by Sheryl A. Isaacs, MS
Registered MFT Intern,IMF71453
Supervised by Julie Carboni, LMFT, MFC42890
at A Place of Refuge Counseling Center
Scotts Valley, CA
Child Therapist and Family Therapist
*Marriage / Couples Counseling
However, eating disorders (EDs) can arise when a child is focused on dancing. Anorexia, Bulimia and disordered eating occur at a higher frequency in those children that seek to become professional dancers. Some dancers that develop eating disorders have other trauma outside of dance that triggers the eating disorder. Some dancers experience trauma in the dance studio which leads to the eating disorder. That is why it is imperative to have a mentally healthy dance studio that supports the whole child.
Dancers must work hard to have a healthy, lean, muscular body. This is important for a dancer to keep up with the demands that they are placing on their body daily. In a studio that is preparing a dancer for a career they must dance multiple times a week and many times they carry an intensive dance schedule. This is necessary for the child to improve in ability, technique and stamina. In studios that are unhealthy children are pushed beyond the bounds of their physical capability. This can cause serious injury to the child. It is important that the children be taught to listen to their body and stop when pain is encountered. If a child is seeking a career in dance they must remember that dancing at the local studio is not their career. Many that are pushed to danced when experiencing pain/injury end their careers before they start.
It is this desire for "good lines" that cause many to begin down the path of EDs. In an unhealthy studio comments are made to the child about their appearance. These comments over time wear on a child and damage their self-esteem. The atmosphere of the studio is that the thinner you are the better lines you have. Children may notice that dancers are cast depending on body-type and not necessarily talent. The studio can have an atmosphere of competition that leads to "mean girl" behavior that is allowed to continue. Children are pitted against each other and compared to one another that increases the frequency of jealousy and mean girl behavior.
What makes a dance studio mentally healthy?
The studio needs to be supportive of the dancers, inside and outside of dance. They look to have their dancers be well rounded individuals. Although the standards are high, they will not push the dancers beyond their physical limits. Teachers look out for the child's well-being, even if it may affect the performance. The teachers have an understanding of child development, whether from taking classes, having children of their own or teaching for many years. The studio will have a zero tolerance for bullying in words or actions. They are quick to put an end to "mean girl" behavior in the studio. The atmosphere is welcoming and accepting to all dancers, regardless of body type. Nutrition is taught in a balanced way explaining that the dancer is actually in need of more calories when dancing. They are taught that fruits, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates are important in their diet. Children are not taught to compete with other dancers. They are taught to compete with themselves working hard to improve their ability day to day.
- High rate of injury in the dancers
- High drop out rate of children and families
- Classes are not allowed to be observed, their is an air of secrecy about the classes
- Children are told derogatory comments about their body
- You notice a change in your child when they get into the higher levels, such as they become moodier, more secretive, begin to obsess about their body type
- Eating disorders are not taken seriously by the staff when parents bring up concerns
- Children become overly anxious about missing class or disappointing their teacher
- High amount of body type favoritism occurs regardless of ability
- "Mean girl" behavior is tolerated, not addressed or encouraged by the staff