Eating Disorders: How Can Dance Educators and Parents Lower the Risk?

"The mirror is not you, the mirror is you looking at yourself."   - George Balanchine

Dancers compete individually in an aesthetic sport, placing them in the high-risk category for developing an eating disorder.  What can dance educators and parents do to lower the risk for their dancers and children?

Education is the key to helping prevent eating disorders from occurring.  Pretending they do not exist, or trying not to draw attention to them, will not make them disappear.  It is important to teach dancers that diets do not work.  Diets are quick fixes, do not have long-term benefits and wreak havoc with the body’s physiology.  (see the post What's Happening on the Inside?)  It is important for dancers to learn about nutrition, making healthy food choices and what is considered a healthy weight.

            Dancers need to be taught to care for and respect their bodies, but attention also needs to be drawn to dancers’ achievements.  Positive teaching styles that praise enthusiasm, passion and motivation focus attention on the whole dancer rather than simply the shape in the mirror.

            Educators need to be cautious about commenting upon a student’s weight loss.  If a student loses a significant amount of weight, it is important that the educator not be too eager to tell the student how “good” he/she looks.  The teacher should comment instead on how fit the dancer looks and inquire about how the dancer is feeling and his/her energy level.  The teacher can then use the answers to gauge whether or not a problem might be brewing.

            Parents and educators need to have a basic knowledge of eating disorder warning signs and know where to turn for help should the need occur.  Lastly, parents and educators need to remember that they are powerful role models.  It is important that dancers do not hear them expressing dissatisfaction with their own bodies or weight.  Dance educators need to create an environment in the studio that bases self-worth on something other than body size and shape.

            Dancers are athletes that need to be healthy.  It is the responsibility of the adults in their lives to help them understand that dancers should not define themselves by numbers on a scale or the number of calories they consume and that skinny is not a synonym for healthy.


For more information on all aspects of eating disorders please visit National Eating Disorders Association or call the NEDA helpline at:  1-800-931-2237. 

This week is the final week for our contest.  You have until 11:59 PM (EST) on February 29 to be entered to win an autographed copy of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook.  Simply leave a comment below and you'll be entered!  Click here for the official rules.