The English National Ballet School has been accused of putting pressure on its students to lose weight in a controversial message on Facebook.
A call for students, who can be as young as 16, to “work off” Christmas calories appeared on the school’s Facebook page as they returned to train at its base in Chelsea after the break.
It comes despite widespread industry concern about the issue of eating disorders among dancers.
The message read: “Fabulous to have students and staff back in school after the Xmas break. Time to work off all that Xmas food.”
It provoked angry reaction from former dancers including Kathleen Rea, author of The Healing Dance, a book documenting her near-fatal struggle with bulimia.
She said, when she was performing, it was “exactly comments like this that led me to hate my body”.
The former member of the National Ballet of Canada said she was surprised by “how public they made their statement” — though not at the comment. She said: “Scrutiny of weight and expectations for dancers to be unnaturally thin are prevalent in the ballet world. I think the only logical conclusion a student would have reading the post is that they need to lose weight.
“Whether it was intentional or not, it is shocking that the ENBS would pressure their students to lose weight in such a public way.”
One recent graduate from the school, who wished to remain anonymous, said the remark was “absolutely unacceptable”. Ballet students’ worries about weight could have “horrifying consequences for the young dancers’ future lives,” he said.
“As long as one of UK’s most respected schools behaves in this way there is a long way to go,” he added. But Delia Barker, co-director of the school, said the post had been removed from the Internet — although it had already been “liked” by more than 80 followers.
She said: “Our intention was certainly not to imply that the students’ weight should be a concern after the Christmas break, but can see how the comment could be interpreted in a different context. We remain committed to our... students’ health and wellbeing.”
The school, which has been consistently rated outstanding by Ofsted, was founded in 1988 by the English National Ballet. The two bodies are separate entities but maintain strong links.
The pressures on dancers were documented in the film Black Swan, although many said they did not recognise the dark picture it painted. But former dancer Benedicte Damslora, now 21, who trained in other ballet schools and gave up her career after injury, said if she had been dancing now, the Facebook message would have affected her.
She said: “Every little comment that you get... from anywhere stays in your head and makes you crazy in the end.”