Ballet dancer

How Derbyshire ballet dancer Ruth won the battle against anorexia

A former Royal Ballet dancer has explained how her battle with anorexia nervosa led her to leave the company and change the course of her career.

Ruth Bailey, 32, developed a keen interest in ballet from the age of two and attended local dance schools to train.

At the age of 11, she was accepted into the White Lodge Royal Ballet School to complete her schooling alongside a comprehensive training program.

This gave her the goal of joining the company after leaving school and continuing to perform alongside some of the country’s biggest stars, including Darcey Bussell.

She said: “I just got to a position where I thought ‘god, I can’t believe this is my life’, it was a real pinch moment for me because this is the dream of all the little girls.”

However, while at school, she suffered from weight and image issues as she progressed through puberty.

With a “childlike” image of a ballet dancer in her head, constantly having to perform in front of mirrors and being sent to see nutritionists, Ruth felt the pressure building on her.

She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa while in the business and struggled to cope with the side effects.

Ruth added: “I’ve progressed into becoming a woman and I think it’s a very difficult transition to go through, especially in dance.

Ruth struggled with her body image and weight while training as a ballet dancer.

“My job started to suffer and I really suffered a lot of anxiety and depression with that.

“I gained weight because fluctuations happen naturally, but it was a different picture for my peers and coaches.

“I was very naive and still young, and I thought I had put in all these years of training and just started eating less and increasing my training regimen.

“I went into a spiral thinking I liked how my body looked when the weight came off.”

After struggling for several months and falling seriously ill, Ruth made the difficult decision to leave the business to focus on her health and well-being.

But Ruth does not blame the Royal Ballet at all for what happened to her, saying she thinks these issues are not talked about enough.

“The deeper you get in, the harder it is to get out,” Ruth said.

“No matter what people tell you, that you can quit now, it doesn’t even touch the surface and I think I was too far into the disease to listen.

“When I was 21 I got very sick from it and decided to quit the business just for a bit to recuperate and at that time I thought it was just a physical illness so I gained weight, and I did.

“I don’t think I was in the right mental state to see my body change again and I didn’t want to be on that hamster wheel for long.

She now uses her experience to help hospice workers through their well-being and other difficulties they might face.
She now uses her experience to help hospice workers through their well-being and other difficulties they might face.

“I made the second decision to end my career completely, which was really difficult because I had spent ten years of my life, and my family’s life too, so there was a huge sense of guilt the low.”

After leaving the business and putting dancing behind her, Ruth, from Chesterfield, was accepted into a nutrition course at Sheffield Hallam University.

Now 11 years after recovering from her eating disorder, Ruth has started working with Chesterfield-based Ashgate Hospice as a staff and wellbeing adviser, to ensure its staff and volunteers are well supported and given the help they need to do their jobs.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen how people have been impacted by changes to our work and personal lives,” she says.

“At Ashgate, we are taking a proactive approach to addressing these issues to ensure we have a well-supported and resilient workforce.

“My ambition is to help make well-being a priority for everyone. It can be hard to give yourself permission to make time for yourself, however, I believe it is the key to long term sustainability.

“I hope to build and promote a very strong message that well-being should be paramount for healthy staff and volunteers.

“Human beings have basic needs and I hope to give time, energy and a safe space for people to recognize them in the workplace.”