Body fascism 3: critic blames ballet anorexia on low pay for dancers

Body fascism 3: critic blames ballet anorexia on low pay for dancers


norman lebrecht

February 07, 2012

I had to rub my eyes twice on reading it, but the Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell, dismissing the La Scala starvation scandal as old news, appears to link the unnatural thinness of dancers to their very meagre wages.

Anorexia? That’s a social problem, she says, to be found in all walks of life. But low pay: that’s a ballet issue.

I was going to include her article in the popular Criticising the Critics series, but it’s so off the scale that it would risk defaming other well-meant efforts.

Read it for yourselves.



  • Janet Miller says:

    I think you need to read her article more carefully. It is well considered and she doesn’t remotely make or even imply the dot-linking you’ve attributed to her.

  • It was Villanova that said that one in five dancers are anorexic. Garritana is the one that was fired for bringing up the same issue at La Scala, and Judith Mackrell says that Garritana is the one that said what Villanova said. Then, after making a conglomerate out of Garritana (when this is clearly stated as two different people on the same website from the same newspaper) she says that “other dancers have been quick to condemn her accusations.” Oh, is she counting now? And Villanova also said “Dancers are afraid to speak out, and what happened to Garritano shows why.” Because dancers are given a pitiful salary, doesn’t magically erase that there are problems with anorexia which aren’t acknowledged or dealt with.

  • David Watkin says:

    Norman, Janet is right. The piece does not make the link you claim. It discusses a very serious and often tragic issue, then goes on to make a very good point about dancers’ pay. Your book Maestro Myth, I remember, got people thinking about the incredible gap between rich and poor in the world of Classical music – differentials that would make Fred Goodwin blush sometimes. Orchestral musicians may look enviously at the wages of tube drivers, but most dancers – so hard working and dedicated – earn a pitiful amount in their short career.

    • I disagree, quite strongly. As you rightly say, David, I have argued long and hard over low wages for artists. But the linkage here is absurd. First she says anorexia is a minor issue for dance. Then she concludes: ‘There are all kinds of abuse. Some are just less newsworthy than others….’ That’s madly skewed.

      • Janey says:

        While I don’t see the connection you’re seeing regarding anorexia and pay, I do agree that she does seem to minimize the accusation, which bothered me.

        I actually think the point about pay is valid, however. It just shouldn’t be more important than physical health issues. And I’m not sure she is suggesting it is – just that both issues exist.

      • Gerhard says:

        I’m sorry to say, but that “madly skewed” linkage seems to me to be entirely yours. I read this article as a perfectly clear and well conceived piece.

  • Janey says:

    It doesn’t appear to me that she is making any link.

    She says there are “all kinds of abuse.” One is the abuse that leads to anorexia. Another is abusing dancers by exploiting them with meager wages. Two separate and unlinked issues, but both abusive.

  • Judith Mackrell says “When you do, occasionally, see a dancer who is half-starved, you can also see it in the quality of their dancing.” And she says that people are more aware of Anorexia now. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or even that it has lessened; and I truly doubt that it’s as easily identified as “that dancer looks half starved and her dancing is terrible.” And where’s the line drawn between extremely unhealthy diet and anorexia? When a company fires a dancer for simply stating what she has seen and what’s a concern for her, this says a lot about the company’s attempt to maintain an image. How many dancers are treated with the same intimidation and told that they have to lose weight or they’re not with the program? How does this effect their diet, their emotional health and their physical health? She says that there are all kinds of abuse, but Judith’s way of sort of half acknowledging but largely muting Garritana’s claims doesn’t at all help support the other problem of low salary, when she brings this up, something which also greatly needs attention. Here’s the article from the same newspaper that clearly states that both Garritana and Villanova have the same concern, although Judith put their comments together as if they were all said by Garritana.