Dozens of ballet dancers have come forward with their own stories of body-shaming and bullying in ballet schools across the UK, following a previous investigation by the BBC. Over 100 former dancers have spoken to the BBC, detailing their experiences of a “toxic” culture in some of the country’s top schools. The initial investigation focused on the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School, but new claims have emerged about the London Vocational Ballet School. Allegations include staff mistreatment, body-shaming, and the exacerbation of mental health issues. The schools involved have disputed the claims and stressed their commitment to student welfare.
One ex-student of Elmhurst Ballet School, Sian Mort, described being locked in a room alone during a mental health crisis and developing anorexia while at the school. She felt that the school mishandled her eating disorder, making her condition worse. Another former student from the London Vocational Ballet School, Madeleine Cunnah, said she experienced body-shaming comments from staff and was discouraged from applying to the prestigious Royal Ballet School due to her body shape. She developed anorexia and felt that the ballet industry sought “functioning anorexics who don’t complain.” Sapphire Sumpter, another former student of the London Vocational Ballet School, shared her humiliation and being praised for weight loss after developing pneumonia.
The schools implicated have responded to the allegations, stating that their records differ from the accounts given and asserting that student welfare is a priority. Elmhurst Ballet School stated that it does not accept many of the assertions made and has found no evidence of staff breaching their position of trust. The London Vocational Ballet School disputed the claims and referred to an Ofsted report that commended the school’s work in promoting student development and welfare. Both schools emphasized their commitment to supporting students’ physical and mental health.
Joe Tidswell, another former student of Elmhurst Ballet School, shared his experience of body-shaming and inappropriate comments from staff. He believes that some teachers were “traumatised dancers themselves” and calls on parents to be aware of the environment their children may encounter when choosing ballet schools. Elmhurst Ballet School responded by stating that they were unaware of any complaints from Joe during his time there and that they prioritize the promotion of good physical and mental health.
In addition to the stories shared with the BBC, Dino Nocivelli from Leigh Day solicitors revealed that he has spoken to 180 former dancers who have experienced bullying and body-shaming in various ballet schools. These individuals, who attended 12 different schools, including Elmhurst, the Royal Ballet School, and the London Vocational Ballet School, are now calling for a formal inquiry into ballet schools and a change in the industry’s culture.