Dancer scouted for Royal Ballet School at 11 tells Panorama how class nutritionist told her ‘don’t eat carbs’ and she’d sleep with clingfilm on her legs ‘to sweat it out’ after teachers commented about weight
- The Royal Ballet School said it was ‘inconceivable’ student was told to cut carbs
A young dancer said a Royal Ballet School nutritionist told her to completely stop eating carbs to make her lose weight and satisfy teachers.
India Thompson told a Panorama investigation the so-called expert had at first admitted she had a good diet.
But because teachers had wanted her to ‘lengthen out’ – in-school code for losing weight – the nutritionist allegedly proposed the dangerous advice.
India, who was scouted for the prestigious school in 2007 when she was just 11, alleged: ‘I don’t think I knew who I was any more.
‘The nutritionist did say to that I had a good diet but the school wanted me to “lengthen out”.
‘So we would have to find a way to do that which would be to not eat carbs.’
India, who was scouted for the prestigious school in 2007 when she was just 11,made claims
She told a Panorama investigation a nutritionist admitted she had a good diet but should drop carbs
India said she dropped carbs from her diet and would sleep with clingfilm wrapped around her legs to try and sweat it out.
She added: ‘I lost weight and everybody was really nice to me.
‘My periods stopped completely for a while.’
Teachers began commenting on her weight when she reached puberty and her body began to change.
As she developed breasts and her figure began to resemble that of an adult woman, India claimed her teachers told her she needed to ‘lengthen out’.
‘I’d get pulled out of classes to go and sit in the principal’s office so that she could talk to me about “lengthening out”, and what am I doing to make it happen?’ she recalled.
Audiences tuning into last night’s BBC Panorama heard testimonies from people who attended Birmingham ‘s prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School as well as the Royal Ballet School in London. Pictured, Harriet Royle, who was a student at Elmhurst
Many were shocked to see the ‘awful treatment’ endured by young teens, with some calling for staff at the prestigious institutions to ‘hang heads in shame and apologise’. Pictured, former Elmhurst student Padua Eaton
The RBS told the programme it was ‘inconceivable’ a student was told to stop eating carbohydrates. It insisted its nutritionists provided ‘healthy eating advice to maximise performance’.
Audiences tuning into last night’s show heard testimonies from people who attended Birmingham’s prestigious Elmhurst Ballet School as well as the RBS in London.
Many were shocked to see the ‘awful treatment’ endured by young teens, with some calling for staff at the prestigious institutions to ‘hang heads in shame and apologise’.
Taking to X – formerly known as Twitter – social media users tuning into the programme admitted it was a ‘tough watch’ as they praised the courage of former pupils to come forward.
‘Watching Panorama, I felt it necessary to post my positive feelings about you women,’ one viewer wrote.
Harriet Royle, 22, was 13 when she started at the prestigious dance institution – but after just over a year, she ended up in hospital and diagnosed with anorexia
The teen had to be hospitalised and was given an anorexia diagnosis that same year. Pictured following her dramatic weight-loss
Panorama also heard heartbreaking accounts from other former dancers, on their experiences at the UK’s top ballet schools – The Royal Ballet School in London and Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham.
Last year, between them, both institutions received more than £7million in public funding.
But despite their fame, accounts from former pupils tell of a toxic body shaming culture as one dancer said a teacher had placed her in front of a mirror, pointed to her body and told her: ‘If I had a knife, this is what I would cut off.’
Ellen Elphick, 30, who had started at Royal Ballet School in London in 2009, told Panorama: ‘She literally cut my entire bum off, kind of all of half my thigh, basically, and then a third of my calf.’
The former pupil describes feeling ashamed and being filled with hate for her body – and says her eating disorder spiralled after this encounter.
According to the programme, Michaela (pictured) had voiced her concerns for Harriet to the school in March of 2015, and was reassured they were ‘monitoring the situation’
India Thompson, who was accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London in 2007, revealed she felt pressure from her teachers to lose weight when her body started to change after she reached puberty
Ellen had previously developed an eating disorder at Elmhurst but says her experience at the Royal ‘broke’ her.
‘I don’t think I ever really got put back together,’ she says.
Ellen, who went on to dance professionally for four years, says she still suffers as a result of feeling her body was the wrong shape. She has now decided to take legal action against the Royal Ballet School.
She added: ‘Am I one of the lucky ones because I still had that career? Maybe? But that doesn’t mean I’ve not been left with life-long issues that I’m just going to have to find some way to deal with.’
Lawyer Dino Nocivelli, who is representing Ellen and a number of other ballet dancers from another school, said his clients have come forward for different reasons and that some want ‘an admission’ about their treatment and ‘to hold these schools accountable’.
Ellen Elphick, 30, is now taking legal action against the Royal Ballet School for her experience when she was a student
Panorama also heard heartbreaking accounts from other former dancers, on their experiences at the UK’s top ballet schools. Queen Camilla pictured at Elmhurst Ballet School earlier this year
Elsewhere Padua Eaton, who was offered a place at Elmhurst aged 11 in 2008, said her mental health suffered over the years she spent in ballet training – leading to an attempt to end her life.
‘Around 14, 15, I started to get depressed,’ she said. ‘My body started changing, I started getting a shape like a woman.’
While the school stepped in to offer support – and allowed her extra breaks to manage panic attacks – the former pupil said she wasn’t actually given a chance to use them.
‘So, even though I was allowed these breaks it was difficult to actually get them… ‘Do you really need to go now’?’
Padua said she felt her mental health problems were ‘annoying’ for the school to deal with and that she was made to feel like a ‘burden’.
Last year, between them, both institutions received more than £7 million in public funding. King Charles pictured at the Royal Ballet School in 2019
Grace Owen, 22, says on one occasion at Elmhurst a teacher taunted the class over doughnuts, which the students had been told were available after class.
The teacher picked out the thinnest pupil and said only they were allowed to eat one, she says.
‘[This was] implying that she could eat them because she was of the right weight, and no-one else,’ says Grace, who was 19 at the time.
‘Everyone else – basically you’re too fat for them.’
During her graduation party at Elmhurst in 2020, Grace says she and several of her classmates were humiliated by another ballet teacher.
She claims the teacher said: ‘All you girls, bar one or two people, need to lose weight, otherwise you’re not going to get a job.’
Grace says it made her feel ‘really unworthy’, adding that all the school actually cared about was ‘how slim you are’. She described the environment at Elmhurst as ‘toxic’.
Grace added: ‘The ballet world is a brutal place but telling people that you’re too fat… I don’t think that’s preparing you for anything.’
Dance critic Luke Jennings, 70, himself a former dancer, said the RBS, where King Charles is president, ‘produces fabulous dancers, some of the best of our time’. But he said it still adheres to old-fashioned ideals that ballet dancers must be super-slim.
‘It used to be “you’re too fat”, but it is coded now,’ he said. ‘Instead they say, “You’re not right, you’re [surely not] fit enough, you’re not committed enough”. You can’t say certain things [any more], but there are other ways of saying them.’
BBC Panorama said that while neither school wanted to be interviewed for this programme, Elmhurst in a statement said it ‘promotes good physical and mental health and ‘acts whenever issues are identified’.
‘It was pioneered a ‘ground-breaking health trust scheme’, providing ‘bespoke health and wellbeing support’. It has a ‘modern teaching approach’, placing ‘highly disciplined training’ within the framework of ‘strong safeguarding principles’…
‘It recognises certain elements but ‘clear duties of confidentiality’ prevent it from commenting.
‘However it says ‘school records vary in some significant respects’ from accounts given to the programme.’
Meanwhile, the Royal Ballet School told Panorama that ‘nothing is more important than the happiness and continued well-being of its students’ and it’s ‘continuously improving and innovating’ to protect their health and welfare.
‘When issues arise it has ‘well-established processes’ to ensure they are ‘addressed swiftly’. The school ‘strives to work towards excellence’ and does so with ‘integrity and passion’.’
The programme is also available on BBC iPlayer.
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk
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