the Ballet
the Dancer

Bumps in the Road

There are many "bumps in the road" as a dancer and most of them are health related. Injuries are a big problem for dancers, because if injuries occur to the point where dancing is impossible he or she will get out of shape and be at a higher risk for re-injury once they start dancing again, and unless some injuries are treated right away they may take years to heal. Lots of dancers are permanently on anti-inflammatory drugs, or on them for an extended period of time, (like for three or five years), and some dancers have to have surgery to repair injuries. A ballet dancer's career is as fragile as the dancer's body. Any injury that permanently changes the body in a way so that the dancer can no longer dance, (not necessarily dance-inflicted), will end the dancer's career. Injuries happen enough that many large ballet schools and companies employ a resident physiotherapist for their dancers, and the physiotherapist is always busy. This is one of the reasons that dance teachers insist that the steps be done correctly - because when they are done correctly, dancers will not get injured and will be able to dance until they are forty years old or older, but done incorrectly ballet can be very injurious to the human body and if dancers do not hurt themselves right away, they will pay later in life. So be it neck spasm or torn crucial ligaments in the knee, injuries are something to be avoided if possible as they can end careers.

Another major health problem in dancers, (mostly the female dancers), is eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. This is an ugly and very sensitive subject that many people do not like to talk about, and definitely should not tell jokes about, especially around a ballet. For girls to get anywhere in ballet, especially in North America, they have to have a body that is at least close to the right body type, and right now that is a "Balanchine body." The Balanchine body is very thin, to the point where the girls have almost no figure. On quite a few dancers it is possible to count their ribs. This type of body is quite often described as "like a stick." Because of the pressure to be thin, (thin, not slim, is said on purpose, here), many girls see themselves as "fat" and try to lose weight by not eating, or by binge eating and then vomiting it all up afterwards, (this is known as purging). These two eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia respectively. To cure this problem the girls need to be convinced that they are not fat, which can be a very difficult thing to do. Sometimes girls get so weak that they must be hospitalized and fed intravenously. Sometimes the girls must never have anything to do with dance again to avoid a relapse of the disorder. Multiple hospitalizations can occur, and sometimes, over time, a large percentage of a single class may suffer from severe eating disorders.

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