Nourishment of Mind and Body for Dancers


Director of Outpatient Services Melissa Orshan Spann, Ph.D. provides a brief introduction to her upcoming presentation, with Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CDN, LD/N, about the physical and mental health of women, particularly those engaged in “appearance sports,” such as dance and ballet.

As I walk into the building at Oliver-Pyatt Centers’ downtown South Miami location, I stop to smile at the four-year-olds in their black leotards and pink tights playfully awaiting their ballet class. The young girls are regularly frolicking to the dance studio close by. Of these young girls – most likely taking ballet for childhood enjoyment – some may pursue careers in dance. Classical ballerinas can begin their training as early as four-years-old. Through this process, many fall prey to struggles with body image and food.

The statistics are startling: the average incidence of eating disorders in women is 1 in 100; while in classical ballet it is 1 in 5. It is speculated that up to 62% of women who participate in “appearance sports” are struggling with an eating disorder.

Additionally, dancers are faced with specific body image challenges. The thin body ideal, while taxing for so many women, is particularly poignant for dancers who are regularly encouraged to keep a “dancer’s physique.” The slender dancer body has been idealized in how we view prima ballerinas. The expectations on dancers to develop and maintain a body that mirrors Marie Camargo, a famous ballerina that redefined a dancer’s physique in 1700s, continues today; dancers are taught they must be small and lean. Ballerinas are regularly subjected to weigh-ins and public announcements of who needs to lose weight.

When a local organization reached out to Oliver-Pyatt Centers to speak on health for dancers, Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye and I were thrilled to participate. Mary and I will be speaking about disordered eating, coping with stressors, and building for health both nutritionally and psychologically.

What will become of the four-year-old ballerinas I see daily? Will I let my own two-year-old daughter engage in ballet? Like so many uncertainties, I cannot predict the future. However, I can take an active role in a proactive approach to health for young girls. My hope is through education, resource development, and building self-esteem, today’s girls can have the armor to cope with the stressors and challenges thrown their way. Whether participating in “appearance sports” or not, we have a responsibility to care, educate, and build strength in girls so they can grow to become healthy women.

If you are interested in a team member from Oliver-Pyatt Centers speaking to your group, organization, or school please contact us at stay