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

Last week 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.

Isn’t It Better To Be Damned If You Do Try

Chad Bauman, Executive Director at Milwaukee Rep made a post on LinkedIn today where he acknowledged that making a change in a business model can threaten the existence of an organization, but that changing times and expectations often leave you no choice.  While he is talking about the current challenges performing arts organizations face, he cites a series of decisions Milwaukee Rep faced in its early years that nearly saw the end of the theater.

Milwaukee Rep had a similar crisis nearly a decade after its founding. In its earliest years, it built a large audience based on the star system bringing big stars to Milwaukee to perform. In 1961, the star system was abruptly ended and a resident acting company was founded. In less than a year, the theater lost 60,000 patrons, or two-thirds of its audience. It took seven years for the theater to rebuild its audience and it nearly went bankrupt on multiple occasions. The decision was a correct one as the theater would eventually grow to more than 150,000 patrons, but it almost collapsed along the way.

The star system was common practice in theater in the late 19th century that waned rather than something Milwaukee Rep specifically was doing and decided to end. While the star system is most frequently associated with film studios, they adopted it from theater which apparently borrowed the concept from P.T. Barnum.

I have seen stories similar to this in which arts organizations made decisions 10-15 years ago to make changes in their business models or change their programming mix to include segments of their community which were underrepresented in their audience and casting. They too came to the brink of closing.

There is obviously a bit of survivorship bias to some of these cases. Those that didn’t succeed in the shift weren’t around to talk about it later. With all the closures, downgrading, layoffs, etc that arts organizations are undergoing, we are hearing of many more stories of arts organizations who are having difficulty continuing their existence than we did 10-15 years ago. Some of them were in the middle of trying to effect change, others were trying to stick with what worked in the past so there is no clear indication about which approach may be better in these times.

Some that haven’t closed completely may reorganize and continue on as Milwaukee Rep did. I am sure no one wants to be faced with the prospect of it taking seven years and several brushes with bankruptcy to make a successful transition.   From one perspective though, it might be better to fail while trying to do better for your community rather than attempting to preserve the status quo for as long as possible.

Public Comment Praise Takeover Helps Renew Denver Guaranteed Basic Income Program

Long time readers will be aware that I have been keeping an eye on guaranteed basic income programs in different communities, especially those that are designed to benefit artists.

Recently Denver agreed to renew their program for a second year to benefit unhoused groups. The pilot program had provided funding in different increments to people as part of an attempt to study what approaches were most effective.  I am unclear about whether they have settled on a standard amount to distribute as they move into the second year.

What caught my eye in a Vice article on the topic was the discussion of how the different advocacy groups went about lobbying for the continuation of the program, reversing the new mayor’s rejection of a proposal to renew the program.  Other groups looking to advocate for basic income programs, whether specifically for artists or not, may be able to learn from the Denver groups’ approach.

A coalition of about 20 groups advocated for the funding, including SEIU Local 105, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Center for People With Disabilities. Advocates attended weekly city council meetings for 12 weeks wearing the color green (for money) and using the public comment period to praise the program.

“The Denver Guaranteed Income Coalition worked together to rally outside the Colorado state capitol, execute a 40-person public comment takeover at a city council meeting, send hundreds of emails to newly elected Mayor Johnston and city council members, and phone bank which resulted in over 2000 calls to Denver residents and subsequently dozens of calls to city council members,”

Apparently Work Still Required At Newfields Museum

Well apparently my optimism about the direction of the Indianapolis Museum at Newfields was a little premature. In late September I wrote about how the museum had just hired. Belinda Tate, a new director who it was hoped would help the museum move past the controversy surround a job posting in 2021 which said they were ““…seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.’”

Tate was joining CEO/President Colette Pierce Burnette, who had replaced previous CEO who resigned due to the controversy. Unfortunately, as of about 10 days ago,  Burnette resigned after about 15 months in her position and was joined by three board members.

While neither Burnette or the museum discussed the specifics of her departure, Adrienne Sims, the latest board member to resign wrote in her resignation that:

“As a seasoned HR executive, I believe in the importance of strong HR practices, collaborative decision-making and adherence to proper governance procedures for the well-being of the organization. Recent leadership decisions were not made in an inclusive and consultative manner, which has been disheartening,” she said.

“I hope that in the future, decisions of this nature will be approached with integrity and demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect for all.”


Julie Goodman, president and CEO of Indy Arts Council, weighed in on Burnette’s departure in a Facebook post following the museum’s announcement demanding transparency and calling out what she said was “callous and cold communication fueling a cycle of trauma and harm.”

So it appears that there was at least some awareness that elements of the museum’s internal culture still required attention in order for the organization to move forward.

A number of Indianapolis based Black organizations issued a statement calling for clarity about Burnette’s departure and “..the Indiana Black Expo and Indianapolis Urban League announced they have brought their partnerships with Newfields “to a complete halt” due to the sudden departure of the museum’s CEO.”