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Factors Contributing to the Attrition Rate in Elite Ballet Students

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Forty elite female dance students (mean age: 14.92 years) were followed at the School of American Ballet to distinguish the physical and mental factors associated with dropping out of the profession. The dancers were evaluated for injury patterns, eating behavior (EAT-26; food diary), personality (OSIQR), menstrual functioning, pubertal development (Tanner stages), and orthopaedic parameters. During the four-year period of this study 55% of the sample stopped dancing. Those in this 55% had a higher rate of injuries and eating problems. Furthermore, deficits on an orthopaedic screening exam accurately predicted dancers who dropped out of training at the advanced level from those who became professionals (p < 0.009). As a group, dancers with an eating disorder profile had more anatomical deviations that compromise dance technique. These results suggest that classical ballet weeds out students without the right bodies, similar to Darwin's “selection of the fittest.” In addition, ballet dancers may develop eating problems to compensate for a suboptimal technique. The orthopaedic exam is recommended as a useful screening tool in diagnosing potential problems in dancers but is not intended to exclude students from training.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Advice columnist for Dance Magazine and consults at the School of American Ballet and the Alvin American Dance Center, 2000 Broadway PH2C, New York, New York 10023 2: Department of Orthopedic Surgery, St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, New York 3: Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Medicine, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, New York 4: Westside Dance Physical Therapy, New York, New York

Publication date: December 1, 1997

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