Vienna is rocked by claims of ballet abuse

Vienna is rocked by claims of ballet abuse


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2019

The main headline on tonight’s news in Austria is a spate of allegations of violence against children at the State Ballet Academy.

One whistleblower told the weekly magazine, Falter: ‘The children are just a commodity here.’ Incidents of bulimia, anorexia and sexual abuse of boys and girls have been reported.

Dominique Meyer, the State Opera director, has promised a full investigation.

Read more here and here.

UPDATE: GRIEVANCES IN THE BALLET ACADEMY – Statement from the Wiener Staatsoper
In the course of the intensive exchange with the Children and Youth Advocacy about the Ballet Academy of the Wiener Staatsoper several different topics emerged, which we are working on extensively and consistently. Various measures have already been taken, others are in elaboration. The investigations of the past weeks have uncovered very unpleasant incidents, which are completely intolerable and which we regret greatly: some individuals have behaved very badly. The students who were subject to physical or emotional abuse have our deepest sympathy. Any form of abuse, be it physical or emotional, rudeness, lack of respect or abuse of power are unacceptable.
We have promptly and decidedly drawn consequences: two teachers have been released from their duties. Concerning the accusation of sexual assault, we have sent a statement of the facts to the prosecution. We are aiming for a thorough clarification in all areas.
At the same time we need to differentiate: The majority of people working for the Ballet Academy are doing excellent jobs. It would be unfair to them if everyone and everything were thrown in the same pot.
Beside the goal to successfully train the students of the Ballet Academy as classical dancers and give them the best possible preparation for this career, the management of the Ballet Academy and the Wiener Staatsoper have a positive, trusting, respectful and healthy working environment at heart. In order to comprehensively achieve this, there is need for reform in different areas – numerous measures, of which several have already been taken selectively over the past years, will now be intensified, expanded and added to.
Among others, the following measures have already been implemented or initiated:
 Nomination of a neutral external point of contact (Ombudsman) for students, parents and teachers
 Appointment of an internal point of contact (psychologist) in the Ballet Academy to be at the students‘ disposal, have regular consultation hours and actively approach the students by means of short speeches during classes
 Creation of a working group with the school/boarding school holding regular meeting to discuss urgent issues, such as nutrition
 From September 2019: compulsory further education for all teachers in the areas of health education, sports medicine and nutrition
 From September 2019: „Body Awareness“ (mindfulness training for body and mind) as a compulsory subject for all students with a focus on biomechanics, nutrition and embodiment
 Regular preventative screenings with evaluation and therapy arrangements for posture and general physical strain
 Conclusion of an agreement with the AUVA for treatment of all students in the emergency hospital Lorenz-Böhler in case of an accident
 Compilation of a list of doctors as points of contact for a diverse range of health problems
 Drawing attention to the hotline for eating disorders of the City of Vienna
 Special attention to the rehearsal disposition and examination of the capacities of each individual student
 Compulsory internal further training for teachers in the area “psychology of learning” (since February 2019)
 Diverse workshops (party already offered previously):
– Mental training (goal setting, motivation, self-control, stress management)
– Floor-barre (warm-up without the strain of bodyweight)
– Nutrition
– Ballet training with dance medicine in mind
– “Neurocognition and Danamos” (findings from biomechanics)
 Revision of the teachers‘ „training agreement“ with the teachers (code of honour)


  • Anna says:

    Body shaming in the ballet world? Eating disorders? Encouraged eating disorders? shocking!! – is this news? Will it ever change? I unfortunately doubt it. And more discouraging is that it sets up a lifetime of negative emotional and physical issues for the dancers.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I know lots of young dancing students who’d gladly change places with all of them!!

      Please don’t ever watch the film “Waterloo Bridge”.

      • steven holloway says:

        Sexual abuse and violence inflicted on dance students is not the stuff of Waterloo Bridge, SSF. That movie is a somewhat OTT romantic tragedy. I must wonder if you have sympathy for any person who is most truly damaged and suffers at anyone’s hands and in any context. You have long seemed incapable of sympathy, let alone empathy.

  • Sharon says:

    Most ballet teachers do not have university training in pedagogy. Teaching some child psychology and classes on how to teach children (and having new teachers observed and evaluated) may not be a bad idea. At the lower levels it might even be a good idea to have the teachers in these ballet schools to have teachers licenses in physical education
    At a neighborhood ballet school the teacher has to be nice or she will lose students. At the state ballet school the stakes are so high that the kids may feel that they have to put up with anything to increase their chances of getting in the company