Dancer Health
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It can happen so quickly. One moment a promising student is strong and pushing their way forward to success, and then suddenly they begin to evaporate before your eyes. Research has consistently shown that dancers are at least three times as likely to experience an eating disorder compared to the general population. So even if you are doing everything "right," you may still find yourself advocating for the wellness of a student battling disordered eating. By setting a proactive groundwork of support and confronting the issue head-on in the studio, you may have the power to change the movement of disordered eating in dance.

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Deborah Wingert emphasizes a mission of health and wellness at Manhattan Youth Ballet. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of Manhattan Youth Ballet

"My first eating disorder, I was about 14," says Deborah Wingert, head faculty at Manhattan Youth Ballet. "I remember carefully limiting everything I ate. I'd eat three quarters of the piece of toast and not the last quarter." Then she'd skip lunch, but eat dinner normally. Her parents never suspected she had a problem. "It was very secretive, and I felt in control," she says. "I couldn't change the shape of my legs, but I could lose weight."

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As a dance teacher, you've almost certainly had to talk to a student about her or his weight, at one point or another. (You may have even had memorable conversations or situations in your own dance training—or maybe it's something that affected you as a teacher.) It's a conversation that requires sensitivity, so that your students develop healthy relationships with food. Here are four of our best tips on spotting an eating disorder in a student, how to talk to a student with a suspected ED and what you can do as their teacher.

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Deborah Wingert teaches at Manhattan Youth Ballet. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of Manhattan Youth Ballet

In our January 2017 health column registered dietitian Emily Harrison and Manhattan Youth Ballet head faculty Deborah Wingert offer seven tips for helping students build positive relationships to food. One step you can take is to talk privately with students about any body concerns.

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For students and performers of all ages, body image and eating disorders can be serious issues. The dance company MusEffect confronts these topics in a new video.

In “Look At Me—Celebrating the Authentic You,” dancers (including familiar face Mollee Gray from “SYTYCD” Season 6) perform in partners behind MusEffect’s resident spoken-word poet Azure Antoinette and two other speakers presenting text by Antoinette. They talk about what our bodies are for, how they serve us and how unrealistic standards turn young people into obsessed dieters whose eyes are constantly glued to the mirror, making sure they look OK. Then, the dancers recite some powerful statistics about children and teens affected by anorexia and bulimia. “Look at me,” Antoinette says, “You are beautiful.”

You may recognize MusEffect and choreographer Jessica Starr’s work from their cyberbullying video, which went viral last fall, and also features Antoinette’s poetry. The company’s mission is to raise awareness of social issues through performance.


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