy outlook and sentiment in their schools. This ensures that all students feel comfortable and able to pursue ballet for as long as they wish.
I personally have experience in the ballet world and know how easy it can be to become discouraged and want to leave. I started dancing at the age of two and went into pre-vocational training until the age of 14. Most girls at my dance school were a lot shorter and smaller than me, so I spent most of my time comparing myself to them and wishing I could look more like them. This was sentiment was strengthened when I went to auditions for top ballet schools with two smaller girls from my dance school. They both got places and I didn’t, when the only perceivable difference apparent to me was height. My experience is an all too common occurrence, as dancers all over the world share similar encounters. I continued training but injury eventually got to me, and I had to leave the art for a while as to not risk permanent injury to my back.
Most girls at my dance school were a lot shorter and smaller than me, so I spent most of my time comparing myself to them and wishing I could look more like them
It is unfortunate to see many young and talented dancers leaving the ballet world because of how the culture makes them feel. Dancers should always be made to feel comfortable regardless of height, size or gender.
If people do want to return to the sport in later on, mature ballet classes are becoming increasingly sought-after. University dance culture is also enormously popular and there is always a place for anyone, regardless of their level. From people who have never done ballet before, to people who have had years of previous training, there is much less pressure to be ‘perfect’ than in younger years. Thankfully, there is a clear emphasis on having fun, which is an atmosphere that we should foster within the ballet community.