The ballet world is moving toward more favorable treatment of students and professional performers. There's more training on injury prevention and letting dancers take it easy when they're hurt. There's more awareness and intervention of eating disorders. There's a growing acceptance of imperfect turnout and low arches, etc. It's now a fireable offense to poke your students' hamstrings with needles (True story. One of my teachers told us her teacher often stabbed her with a needle to get her to lift up on her standing leg).
But it's not enough.
It's not enough to simply do no harm. Dance teachers and company/studio directors must actively maintain and improve their dancers' well-being.
"I know you have a stress fracture, but we have a show in three weeks." - Somebody's teacher recently, probably
Injured dancers are told to take it easy…but only for a couple days, or there will be consequences. Three absences, they're told, and you're out of the show.
Dancers performing while injured are praised for their courage and dedication. Dancers who take care of themselves are lazy or playing it up for attention. I'm sure I'm not the odd one here by saying it's wrong to encourage people to wear down their bodies to their breaking point.
Teachers aren't allowed to hit students anymore, so they found an invisible substitute
It's no longer tolerated to use physical harm to scare their students into dancing better, so many teachers/directors have "progressed" to using emotional harm instead.
Instead of a needle poking you in the hamstring, it's your teacher humiliating you in front of the class: "[Name], why are you sticking your bottom out? Tuck it in, silly, you know better!" They're clever about it, too. They'll use a joking tone so if you complain, it's all your problem for taking their comment personally.
It's not funny. Now the whole class knows you did something wrong. You're ashamed, and you're scared of ever messing up ever again. To make it worse, your teacher implied you're an idiot for not making proper hip alignment a habit immediately. (When actually, it takes a long time to fix a bad habit. When it comes to dance, it takes a lot of muscle strength, too--which also takes time to build).
They'll compare the whole class to one golden student. If you were Anna, your hard work and improvement might be worth rewarding. But sadly, you're not. Never mind that your arabesque line is just as correct as hers, or your classmate can jump higher than her. They'll keep saying you're not good enough because you're not Anna, because that's what they think will get you to work harder.
It doesn't. It makes you want to quit trying altogether. It makes you believe you're inherently less of a person than the star student, because if your technique is equal to hers, then there must be some other reason--something about you as a person--that makes you worth less.
Almost nobody body shames anymore...aloud, at least
It's taboo now for a teacher or director to tell you you're too curvy/muscular/short/tall/fat. In fact, most preach against starving yourself to fit a mold. But there is still a mold to fit into. Only dancers with a certain aesthetic get the solos, jobs, and photoshoots.
Students are told inspirational stories about dancers who became stars despite undesirable figures. The accompanying photos show dancers who are still more ballerina-shaped than probably 50% of the dance population. (That percentage would be higher if most non-conforming bodies weren't discouraged from dancing and quit. It's also an entirely made-up number, so don't quote me on it).
You can't call your teacher/director out for their prejudice. After all, there's no written or verbal proof they meant it at all, much less maliciously.
Aspiring teachers are taught, "Watch out for eating disorders." It would be better if they were taught, "Create an environment where eating disorders are unheard of."
Discrimination goes beyond overall body shape. Students today are told all bodies are different, and it's okay not to have banana feet, for example. Simultaneously, dancers with high arches are constantly praised for them while those without them are told to stretch their feet more.
Basically, you have to look a certain way, and it has to be natural. If you don't win the genetic lottery, too bad.
If we can't prove anything is wrong, how can we win the fight for change?
I don't think these teachers/directors are aware they're hurting their dancers. Many of their teachers probably did the same to them, and worse. A lot of them are victims of the needle generation. That's what they learned is "normal." They're trying to be better than that, and they've succeeded. I just think they're unaware of how much further there is to improve.
I'm optimistic about humanity and believe most people are good at heart. I believe if authority figures in the dance industry were informed of how harmful their methods are, they'd make an effort to change.
And those that don't? Well…their better-hearted peers and wronged students will make them, or else shame them out of the profession.
The industry is getting there, but it can definitely do better. We need to kindly spread awareness that the "harmless" practices they replaced literal abuse with are not harmless, actually. Only then can we increase the odds of a better, safer environment for the next generation of dancers.