On Monday 30 April over 100 delegates from across the dance, education and health sector attended Dance UK's conference titled Nutrition and Disordered Eating in Dance: Artistry, athleticism and the role of the multidisciplinary support team. The event was held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.
Kenneth Tharp, Chief Executive of The Place and former dancer chaired the conference. He began the day by encouraging the industry to increase transparency and education about nutrition and disordered eating and, in the words of the choreographer Lloyd Newson, to ‘talk about it’.
Key points that were raised during the conference were:
1. Dispelling the myths around what the dance industry wants in terms of body shapes;
Contrary to popular dancers’ beliefs the dance company directors present at the conference all stated that they choose their dancers based on talent and ability to do the job. Fitness was prioritised over thinness.
· David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, said he would be hugely reluctant to employ someone who he knew had an eating disorder. He pointed out that although dancers often think skinny dancers are given preference for roles, this was absolutely not the case; he chooses his dancers for ability and appropriateness for the role. Strength, reliability, good team playing skills and musicality were all qualities which came before body shape.
· Monica Mason, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet pointed out the array of different shapes in the company and implored that they did not want a company of clones but rather, a diverse bunch.
· Richard Alston, Artistic Director of Richard Alston Dance Company said he preferred to err on the side of a robust dancer over a skinny one as they were more grounded in their movement.
· David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet said that for his works which are story ballets, he needed ‘real, human shapes’.
2. The multidisciplinary support team was promoted as the best infrastructure from which to tackle problems among students suffering with eating disorders. Those organisations lucky enough to have a comprehensive team in place spoke of the benefits of a joined-up approach with all staff on board and it was agreed that the implementation of a policy was the best way to ensure a uniformity of approach to the problems faced in schools.
Suggestions for those in smaller institutions included:
· Identifying other members of staff as potential contacts to whom students could turn.
· Familiarising staff and students with the support bodies such as BEAT and LUCRED who are experts in dealing with sufferers of eating disorders.
· Building a team of personnel for staff to share and discuss problems facing individual students and increasing the number of people available to offer advice to these young people.
The environments in which dancers are was emphatically demonstrated to be responsible for the wellbeing of those dancers and was also closely linked to the propensity of eating disorders.
Increased incidence of eating disorders and other mental illnesses were linked to negative environments which encouraged egocentric approaches and promoted competition and extrinsic motivational methods.
The opposite was found to be true with environments promoting autonomy, discursive input, positivity and intrinsic motivation. In these positive environments, the incidence of eating disorders and other mental illnesses was dramatically reduced.
Dance UK will be issuing a summary of information from the conference will be available in due course.
Links to reports already published on the Dance UK Nutrition conference: