How much can a ballet dancer weigh?

Weight in ballet: Finding the right balance

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How much can a ballet dancer weigh?

By Olga Leibrandt · Last updated: March 9, 2024 · Ballet Guide · ⏱ 4 min. reading time



This question concerns many young dancers and their parents. In the past, many ballet schools had fixed weight limits, which were often very low. In recent years, this seems to have changed. People now know health and well-being are more important than a meager weight. Find out more about the current situation and trends on this topic.


Weight tables and BMI index to determine the correct body weight?

The public perception of professional ballet has changed in recent years: There have been critical discussions about the issue of anorexia in professional ballet:

  • Vienna State Opera: Many ballet students suffered from bulimia, a girl from Japan is said to have weighed only 37 kilos despite being 1.70 meters tall. (derstandard.at)
  • Berlin State Ballet School: Teachers repeatedly made it clear to the students that dancers should not weigh a lot. Following the motto: no food is the best food, some children were advised to skip dinner for a week. (dw.com)
  • ZHdK: "The extreme focus on weight. A childlike body that shows no curves is desired. This is also stipulated in the contract when moving on to the main course: the body mass index (BMI) of young people should be between 16 and 18. According to the World Health Organization's guidelines, a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight. (Source: zeit.de)

During my research, I noticed that determining the permissible weight has become more and more of a taboo subject in the 2020s. State ballet academies are hesitant to make their physical selection criteria public. While there used to be weight tables for admission to the Bolshoi Academy, these have now disappeared. Some universities tried an official BMI index of 16-18. These criteria have since been abolished ( BMI index for ZHdK ) and are no longer valid.

Let's go back 9 years: I'll show you a table from 2015 for the admission of girls to the Bolshoi Academy. Who can still keep up with this? The BMI value in this table is often below 15!

Height-weight chart of Bolshoi Academy (Girls 2015)

Size Weight Size Weight Size Weight
150 33 155 36 160 39
151 33,5 156 36,5 161 39,5
152 34 157 37 162 40
153 34,5 158 37,5 163 40,5
154 35 159 38 164 41
155 36 160 39 165 42
156 36,5 161 39,5 166 42,5
157 37 162 40 167 43
158 37,5 163 40,5 168 43,5
159 38 164 41 169 44
160 39 165 42 170 45
161 39,5 166 42,5 171 45,5
162 40 167 43 172 46
163 40,5 168 43,5 173 46,5
164 41 169 44 174 47
165 42 170 45    

Legend: Permissible weight variation for girls over 170 cm +/- 2 kg, under 169 cm +/- 1 kg. Girls weighing over 50 kg have very limited access to partner courses to protect the boys from possible injuries.

Source: Found on montysponge.files.wordpress.com

BMI-Index 16-18?

Some universities have tried an official BMI index in the range of 16-18. However, these criteria have since been abandoned ( BMI index for ZHdK ) and are no longer valid.

Doubts about the BMI index as a selection criterion:

  • Inaccuracy: The BMI does not take into account the percentage of muscle mass. This is significantly higher in ballet dancers than in people of normal weight. Muscle mass is denser than fat tissue, which leads to a higher BMI, even if the body fat percentage is low.
  • Gender-specific: BMI is not gender-specific. On average, women have a higher body fat percentage than men, which can distort the BMI value.
  • Promotion of eating disorders: BMI can lead to fixation on a certain weight and thus promote eating disorders.

Possible alternatives to BMI:

  • Body fat measurement: Measuring body fat percentage is a more accurate measure of body composition than BMI.
  • Hydrostatic weighing: Hydrostatic weighing is a method of measuring body fat percentage using Archimedes' principle.

What values ​​apply now?

There is some evidence for a change in thinking. Some universities have a set minimum weight and offer nutritional advice: "It is important that dancers realize that they are both artists and athletes. Without the right nutrition, performance suffers," says Meyer from the HMTM.

At the Talent Scouting Days 2020 (Switzerland), Dr. Natina Schregenberger and her team examined a total of 163 dancers.

  • 76% of the dancers were of normal weight: This group would probably be in the BMI category "normal weight" (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9).
  • 15% showed a below-average body weight: Depending on the exact positioning of this group in the BMI spectrum, some could fall into the "underweight" category (BMI below 18.5).
  • Almost 8% were clearly underweight in relation to their age and height: this group could more likely be classified in the "underweight" category (BMI below 17).

Overall, however, these are encouraging data that show that being underweight is no longer a necessary criterion.

This was not always the case. In 2018, Grochowska-Niedworok examined 150 girls who were in classical ballet training during the study period. The girls examined, aged 10-12, had a BMI of 15.4 kg/m2 with a body fat percentage of 15.7%. In the group of 13- to 15-year-olds, a BMI of 17.0 kg/m2 with a body fat percentage of 13.8% was measured. The 16- to 18-year-olds had a BMI of 19.4 kg/m2 with a body fat percentage of 18.4%. Overall, 54% of all participants were classified as underweight

. However, weight and height are still requested on the registration forms. Full-body photos in various ballet positions must also be included. Due to a lack of transparency regarding the permissible weight, the values are unlikely to ​​have increased significantly. People just don't talk about it openly anymore.

Who is supposed to be able to lift ballet dancers with apparent ease? There are simply physical limits for the men who lift. I can well imagine that there will be upward adjustments in the lower weight range. In the upper range (beyond 55 kg, the air gets thin). When looking at this, a distinction must of course be made between young students and fully grown ballet professionals.

The following has previously been used as a guideline in training: the dancer's height in centimeters minus 120 equals the maximum weight (source: springer.com ).
However, the formula is only a rough guideline. It does not take muscle mass into account and can lead to inaccurate results for very tall or very short dancers.

Some ballet academies will also continue to use the body mass index (BMI), as methods such as body fat measurement and bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) are not possible remotely. The range has probably developed from the clear area of ​​malnutrition towards the normal range. Enclosed you will find the option of determining whether your BMI meets the really strict admission criteria. However, I have made a small adjustment.

My BMI calculator includes an adjusted BMI value of 17-20 and not 16-18. If your BMI is below 17, you will receive the warning message: "You are underweight and should gain weight."

Ballet and weight: Finally, put an end to unrealistic ideals!

In the past, ballet academies often had fixed weight limits, which led to eating disorders, health problems, and dissatisfaction. Today, fortunately, the trend is moving towards a healthier and more sustainable approach. However, I expect those responsible at the academies to set clearer guidelines on weight and size. Tabooing the subject of weight/underweight is not a solution! "Even with a few extra kilograms, with hips and breasts, a ballerina can look just as weightless", Kathleen McNurney

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