One anonymous Point Park dance student was shocked to see a weight requirement in a ballet class during their freshman year but was even more shocked to see that the same policies were still being implemented when they revisited the syllabus years later.
“I was disappointed to see that it was still the same and I thought maybe, I wouldn’t have a reaction to it, but it hurts just as much reading it now as it did as a freshman,” they said.
The class in question was Ballet 311 with Professor Susan Stowe. The syllabus originally had a grading ratio of 50% attendance, 40% technical proficiency and progress, 10% attitude and weight, and contained a short passage on the weight of the students that reads as follows:
“Students of dance are expected to maintain proportionate ‘best performance’ weights appropriate to their body types at all times.”
While several Point Park students voiced complaints and concern regarding the syllabus, this is not the first time that the Point Park dance faculty have come under fire for attempting to police the weights of dance students. In 2008, Globe reporter Kelly Johnson broke the story regarding a “Fat List” posted in a dance common area, requesting that everybody on the list speak to a member of the dance faculty. In the original reporting, Johnson stated that some students on the list were driven to developing anorexia after being on the list.
Caroline Alter, a junior dance major, has not seen teachers single students out for their weight in class but has heard of it happening at other schools and dance “pre-colleges.”
“If you seemed a little overweight, the teacher would pull someone aside. […] They’d put their hand to your stomach and ask ‘What did you have for dinner last night?’ There’s definitely an incentive to be skinny enough so that no one questions your weight,” Alter said. “I know a handful of people who have developed eating disorders because we’ve been looking at our bodies in a mirror 26 hours a week since we were 3 years old. It affects everyone.”
According to Susan Stowe, the professor who wrote the syllabus in question, the weight contingency on the syllabus was not just geared towards students who may have been overweight, but any student whom she perceived to be in need of a certain kind of physical conditioning or nutrition counseling.
“If I see a dancer who I perceive to be underweight, I will take appropriate steps to ensure that the student has access to essential resources,” Stowe said.
Stowe also noted that the syllabus which included the weight requirement was one sent out very early in the semester and does not reflect the current syllabus for the class after being given direction by the dance department to change it.
“As our artform continues to evolve, […] so does our understanding of all aspects of dancer wellness. Much as we update our syllabi to reflect new approaches to the pedagogy, we also update our syllabi to reflect the human elements of dance education,” Stowe said.
While Stowe also noted that many dancers are still held to aesthetic standards, Garfield Lemonius, the chair of the dance program, suggested that those aesthetic requirements were on their way out. After Lemonius got word of the syllabus containing a weight requirement, he acted quickly.
“When I caught wind of that, I responded to it right away because I had no idea that this was going on, that this was a part of the syllabi in a dance department which I’m chair of,” Lemonius said. “We’ve worked so hard during the years to change the narrative, to really focus on mental health for dancers. […] I feel that it’s something that we need to talk about more in dance.”
A new syllabus was distributed to students, without mention of weight, and the grading has shifted to 50% attendance, 50% technical proficiency and progress.
“What is essential is that a dancer can do the work. If they are proficient in the skills, then that is what matters: technical proficiency,” Lemonius said.