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Posts: 11
Reply with quote  #1 
my 13 year old daughter wants to be a professional dancer.
She was diagnosed with AN last October. We stopped her dancing immediately. She had to miss on some dance competitions she was really looking forward to. 

We are doing FBT and our team includes a paediatrician specialized in ED. 
In November she had to go in for a 3 wks IP at the local hospital.
Since then she has, steadily, been putting on weight. She went in hospital at 36.4 kgs on the 13th of November and she is now 42.5Kgs.

During all this time, we believe, her "dancing dream" has been the driving force for steady recovery.

Her moods are getting better too. We starting to get glimpses of her beautiful smile and she also started to play again with her younger brother. 

But last week we had few days when her mood was very low and CAMHS are considering an appointment with the psychiatric to investigate if she is suffering from depression. 
I have to say, I am not keen on her having medications if we can help it!
She is starting to get very very upset about not dancing and fearful she will be behind everyone else.
Sometimes when ED thoughts are strong she does not believe she will be able to go back dancing ever again. She says hate us and all the CAMHS team because we have taken dance away from her!! (I know this is ED talking)  

Last night, while she was crying so much, she started hyperventilating but my husband was very good at turning the situation around.
I wonder if she was on the verge of a panic attack!      

We try to keep it to a minimum but she does do stretches and exercise a little to keep her fitness for when she goes back.        

The paediatrician has just given us the go-ahead to take her back to school, which she will do gradually this week, building up one session a day.

Since she is physically stable and eating well,  I am starting to wonder if 
going back to dance for a lesson a week would be a good stimulus for her to keep going as well as given her some hope and try to help her with her anxiety and depression   

Does anyone has had a similar experience?
I wonder how long will take her to be able to dance again, even if only a little bit.


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Posts: 3,955
Reply with quote  #2 
There are many parents on here whose parents have wanted to be professional athletes/high level athletes/dancers. For the child it is often expressed as a reason for getting better. It is however a very tangled situation as the exercise involved can often be a means of soothing the anxiety associated with the illness, as well as a source of weight loss. Attaching too much importance to the exercise can be a big problem. With dancing the pressures for weight and appearance can add another layer of complexity, significantly increasing the risk of relapse. 

Did your D want to be a dancer from a little girl, or was this only a more recent desire? 

Ideally not returning to dance may be the best option, but of course we don't want to destroy our children's hopes and dreams. I would want her weight restored and stable with less anxiety before returning to any classes, a break of a year or more is not going to destroy her ambitions no matter what she says. When returning yes taking it very slowly would be the best option, monitoring all the while. 

D diagnosed restrictive AN June 2010 age 13.5. Weight restored July 2012. Relapse and now clawing our way back. Treatment: multiple hospitalisations and individual and family therapy.

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Posts: 2,125
Reply with quote  #3 
Hi silali,
my d (18 now) loves to dance standard dance (not professionel) and has done her gold star diplom shortly. She goes to the dancing school once a week for 1,5 hours and every second or third week there is an extra dance time on sundays about 2-2,5 hours.
She loved to do that before ED started and it was a great incentive because there are her best social contacts in this group.
So we did it that way:
We set a limit together with the doctors. She had to gain 10 kg and we told her she is allowed to go back to the lesson once a week at 5 kg gain when she is eating enough to not lose weight by going there. We tried it and it was o.k. Than we set another aim: she could go to the extra dance time when she gained anouther 2,5 kg.
She is 6 months WR now and she can do that amount of dancing without eating extra. But we told her that any more sports will need more food.
So maybe you can set her a goal and try it once a week. If she is loosing weight again, stopp it or increase the calories (if possible). She must see that she must eat more if she wants to dance. A professional dancer needs a lot of power and the dancing schools here in Germany would not accept a student who is underweight. The friend of my d wants to go to a musical academy and she has problems getting there because she is naturally underweight (no ED, she is underweight her whole life). She needs to bring a physician paper and that sentence (is underweight) makes big problems for her at the moment. So maybe you can tell that your d.

d off to University now 22 months after diagnose, still doing FBT and relapse prevention 

Posts: 142
Reply with quote  #4 
Hi Silali,
My D was also 13 when diagnosed and dancing at least 10hrs a week.
We stopped all ballet until her weight was better ( she put on 6kg initially) then we slowly reintroduced ballet but it really was the worst thing we did for her, all the body image, looking at herself in the mirror was really bad for her. She was in the school dance team too and in 2016 we had to pull her halfway through the dance season as she was too sick. She hasn’t done any dance since then.
My D is now well on her way to recovery after 3 1/2 years and discusses every now and then that she wants to start taking a class but is so worried about her shape still I don’t think she could! She is doing Pilates weekly and enjoying that but AN takes a great deal from our children and dancing was one thing it has taken from my D!

I would think that at this point - dance may not be a good thing for her to do, but you need to weigh it up. We thought that going back to dance would provide the ability to move forward but realistically it was a huge back step for us!

Mum to 16yr old girl with AN. Fighting hard for recovery since she was 13.

Posts: 31
Reply with quote  #5 
I wanted to reply to give you my experience so far. We are in the thick of the battle for the past year and we're now transitioning from a hospital stay. My daughter is an Irish dancer (which is very high cardio) and when she was first diagnosed last year, we stopped it until she became stable and tried to use it as a carrot to get better. She ended up missing the annual party and recital, and the doctors let her go back for one practice so she could dance on St. Patrick's Day. She was still gaining at that time, so it wasn't a problem and we started competitions again. ED started to use the competitions to overexercise and it came roaring back. We held out as long as we could so she could do the big regional competition over Thanksgiving, but after that we stopped it again because she was descending deeper into ED. 

So now we have decided to stop her until she is fully weight restored (she was not when we let her start before), because it made it that much harder, longer and more drawn out (like pushing a car uphill that's going in reverse), and we want to get her weight restored first and foremost. And I want to see if SHE loves dance or if ED loves dance, and I think that some time off will help her figure that out. Right now, ED uses dance to burn calories, so until ED is not in control, she can't go. I would caution against giving things back too soon, it came back to bite us.

Posts: 8
Reply with quote  #6 
Something to bear in mind as well is that professional dancers have to be such resilient and mentally tough cookies in the industry. My daughter was at an audition last week where the casting directors stood a girl in fron t of almost 100 other people in the room and told her ‘well looks like someone had a bit too much to eat over christmas’. The girl was 16.I can’t imagine would that would do to a child with AN - especially as weight restored bmis are higher than the industry demands them to be. I personally think pursing a professional career isn’t a wise move for a child suffering with an ed and deeply wish my daughter wasn’t a dancer

Posts: 87
Reply with quote  #7 
How do I tag another user? I know that aboncosk 's daughter is a dancer.

ETA: I contacted her, she is not sure if she'll be able to get on the forum in the next few days, but she gave my permission to post her email address, it is aboncosky@gmail.com

I believe her daughter is in recovery and dancing again.

15yo D, first diagnosed 2015 with RAN. Diagnosis changed several times along the way, they are currently saying lifelong mild ARFID, complicated by major depression and AN starting age 13. Everything is atypical with her. FBT less and less effective after 2+ years. 

Posts: 11
Reply with quote  #8 
thank you all for your replies so far!

Almost 2 weeks down the line since I started this conversation, my daughter had her first dance class last Thursday.
With the CAMHS team we had decided that she will be allowed to dance an hour a week (she is also been building up on school routine) as long as her weight remains stable.
She will need to have an extra snack (on the top of the meal plan) for every dance hour she does.    
She loved dancing again!  
Her dance teacher is very supporting and fully aware of the situation. 
We had a meeting the 3 of us, discussed and made my D aware that it will be challenging for her (mirrors, tight clothes and comparing herself to other) and that she will need to work hard on those negative thoughts. 
We decided to start with a lyrical dance class where she can wear loose clothes and there isn't a lot of focus on the mirror.  
I am not an expert but my gut feeling is telling me that unless my daughter faces and overcomes her body image fears and low self-esteem issues she will never shake this illness off.
She still has her ED moments, once a day or every other day. But so far she has managed to stick to the meal plan. Some days are better than others.

As you said caram, she needs to become a tough cookie if she really wants to become a professional dancer and if dancing professionally is not possible for her anymore I think I rather we discover it now.  
I wish too I could put her off from dancing and I would if I could but for now (since she was 10 year old) is she dreams off! 
We are trying to take this as slowly as we can but I know it will be hard for my D and a very risky strategy for us to take.
My heart sinks at the thought that our decision might take as back to the horrible early "refeeding days"!!
But we have to move forward and for my D going back to dance was a step towards recovery.
I am also hoping that, since we caught AN at a fairly early stage and that she has restored weight very quickly, we will be able to break the ED vicious circle quickly? 

I love this Forum, it is a life's safer!! 

Thank you for all your support and advice, greatly appriciated! 
Silali X        


Posts: 11
Reply with quote  #9 
HI cnkinnh

thank you so much for that!!

I will get in touch with her by email


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Posts: 2,613
Reply with quote  #10 
Greetings from across the pond.
Here is my twopence worth, free for all its worth.
Personally - There is no way that I would allow her dance for the forseeable future, at least until she was in really strong recovery, a few years down the line, if ever..
Given that she was just 36 kg in November, her body would likely be under a lot of stress from the malnutrition. She could still be medically compromised.
This illness is just so dangerous. Her heart could  be under stress , does she get the proper tests weekly? 
This illness is vile. 
I am also a mum of a teen that caught it very early and had huge intervention, My S was 13 when he got ill, he is 16 now and he is in strong recovery. We still monitor him. He still needs at least 4000 cals a day and the 3 meals and 3 snacks. He is fully functional.
He has been WR for some time, and gaining appropriately with his age. Thhe brain healing takes at best a couple of years.
Average recovery time from anorexia is 5-7 years with best cases 2-3 years.
My Son has not refused a meal from me for 2 years, he is still in recovery and needs support and monitoring and coaching from the sidelines to eradicate ALL the behaviours.l 
We stopped all sport, all exercise and PE  at school. In recovery he has actually thanked us for this as the anorexia wanted him to exercise, not him.
Here is a study that may interest you.

Food is the medicine. Recovery is possible.

Posts: 1,025
Reply with quote  #11 
Hi Silali - 

My d was in a pre-professional dance group when she was diagnosed at 17.  I don't know that she wanted to dance professionally, but she did want to minor in dance in college.  Her dance director had anorexia at my daughter's age and was instrumental in helping me see that my d had anorexia. I knew something was wrong, but didn't realize how serious it was.  She also played a huge role in getting my into treatment.  As an aside, during anorexia my d also had severe panic attacks and would often hyperventilate. 

In the beginning, we used dance as a motivation to get my d to eat.  She was out totally for a few months until she gained enough weight to be out of extreme physical danger. Over the next 18 months, she tried to return to dance many times.  Her director was of course incredibly supportive. My d did not want a life that did not include dance.  It was a mixed bag.  In the beginning, it DID give her a reason to eat.  In the end though, the weight range that she needed to be at to be healthy (75th percentile) was not something she could handle in front of mirrors all of the time. She also couldn't eat enough to make up for the deficit that dancing 20+ hours a week created. I also think her perfectionism was not conducive to dance.  In the end, she gave it up on her own and it was heartbreaking for her and us.  She had danced since she was 3. Her director was actually influential in helping her see that for my daughter, dance was not compatible with recovery. Although she has always missed it, she has never doubted her decision.

In April she graduated from college and moved to a new state to start grad school. One of her part time jobs is teaching dance.  It is at a studio that is not "super rigorous" and she LOVES it.  I wondered how she would handle being in front of mirrors again and in that environment, but she has 4+ years of strong recovery under her belt. She has said to me many times that it feels wonderful to have dance back in her life.  She does a lot of choreography which she also loves.  It is only about 10 hrs a week, so not a huge part of her life. There is a big recital in May and I am going to fly out there to see her classes.

The IOP/PHP program that we were are a part of for so long and helped my d so much actually treated a professional ballerina.  She did not dance for 4 years.  She did eventually go back and was able to sustain recovery.  We never got to meet her, but they often shared her story with my d during her darkest days.

I guess after all of this, I would say that I generally think that dance is not a good idea for anyone who ever had an ED.  If letting your d dance a class or two a week helps her gain weight and ED trained doctors are Ok with it, then I would say OK, but I wouldn't let her do more than that until she was totally weight restored back to her historic weight percentile and continuing to gain because she is only 13. I am sure there are exceptions and there may be the rare anorexia sufferer who can dance in recovery, but i think the norm is that it recovery is not compatible with dance. I hate saying that, but I believe it to be true.

I have such sympathy for what you're going through.  I will say that not dancing has unlocked other dreams for my d so that has been good.

Enjoying my 23 year-old daughter's achievement of active recovery that was made possible by the resources and education I found on this forum.

Don't give up hope!

Posts: 11
Reply with quote  #12 
Thank you hopefulmama for your honest reply!

Is good to have so much feedback, in the past couple of days I have learnt so much.

Today I have started a conversation with my D about the fact that she needs to start paying attention to triggers that might fuel her ED.
I haven't mention dance as a trigger but I am hoping that with time like your daughter did, she will understand that dance might be too much for her.
At this moment in time if I told her she can't dance anymore I fear she would give up fighting the ED altogether. 
I am not sure I would be strong enough to face a full relapse right now.
I am trying to be the "dolphin" trying to nudge her in the right direction rather than telling her what to do, in the hope that will help. 

I wish I could read more about professional dancers who have experienced Anorexia, like the one you mentioned. 
Do you have any books or websites you could suggest, please? 

THank you again for your time 


Posts: 1,025
Reply with quote  #13 
I wish I could help with a website or something. Because it is pretty rare I’m not aware of anything like that.

I wouldn’t expect much insight from your d until she has been properly weight restored. My d had no insight about dance or anything until she got back to HER historic weight range which was 20 lbs more than they originally told us she needed to be. And your daughter is young so her weight needs to be increasing even once weight restored because of her age. Right now food is her medicine and really the only thing that matters. If letting her dance an hour or two a week can get her weight restored then OK. The insight will come with proper weight restoration. If having her believe she can still be a professional dancer will get her weight restored then go for it. She will be better able to handle difficult things later when her brain is healed after full restoration. The key now is to eat and gain weight. That is her medicine and the only way out from ED!

Enjoying my 23 year-old daughter's achievement of active recovery that was made possible by the resources and education I found on this forum.

Don't give up hope!

Posts: 232
Reply with quote  #14 
You may want to look into this book:   https://www.tututhin.com/      I have met with the author.   She was a speaker at an ED awareness event we hosted last June and will be coming back again to this year's event.    I think there is probably a lot there for parents of dancers with ED.   

----    "Parenting is not for cowards."

Posts: 11
Reply with quote  #15 
Thank You Stubby_USA!
The book has already been ordered!!! [smile]

Posts: 4
Reply with quote  #16 
Thank you all for your insightful comments.  My D is 10, and wanting to take on a second hour of dance this year, so it was helpful to hear everyone's thoughts and replies on the topic.  So much to consider.  A concern we had was alleviated this week in discussion with our dance school.  Apparently all the teachers are educated somewhat on ED's, and are very aware of their own language in classes, and are aware of other students language, and how to reply if something inappropriate is said by a student...

Posts: 275
Reply with quote  #17 
I'm with Toothfairy.  Having been entrenched in this life for many years now, there is no way in heck I would allow my child anywhere near a dance studio (or soccer field or running track in our case).

Posts: 1,100
Reply with quote  #18 
Hi.  I am mostly a lurker these days, but wanted to chime in because this topic is near and dear to my heart.  My D fell ill at 13 years of age (5 years ago now).  At that time, she was involved in a pre-professional musical theater conservatory program, which required 20-25 hours per week of classes, most of them dance of some sort.  At least 15-18 hours per week of dance.  She allegedly "loved" it.  She spent three weeks in patient in a regular hospital when she was first diagnosed and then was restricted from returning to dance until at least the fall (she was hospitalized in March) assuming she became weight restored. I should add that she was restricted from dance on the eve of a major performance when choreography had to be redone to account for her absence.  That was painful, and many tears ensued from D, who told me she would hate me forever for that.  Oh well.  My spine was stiff enough to take that.  When she went back, she was required to eat one additional 150 calorie snack for each hour of dance, and to maintain (or gain) each and every week.  If she failed in this, she had to not dance that week.  Also, she had to eat all meals fully and cooperatively in order to earn the privilege to dance.

Interestingly, her passion for dance greatly flagged as she got to her goal weight.  She danced for one more year, and then decided that she would rather focus on theater exclusively.  She has not had a formal dance class since she was 15 (she's 18 now).  She occasionally acts in musical theater, which requires (of course) some dancing, but certainly not as intensive as she had in the past. 

The most important thing is to get weight restored, and continue in a healthy weight range (of course, since your D is 13, weight restored is a moving target as healthy young women continue to add weight into their early 20's as a normal part of growing up).  I would say that the vast majority of us have discovered that intensive dance/sport is not compatible with long term recovery.  You might be one of the exceptions.  Like I say, we did allow her to go back with some pretty serious conditions placed on her, but since she was NOT going to be allowed to use dance as a means of losing weight (which for her was at least PART of the reason she danced), her enthusiasm greatly diminished.  Plus, she found it very, very hard to wear the form fitting clothing required of dancers.  Don't get me wrong, my D at a healthy weight is a beautiful young woman who looks great in all sorts of clothing.  BUt, to her, at that time, it was just too hard.

Hope this helps.

D, age 18, first diagnosed March 20, 2013, RAN, at age 13 Hospitalized 3 weeks for medical stability. FBT at home since.  UCSD Multi-family Intensive June 2015. We've arrived on the other side.  :-)  D at college and doing great!

Posts: 123
Reply with quote  #19 
Just to add my bit, my d was at a performing arts school when she was diagnosed.  There were three girls in her year with an, one of which was on the dance course.  All three girls were not allowed to take part in dance lessons until they had reached target weight and the dance faculty was happy that they could cope.  Getting on top of this vile illness is the most important thing here.

Posts: 8
Reply with quote  #20 
I've been thinking about this post and thought I'd add another comment. I'm assuming that you live in the UK - if so, most professional dancers in the UK move to London at age 16 to shared houses and flats to train for hours and hours a week at dance college. This is widely agreed as one of the only ways to become a dancer and even then employment is not garunteed. I know of one college that is 50 hours of dance a week. I know of parents of dancers who have never had any problems with AN or and EDs who, upon their return home over the holidays, had to start them on weight gain shakes because they'd simply been unable to eat the amount of calories they'd been burning off and had become very underweight.  This will mean in order to have a career in dance you will need to get your DD to a point in the next three years where she can independently eat enough calories to maintain her weight while doing up to 50 hours of exercise a week in an environment where her teachers are telling her to lose weight. I may be cynical but I simply feel that would be a very dangerous position to put an AN child into. One of the issues is, if she did begin to relapse the teachers at best do nothing, at worst encourage. DD had a dance teacher who couldn't have weighed more than 80lb, looked on her death bed and massively reinforced ED behaviours to the girls. Because of the dangers of EDs, professional dancers tend to simply not have them - you just can't sustain that lifestyle with an ED, as your career is shortly ended through injury and not having enough energy. If your DD was fully recovered and auditioning for jobs she would be unable to tell her employers about her ED because they simply wouldn't cast her. Dancers are told to keep quiet about these things as they can't be seen as a liability. Therefor casting directors may put her on diets, critique her weight , weigh her publicly and she would risk losing her job if she spoke up. Its such an unhealthy environment.
I would think very carefully about even entertaining the idea of dance college auditions. my DD gained a full scholarship and a housing grant and suddenly she didn't need ,y permission. I had to let her go at risk of our relationship if I didn't. Its horrible to see her put herself under so much strain.
Would your DD consider a career as a dance teacher perhaps?

Posts: 1,126
Reply with quote  #21 
Hi all you dancer families,

I came across this book that seems quite sensible for parents of dancers, although I only read an interview with the author and I haven't read the book. It seems to focus on the body as the instrument for their craft and fueling it properly and how to deal with pressures to look a certain way.

I do think though we should strongly consider Kartini Clinic's advice around exercise while the illness is active and even when in recovery.

Exercise and recovery

Anorexia and exercise

Warm wishes,


2015 12yo son restricting but no body image issues, no fat phobia; lost weight IP! Oct 2015 home, stable but no progress. Medical hosp to kick start recovery Feb 2016. Slowly and cautiously gaining weight at home and seeing signs of our real kid.

May 2017 Hovering around WR. Mood great, mostly. Building up hour by hour at school after 18 months at home. Summer 2017 Happy, first trip away in years, tons of variety in food, stepping back into social life. Sept 2017, back to school full time for the first time in 2 years. Happy and relaxed, just usual non ED hassles. 

  • Swedish proverb: Love me when I least deserve it because that's when I need it most.
  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence Recovery, then, is not an act but a habit. Aristotle.
  • If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goal. (but don't give up on the plan too soon, maybe it just needs a tweak or a bit more time and determination [wink] )
  • We cannot control the wind but we can direct the sail.
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