Slender women gracefully twirl to the music – a spectacle that, as effortless as it may seem at first glance, is actually the result of hard work. Although ballet as a spectacle is a fantastic combination of magic and art, the pressure to perform correctly – as well as clichés – is an integral part of it.

For example, many people think that ballet dancers are all anorexic. This is simply a prejudice, as the prima ballerina of the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich explains, Maria Baranova. The fact that all dancers are skinny is mostly due to constant training. After all, ballet is essentially a competitive sport with an artistic face, as the dancer adds.

For Baranova a typical day at work starts at 10:00 – and ends after 8 hours of dancing at 18:00. “We are elite athletes,” he declares. “Each show is like an Olympiad for us. And every day we try to exceed our limits.” The work is difficult because it requires a lot of discipline. “There is no easy way out. Every time we go live on stage – there is no photoshop for example, everything is done in that moment”explains Baranova.

High risk of eating disorders

This makes the physical and physical condition of the dancers even more important, as emphasized by Loren Hiller, ballet director at the Bavarian State Ballet: “Dancers are athletes – and for 20 years.” The risk of eating disorders and anorexia is well known, says Hiller. However, he is convinced that this is an old-fashioned notion, which is not the case in most ballet companies today. “It is an issue we are discussing and which worries us. And in no way do I require my dancers to have an anorexic body type, nor do I advocate such a thing,” the ballet director points out.

Ballet schools also deal with health programs. Dorothy Mayer is responsible professor for nutritional advice at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich (HMTM). As he states, in the world of ballet eating disorders are a widespread and common phenomenon.


Dancers are three times more likely to develop eating disorders than the rest of the population. “Research shows that young female dancers typically consume only 70% of the energy required for their activities, resulting in lower body weight and fat mass than average”explains the expert.

The professor offers workshops, cooking classes, but also individual counseling sessions at the university, even designing personalized nutritional programs for each student. HMTM has also set a minimum burden for the students: “It is important that they realize that they are both dancers and athletes at the same time. Therefore, if they don’t pay attention to their diet, their performance will also drop,” explains Mayer. Baranova also supports a healthy diet:One cannot eat crushed air. Without fuel your body cannot function”as it typically states.

The key is practicing ballet from an early age

Anyone who wants to become a ballet dancer should start early. Baranova started at just 3 years old. Today, 12 and 13-year-olds train every day, working on their bodies as well. “At some point it becomes normal – it becomes a habit. It is the natural choice as the body is forced to withstand the pressure. And that’s how ballet becomes part of your identity”says Baranova.

Ballet has changed

The change taking place in ballet is not exclusively related to physical ideals. In the last 50 years the level has risen significantly, the technique has changed, as Hiller says. Ballet has become much more athletic and thus requires even more work with the body – that is, it has become a performance-demanding sport.

This is also due to competition: “It is a competitive space. In terms of the athletic aspect of ballet, everyone seeks to optimize their performance.”, explains Baranova. For her, of course, ballet is more than a competition: “We are telling a story”.


Hiller also adopts this approach. “The classical ballet repertoire speaks of love, hate, infidelity and much more – in my opinion it speaks of life. This is also the reason why classical ballet always remains relevant.”

Considering the many pirouettes performed in each performance or how the dancers swing one can understand how much control and concentration a ballet dancer needs. “Most injuries happen to the head: it always starts there and then comes the body’s reaction. In order for a dancer to perform, he must be completely connected to his body, but also to his mind,” emphasizes Baranova. “There’s also the wonderful moment of bonding with your partner,” she adds. “When you stand on stage and connect with each other live, then it’s a moment of magic”.

Edited by: Giorgos Passas