Ballet Dancers Sue After Pressure Leads To Eating Disorders And Health Impact

Last week Artsjournal.com linked to an article that may represent a significant continuation in the discussion about body weight expectations in ballet and dance in general.  Two Richmond Ballet dancers are suing the company for exerting so much pressure regarding their body weight that harmed their health and lead to them developing eating disorders.

According to the Axios article:

One of the dancers attended Richmond Ballet’s school from ages 6 to 15, per court filings. A second was a member of the ballet’s trainee program for adult dancers pursuing a professional career.

The lawsuits allege the ballet’s artistic staff set an “optimum Body Mass Index” for each trainee upon entering the program and that staff reserves the right to terminate trainees if they are unable to maintain that BMI.

[…]

Also, staff warned dancers who gained weight after being cast in roles that they would be replaced if they didn’t lose weight, and students as young as 10 who didn’t meet the ballet’s “skinny body” standard received what were commonly referred to as “fat letters,” the lawsuits allege.

In the ballet’s response, they noted that actors are often asked to lose weight for roles. While it may be true that not all actors are expected to have a certain body type and weight from the moment they walk in the door to start their training, there is some truth to weight, height and other elements of physical appearance being significant criteria by which actors, especially women, are judged and factor into career success.

Unfortunately, the Ballet made some rather cavalier statements abrogating responsibility for the emotional health of their students and trainees.

The ballet has denied all of the above allegations and has argued that, even if they were true, the conduct described wouldn’t violate state law.

During a hearing earlier this month, the ballet’s lawyer, Lindsey Lewis, argued that the ballet setting weight requirements for a role is “no different than an actor being asked to undergo a body transformation.”

The ballet argues it had no legal duty to provide for the dancers’ emotional wellbeing and happiness, noting the trainee was an adult and the minor student was under the care of her parents.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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