Disordered Eating Attitudes and Behaviors in Female College Dance Students: Comparison of Modern Dance and Ballet Dance Majors

By Schluger, Alice E. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Disordered Eating Attitudes and Behaviors in Female College Dance Students: Comparison of Modern Dance and Ballet Dance Majors


Schluger, Alice E., North American Journal of Psychology


Female ballet dancers are highly vulnerable to the development of eating disorders (Abraham, 1996; Anshel, 2004; Ringham, Klump, Kaye, Stone, Libman, Stowe et al., 2006; Thomas, Keel, & Heatherton, 2005), and appear to be at higher risk than other female athletes (Macleod, 1998). They are generally 10-12% below ideal body weight and engage in dieting to maintain this weight (Kaufman, Warren, Dominguez, Wang, Heymsfield, & Pierson, 2002). As a special type of athlete, ballet dancers face some unique health risks related to conflicts among appearance, strength, endurance, and optimal health status (Krasnow, 2005). Competing goals between aesthetics and performance may incur an increased risk for disordered eating behaviors and cognitive disturbances in ballet dancers, along with psychosocial stressors specific to the dance profession (Krasnow, 2005).

The majority of studies on ballet dancers reveal symptoms of eating disorder psychopathology, including body dissatisfaction and preoccupation with food and weight (Montanari & Zietkiewicz, 2000; Ringham et al., 2006; Szmuckler, Eisler, Gillies, & Hayward, 1985) and perfectionism (Anshel, 2004). Ballet dancers are under constant pressure to maintain low body weight and they engage in behaviors to control their weight (Abraham, 1996). Vaisman, Voet, Akvis, & Sive-Ner (1996) demonstrated that the dance school atmosphere in classical ballet promotes striving for thinness to an abnormal extent. Modern dance, on the other hand, places more emphasis on individual interpretation of movement and improvisation (Clabaugh & Morling, 2004). Thus, modern dancers have much more freedom from the constraints, restrictions, and formalities of ballet (Clabaugh & Morling, 2004), both physically and artistically. While most studies indicate that disordered eating patterns are common among ballet dancers (Anshel, 2004; Montanari & Zietkeiwicz, 2000; Ringham et al., 2006; Thomas et al., 2005), little is known about this phenomenon in modern dancers.

In comparison to female college athletes, few studies have examined eating disorder issues in female college dance students. Findings indicate that ballet dance students have a greater preoccupation with weight, eating habits, and body image than do students in the general population (Anshel, 2004; Koutedakas & Jamurtas, 2004). Additional information about specific attitudes and behaviors that may increase the risk of eating disorders is needed, particularly in competitive dance programs. According to Neumarker, Bettle, Bettle, and Neumarker (1998), researchers should explore eating attitudes and behaviors in female ballet dancers with respect to specific life situations. Both cultural influences and an innate preoccupation with body image may create an increased vulnerability to disordered eating problems in ballet dancers (Neumarker et al., 1998). The effects of these sociocultural factors on modern dance students are unknown, as this population group has not been studied in the past.

Perfectionism has been reported to be a risk factor for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but not for binge eating disorder (Ashby, Kottman, & Schoen, 1998; Bastiani, Rao, Weltzin, & Kaye, 1995; Forbush, Heatherton, & Keel, 2007; Halmi, Tozzi, Thornton, Crow, Fichter, Kaplan et al., 2005). Research reveals a striking connection between perfectionism and susceptibility to eating disorder risk in athletes (Schwarz, Gairrett, Aruguete, & Gold, 2005). High levels of individual perfectionism may elevate the risk for eating disorders in dance students along with external pressure from the dance environment to maintain low body weight (Thomas et al., 2005). According to these authors, internal pressure for thinness is promoted in an atmosphere of external pressure for thinness. Self-imposed pressures may also increase the desire to apply to highly competitive dance programs in order to validate excessive perfectionistic standards (Thomas et al. …

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