As an extremely challenging and physically demanding pastime, it makes sense that a career in dance has lots of pressures that go along with it. This should come as no surprise seeing that every professional sport requires hard work and at least some sacrifice. It is questionable, however, if there is maybe too much pressure put on dancers in this day and age. Many people do not realize what it takes for a person to make it as a dancer, the dedication and drive the person must have. The fact of the matter is, the outcome of a dancerâ€™s career may not outweigh the physical and emotional damages left over from the long journey to the top.
In the eighteenth century, the most prominent dancer of the time, Marie Camargo, set the standard for the typical dancerâ€™s physique. The body characteristics of no hips, breasts, or stomach became the customary body shape for dancers at that time, and in the future (Gim). George Balanchine, one of the most prominent dance choreographers in dance history is responsible for the basic look of a
thin ballet dancer. His goal within a dance company was for all of the females to look as identical as possible. He wanted dancers who were tall and streamlined with beautifully arched feet, long, elegant legs and a graceful extension (Solway 57). He believed that the thinner the dancer, the better one could see their bodies and movements.
Due to the views of George Balanchine, it soon became the norm for a dancer to be a certain height and weight. Soon that is what company producers, directors, choreographers, and the public expected. Even today, â€œan ideal has been set in place in the dance community which reflects the general publicâ€™s desire to see thin women on stageâ€ (10-6). The main goal of a dance company is to have viewers, and for that to happen the public must be visually pleased. Cultural ideas of feminine beauty cause young women to feel a strong desire to be thinner than their bodies naturally tend to be (10-1). This idea is even more widespread in the dance world; literally, people who are not thin do not get jobs.
Certain sports create environments that harbor unhealthy eating habits, and dance is one of the most common (Despres). These eating habits can eventually escalate into an eating disorder if not treated correctly. Every eating disorder begins with a diet (Applegate). Typically, eating disorders start with skipping meals, twenty-four hour fasts, and calorie restriction. â€œThe combination of a demand for a thin shape with endurance training increases the need for dieting, which puts the dancer at risk for developing an eating disorderâ€ (Thompson 62). Fitness has come to mean complete repression of body and appetite, and many athletes are viewing eating disorders as a means to an end; to be the best no matter what (Despres). In fact, female athletes are ten times as likely to develop eating disorders than women in the general population (Hood).
The personality archetype of a dancer with an eating disorder is a perfectionist. The person is a compulsive high-achiever, and is always striving to be better at any cost. He/she will be eager to please, a lot of times shy, someone who needs constant reassurance. This is because many dancers with eating disorders question their self worth, and feel they have little value (Thompson 76). They feel that there is only so much they can do to make a spot for themselves in the world, to have any significance. Studies show that many people who are affected with an eating disorder come from strict, overbearing parents with very high expectations, causing the constant need to be superior. A dancer maintaining an eating disorder may be doing so to assert some kind of control over his or her life. Regulating their eating habits in such a way makes them feel powerful, and less under othersâ€™ command (Dobie).
The eating disorder anorexia nervosa affects about one in every one hundred girls between the ages of ten and twenty. It is a disorder of self-starvation, diagnosed by having a body weight that is twenty percent below the estimated normal weight (Applegate). Many dancers are affected by anorexia because of high expectations set by company directors. Dancers think not eating will make them be able to jump higher, spin faster, and stay on their toes for longer periods of time (Despres). Unfortunately, this is a large misconception, as starvation creates many negative effects on dancing abilities, rather than positive.
The other most prevalent eating disorder among dancers is bulimia. Bulimia is characterized as the process of binge eating, followed by purging in the form of vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise, or the use of diuretics. Approximately fifteen to sixty-two percent of female athletes suffer from bulimia. This disease is more difficult to diagnose because it is easier to disguise. Many dancers eat normal amounts of food in front of other so as to appear healthy, then purge privately. Bulimia is most often found among athletes in sports in which a lean physique is critical to performance, and is more common than anorexia in the dance community().
The numbers of males who are affected by eating disorders have been steadily increasing over the past years. In dance, the men have to be tall, lean and muscular. The typical height is about six feet; this in order to partner a ballerina, who gains about three inches in her pointe shoes (Dobie). As it is usually the idea that only the women in dance are almost expected to have unhealthy eating habits, many men are more reluctant to admit they have a problem (Solway 66, 57).
Effects on men with eating disorders are similar to those of women, but in addition men have a drop in their testosterone levels. After a certain period of time of unhealthy eating habits, the testosterone level in a male drops ten to twenty percent below normal (Dobie). Anorexia causes dehydration, malnutrition, amenorrhea, and hypotension. Bulimia has similar effects on the body, as well as gum disease and gastrointestinal problems. Many dancersâ€™ bodies end up being in worse shape after going through the trials of an eating disorder (Despres). Rather than lose only body fat, which is typically the goal, most anorexic dancers lose muscle strength, endurance, speed, and coordination (Thompson 15 & 76). These result in impaired performance, decreased muscle mass and strength, and can lead to injury. When the body stops getting food, it goes into what is called â€œstarvation modeâ€ and loses only small amounts of weight at a time. In turn, the metabolism slows down and beginning to eat regularly again can result in a larger weight gain than before.
Another large problem that dancers must face is the constant exhaustion. During a season of performance, a dancer may only get one day off per week. Dancers are always working, during the off season they must take regular classes in order to improve technique, and to warm up the body during performance times. Physical demands outweigh any others in dance, and can cause exhaustion on both the body and the mind. The demands are so serious that many dancers do not last professionally more than ten years or so. This is not to say that they do not continue on to teach or start their own company, only that it quickly becomes too much for the body to handle when dancing eight to ten hours a day, six days out of the week (Neale 21, 63, 113, 134).
Dance companies pressure dancers to conform to the styles and regulations of their workplace. Many dancers start classes at a very young age and learn discipline early. In many places, children are molded into dancers and learn that if they want to be professionals, they must accept dance as their life (10). Professional dancing requires complete dedication, which takes away from a lot of the everyday dancerâ€™s social life. It is difficult for a dancer to have a meaningful relationship with people who are not also involved in the dance world. Non-dancers cannot always deal with the long hours and strict regime that are required from a professional, so a professional dancer usually marries or lives with another dancer with a mutual understanding (Thompson 131). These artists typically have another hobby that they use to occupy themselves in their off time. There is not usually time to make friends outside of people in the company, except for at a second, necessary job.
A second means of financial support is not unheard of for a corps dancer. It is known that dancers cannot usually support themselves on their dance career alone, as many do not make it to a principle spot in the company (Neale 135).Therefore, many take part in an extracurricular hobby that they use to alleviate stress as well as to meet their financial needs.
Competitiveness causes a lot of stress within a dance company. Friends are few because everyone is usually at odds with each other. A performer must learn to fend for him/herself in order to keep their place. Dancers can spend years and years in a company, and not make it any further than a background dancer. A lot of times, in choosing people for roles, the decision comes down to the right body type. In all reality, dancers with better physiques are often chosen over others (Solway 113). Unfortunately, being thinnest may make the difference as to who gets a specific role. Other times it might just depend on what the director is looking for in a person, a certain height, dancing style, or hair color. The world of competitiveness can make things very difficult for a struggling dancer.
Another aspect that can cause difficulties for an up-and-coming artist is professional critics. They can either be good or bad for a dancer. Critics can serve as an eye opener for the dance company as well as the public, and good reviews can always do wonders for a personâ€™s career and self-esteem. Although a dancer may not always be reviewed in the kindest light, critics are necessary for a person, they help build on what they already know, or can help to do so. A mistake that some critics make however, is trying to correct a dancer. Some tend to try to make adjustments to a dance work to fit their own tastes, instead of what the choreographer or dancer was trying to convey. Not being thoroughly accepted can be a large blow to a dancerâ€™s confidence. If a dancer does not learn that they cannot take every dissatisfied comment to heart, they may lead a very unhappy career. In this day and age, â€œA dancer is not only faced with the opinions of official critics, but also those of colleagues, ballet masters, directors, choreographers, and friendsâ€ (Neale 139).
It is easy to realize that a dancer must have a reasonably high tolerance for pain. The constant pounding of feet and limbs causes dancers to frequently develop tendonitis and stress fractures, and they are strongly discouraged from participating in other athletic pastimes in order to help prevent such things (10). Injuries such as these are a result of overwork, or just too much work over too long a span of time. The more experienced a dancer is though, the less likely they are to acquire an injury. It is for this reason that so many dancers seek out â€œtreatments such as orthopedics, podiatry, chiropractic consultation, osteopathy, massage, shiatsu, and acupunctureâ€ (Thompson 145). A longer, more lasting effect of overwork on dancers is arthritis, most common in the feet, hips, and knees (10).
Each and every one of these reasons could be an excellent example to use to try to discourage a dancer from continuing his/her career professionally. After all, what parent wants to see their child in pain, either physical or emotional? Lack of money, eating disorders, injury, lack of self-worth; all of these are effects that can come of trying to make it professionally. It really makes one wonder how a person could be that dedicated to something, for which they would be willing to give up their social life, and take a chance of never even being recognized for what they love to do. It is evident though, looking at all of the professional companies around the world, that enough people are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do what they love to do.
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