Former ballet pupils have claimed they were ‘body-shamed’ while training at two of the country’s most prestigious dance schools, making a series of claims about their treatment including one dancer who underwent such extreme weight loss she was admitted to hospital.
A joint investigation by BBC Panorama and File on 4 gathered testimony from 50 ex-students of the Royal Ballet School in London and Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham who attended between 2004 and 2022.
In the programme, former dancers made a series of claims about a long-running “toxic” culture of body-shaming, bullying and abuse at the two institutions. They say that during their time there, the schools failed in their duty of care to the children and young people they were responsible for.
One retired ballerina said she has begun legal action against the Royal Ballet School for the treatment she says she suffered there.
However, the two ballet schools have disputed the accounts and said they put pupil health and well-being at the forefront of their priorities.
In a statement the Royal Ballet School said: “Nothing is more important to us than the happiness and continued well-being of our enormously talented and dedicated young students and we are continuously improving and innovating to protect their health and welfare.
“As with any school, issues arise from time to time, and when they do, we have well-established processes in place to ensure they are addressed swiftly, transparently, and effectively.”
The statement added that the cases raised by the BBC spanned a number of years and were either investigated and resolved at the time, and referred to external authorities where appropriate, or “do not align with our records”.
‘Prepared to investigate’
It said that where any new version of events is now suggested,the school is ready to investigate further.
“The Royal Ballet School strives to work towards excellence, and it does so with integrity and passion, training hundreds of young people to fulfil their potential as the next generation of world-class dancers,” the statement adds.
A statement issued by Elmhurst Ballet School said: “Elmhurst Ballet School puts great emphasis on promoting good physical and mental health and will always act whenever issues are identified.
“It has pioneered a ground-breaking health trust scheme which provides bespoke health and well-being support for young dancers and has a modern teaching approach which places the highly disciplined training necessary to create world-class artistic professionals within the framework of strong safeguarding principles.”
It added that while unable to comment on the cases for confidentiality reasons, the school’s records “vary in some significant respects” from the accounts given to the programme.