UK Ballet Schools Accused of Body-Shaming and Bullying by Former Students

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Allegations of a discouraging and damaging culture riddled with body-shaming and bullying have emerged from former dancers at two of the UK’s most esteemed ballet institutions: The Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School. These former students attended between 2004 and 2022. Despite presenting these accounts, both schools refute the given experiences.

The UK’s most gifted children audition yearly for these formidable vocational ballet institutions, envisioning illustrious futures in performing arts, particularly ballet. A selected few are taken under their wings, some as young as 11, residing and training within these fee-charging facilities to fulfil their ardour.

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The Royal Ballet School in London is globally renowned and birthed notable dancers encompassing Dame Margot Fonteyn and Dame Darcey Bussell, with King Charles as its president. In Birmingham, the distinguished Elmhurst Ballet School, patronized by Queen Camilla, celebrated its centennial and was visited by the Queen herself.

Regardless of their professional aspirations, ballet dancers are expected to maintain slim and athletic figures, necessitating rigorous training akin to that of professional athletes. However, over time, this industry has garnered a reputation for promoting eating disorders and utilizing extremely thin dancers in leading roles.

A series of claims have been made over the past two decades by former students regarding their mistreatment including constant body shaming by teachers, coded language for weight loss, applause from teachers for weight loss, which can further escalate eating disorders, and instances of bullying by teachers.

One formerly employed ballerina has taken the step of initiating legal proceedings against the Royal Ballet School for her alleged treatment. In response to these accounts, both ballet schools have attested to their efforts to alter this culture and prioritise the health and well-being of their students.

Alumnus Grace Owen, 22, described her experience at Elmhurst as a very “toxic” environment. Ellen Elphick, another formar dancer, shared her degrading experience at the Royal Ballet School, revealing it took a significant toll on her personal body image. Ellen, now suffering long-term issues, has decided to take legal action against the school.

Despite the turmoil faced by the students, the Royal Ballet School reiterated that their priorities remain the happiness and welfare of their students. They’ve asserted that they promptly address arising issues through their well-established processes and constantly strive for excellence with integrity and passion.

Another such instance came from Harriet Royle who started at Elmhurst when she was 13. What started as a coded comment over her aerobic fitness spiraled into a severe eating disorder leading to her hospitalization. Her weight loss was regularly encouraged by the school, furthering her condition. Eventually, her mother had to step in, and Harriet left the school permanently after her hospital stay. Elmhurst responded stating they promote physical and mental health and identify and act upon issues as they arise. However, specific information couldn’t be disclosed due to confidentiality.