Former Students Allege 'Toxic' Culture at Top Ballet Schools

A BBC Panorama and File on 4 investigation have found allegations of a culture of body-shaming and bullying

By: Sep. 14, 2023
Former Students Allege 'Toxic' Culture at Top Ballet Schools

Two of the UK's most prestigious ballet schools have been accused of 'toxic' culture of body-shaming and bullying, according to the BBC.

The BBC has spoken to more than 50 ex-students of the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School who attended between 2004 and 2022. 

Many described developing eating disorders, while some said they had been left with mental health problems. Both schools dispute the accounts given to the BBC.

King Charles is the president of The Royal Ballet School in London. It was the school attended by Dame Margot Fonteyn and Dame Darcey Bussell. Elmhurst Ballet School's patron is Queen Camilla, who visited the school earlier this year as it commemorated its 100th anniversary.

Former dancers who attended the schools over the past two decades have made a series of claims about their treatment including body shaming, being congratulated on losing weight and bullying from teachers.

During her graduation party at Elmhurst in 2020, dancer Grace Owen says she and other classmates were humiliated by a teacher.

She claims the teacher said: "All you girls, bar one or two people, need to lose weight, otherwise you're not going to get a job." Grace described the environment at Elmhurst as "toxic".

"The ballet world is a brutal place but telling people that you're too fat… I don't think that's preparing you for anything." she said.

Elmhurst says it promotes "good physical and mental health" and acts whenever "issues are identified". It has a "modern teaching approach" placing "highly disciplined training" … within the framework of "strong safeguarding principles".

In a statement, the Royal Ballet School said: "Nothing is more important" than the "happiness and continued wellbeing" of its students and it is "continuously improving and innovating" in order to protect their health and welfare.

It said that when issues arise it has "well-established processes in place to ensure they are addressed swiftly". The school said it "strives to work towards excellence" and does so with "integrity and passion."

BBC Panorama's The Dark Side of Ballet Schools is now on BBC iPlayer. You can also listen to the story on File on 4 on BBC Sounds.

Photo Credit: Garry Knight from London, England, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0


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