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Letter: Rigours of the Royal Ballet

Rigours of the

Royal Ballet

Sir: Your article (14 July) and subsequent correspondence has raised the issue of the state of affairs at the Royal Ballet School. My daughter was a pupil at White Lodge, the lower school, from 1989 to 1995.

The selection process is extremely rigorous and the fall-out rate once selected typically 50 per cent. The majority of the children receive substantial support from the Department for Education and Employment towards the pounds 14,000 per year fees.

This appeared to generate a view in the ballet staff that the children were privileged to be at White Lodge, and this was reflected in the way the children were dealt with in class. This combination of circumstances applied severe pressure to the children and their parents.

Our view at the time was that they were preparing the children for the intense competitive pressure they would experience in later life. However, there also appeared to be a lack of understanding of the impact of this environment on the children. Girls in my daughter's year suffered eating disorders and serious ballet-related injuries.

With the exception of Linda Goss, whose claim for unfair dismissal occasioned your article, the ballet staff appeared to focus on the Royal Ballet discipline of dancing and did not seem to show much sympathy for the children in these situations.

Because of the competitive pressure most parents are reluctant to speak out publicly about their concerns, so as not to jeopardise the chances of their children. However, the reality is that of the 30 children who commence the first year at White Lodge, possibly two or three will actually make it to the Royal Ballet Company. If the objective of the school is to prepare dancers for the Royal Ballet, then it has a low success rate.

My own lasting impression is that the Royal Ballet School is run primarily for the benefit of the Royal Ballet Company, with little accountability for the children involved. The Miss Goss case provides the opportunity to conduct a fundamental review of the school.

It is necessary not only for the future of British ballet, but more importantly for the future of the children who may attend the school.