Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Evening with Anne Polajenjo: "When Thin is too Thin"

A lot of ink has flowed on the subject of the ideal weight and diet for a female dancer. Yes, dancers must look svelte on stage. No, they should not look like walking skeletons. Unfortunately too many young women take the concept of "thin" too far until, completely losing perspective, they see themselves as "fat" when in reality they are only steps away from complete physical breakdown.

The issue really came to the forefront a few years ago when a young dancer died of the consequences of anorexia. The parents sued the school, claiming they were in part responsible for the girl's mindset. Horrified, most teachers around the country backed off the weight issue entirely.

Dancers need to realize that there is no magic weight. Sure they should know their weight but use this number only as a guide. Everyone has a maximum and a minimum at which they look good. Exceeding the maximum will have aesthetic consequences but not endanger health. Going below the minimum on the other hand can start a chain reaction of physical conditions from which it can take years to recover.

Female dancers are particularly irresponsible when it comes to their eating habits. No surprise that they are therefore lacking in long - term stamina and energy. They forget that they are athletes and must feed their muscles appropriately. A diet of 2,000 (good) calories per day is recommended for the amount of physical effort they are required to perform. Sadly, many exist on as few as 500 calories. The result of this folly becomes evident in the short term (injuries, disorders of the nervous system, emotional distress) and in the long term through a variety of illnesses and "female" problems. But of course, no dancer wants to hear about the long-term. Only tomorrow counts.

Basically, it comes down to an issue of common sense. Ballet is the most unforgiving of all the dance forms. It requires a certain body structure and appearance. Weight actually has little to do with it as some thin looking dancers have very dense bones and weigh more than they appear to while others are the opposite. That's why the scales are only a guide. Once a dancer has established that she looks good between say 110 and 115 lbs., that's all she needs to know. She should not compare her weight to her colleague's. And she should have the inner strength to know what's good for her and not be swayed by outside comments!

If being chronically overweight has ended many a career so has being underweight. The fact to remember here is that ballet requires a special type of person, both physically and artistically. Very very few fit the mold. Hence, if you are not the body type for any reason, so be it. But to starve yourself to the point where no one wants to watch you dance anymore is simply insane. If weight is a constant issue and you must diet severely the rest of your career to the point where you are compromising your health, better call it quits now. Nothing is worth that kind of sacrifice.

I am reminded of a revealing story some years ago. I was then Ballet Mistress in an American professional ballet company when one of our dancers needed emergency surgery. A call went out for blood donors and all company dancers rushed to the hospital. As per form, the blood is tested first. Not one company dancer out of 36 qualified as a blood donor because their blood was not "good enough" - meaning it did not contain sufficient healthy cells to qualify for transfusion!

In conclusion, dancers who starve themselves for the sake of a short career are making a serious mistake. Not only do they compromise their long-term health but also their short-term potential. Who, after all wants, to look at a bag of bones?

                     -----  Anne Polajenko


Question of the week results!

      Thank you for your responses, the top two artists I received the most were Cee Lo Green and Lady Gaga, both of which I agree with. Good choices. I had some positive feedback from fellow Foo Fighters and The Strokes fans, which is great as well :)

          Here is the Question for this week:

    How thin is too thin? What are your views?
                  Post a comment here, on our facebook, twitter or simply shoot me an email with your response.

    Hope you're all having a great week, and a huge thank you for everyone that contributed to our Japan encouragement letter, you're all a blessing.

                            Love from your humble blogger,

No comments:

Post a Comment