Panorama investigates claims of bullying and body shaming at two of the UK's top ballet schools, The Royal Ballet School in London and Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham.
This is how the BBC announced the Panorama programme The Dark Side of Ballet Schools. The blurb continues:
Only the best young dancers secure places at these elite boarding schools, as they pursue their dreams of a career on the stage. But as they hit puberty and their bodies change, many say they are put under intolerable pressure from teachers to be thin.
The Panorama programme, by reporter Mark Daly, talks to former pupils who say they have developed eating disorders and mental health problems and are now calling for a change to a culture they say is corrosive.
Luke Jennings, former dance critic for The Observer (and writer of the books that formed the basis of the hit television series Killing Eve), trained as a dancer at the Rambert School and knows how dance schools function from the inside.
Jennings has written an essay following on the heels of the BBC programme titled “If I had a knife” – a former Royal Ballet School student in the film says how a teacher told her which body parts she'd cut off “If I had a knife”. Horrifying.
Jennings has often written about ballet schools, especially that of the Royal Ballet. He says, “[I] have been contacted by many former students and parents who have had bad experiences”. He was a contributor to the BBC film.
As the Chorus Line song puts it – says Jennings – ‘Everything is beautiful at the ballet.' But everything is beautiful because nothing is real, and the greatest threat to this unreality is the immoderate, ungovernable female body.
The notion of female biology as hostile and disordering is internalised by young dancers, at a grievous and often life-long cost to their self-esteem.
It is an article well worth reading, coming from one who knows. It is to be hoped that no one today would ever say “If I had a knife”, but controls must be rigorous so that less obvious, yet still detrimental comments do not remain in the psyche of young dancers who continue to become professional dancers, and especially those who do not.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.