Vienna ballet academy told children to start smoking to stay thin, inquiry finds | News | DW | 17.12.2019
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Vienna ballet academy told children to start smoking to stay thin, inquiry finds

One of the world's top ballet schools has come under fire for "endangering the wellbeing" of its students. A commission found that children were told to start smoking and were referred to by their clothing size.

A special commission investigating alleged abuse at the Vienna State Opera's ballet academy found a general "disregard" for child welfare at the school, according to a report released Tuesday.

"It is clear that children and adolescents are not sufficiently protected from discrimination, neglect and negative medical effects," the government-backed commission said in its report.

The inquiry reported incidents of physical abuse during training and that the students were addressed by their first name and clothing size to bring attention to their weight.

The students, who are between 10 and 18 years old, were also told to start smoking.

"We received reports that advice was given to students to start smoking so that they would be less hungry," commission chairwoman Susanne Reindl-Krauskopf told a press conference.

The commission also warned that students' training loads and performance schedules were insufficiently controlled, "endangering their wellbeing."

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Reports of beatings

The government launched the commission in April this year following reports of physical abuse during training and a case of sexual harassment.

Austria's Falter newspaper reported at the time that the students were hit, scratched, pulled by their hair and humiliated over their body weight. Some of the students developed anorexia and bulimia as a result, the paper reported.

The Vienna State Opera said on Tuesday that it had taken a series of steps to improve the situation and that the welfare of its students "is a top priority." The opera said it has already reduced the number of performances for students and has started work on health and psychological support programs.

The commission addressed these changes in its report, but found them to be insufficient, adding that they were created to convey "a proactive public image."

The academy, which was created in 1771, is one of the world's most prestigious ballet schools and attracts applicants from across the world. Over 80% of the school's 130 students come from abroad.

Alumni from the school have gone on to dance in some of the world's most famous companies, including New York's American Ballet Theatre, St. Petersburg's Mariinsky and the London Royal Ballet.

rs/se (AFP, dpa)

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