A prestigious ballet school ‘told child dancers to smoke’ to stay slim, investigation alleges

Close-up shot of a ballerina taking off the ballet shoes sitting on the floor in the studio

VIENNA  — Children at Vienna’s prestigious ballet academy were routinely humiliated and told to smoke in order to stay slim, an investigation has alleged.

A government-backed commission found that the welfare of child performers was disregarded at the academy of the Vienna State Opera, according to an executive summary of the report.

Vienna’s State Opera said it had already cut the number of students’ performances, and would study the report in detail before giving a more thorough reply, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency. CNN has contacted the opera house for a comment on the new report.

The latest investigation follows a scandal that erupted in April, when the newspaper Falter published a report alleging physical and mental abuse against students, including sexual assault.

The investigation from the Austrian weekly included allegations that dancers as young as 11 were kicked, scratched and frequently pressured to lose weight.

The opera house accepted at the time that some of its performers had been subjected to mistreatment. Its director, Dominique Meyer, told Australian network ORF TV that a teacher had been fired after the investigation and said he wanted a detailed investigation into the allegations, according to local media.

The report’s authors wrote that they were “convinced that the children and young people do not enjoy the necessary level of protection against discrimination, neglect and health impairments.”

It highlighted “humiliating comments, the nature of derogatory comments regarding eating behavior, (supposed) aesthetic requirements and an underdeveloped communication regime.”

The authors also allege that the young dancers were told to smoke to lose weight, and were addressed by their first names and clothes sizes, AFP news agency reported.

“When students show signs of eating disorders, the Academy is very hesitant to bar them from training,” the report summary went on.

Meyer, the opera house’s director, is a French former politician who has headed the opera house since 2010. He is set to take over at Milan’s famous La Scala opera house in the new year.

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