Experiences of delayed maturation in female vocational ballet students: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

Siobhan Mitchell, Sean Cumming, Anne Haase

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Introduction: There is a well-established bias toward late maturing females in the context of ballet, with up to 70% of professionals delayed in maturation. The timing of maturation has implications for physical and psychological outcomes which are likely to be amplified in dance. The aim of this research was to explore the role of maturity timing in adolescent dance students' experiences of vocational ballet training. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 28 adolescent female dancers of differing maturity timing across three vocational ballet schools in the UK. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed in the analysis of data. This study comprises findings from the nine late maturing dancers within the sample. Results: Late maturing dancers perceived a number of aesthetic and functional advantages. The aesthetic advantages noted by the dancers are congruent with the well-established bias toward a later maturing physique for ballet; being ‘small’ and not having ‘bits’ is advantageous for these dancers in terms of maintaining a more pre-pubescent look and thereby conforming more easily to the expectations of the ballet world. However, dancers in this study perceived some significant drawbacks. Despite aesthetic advantages, later maturing dancers were disadvantaged by the current training system which sees them undertaking the most crucial training period during their most rapid period of growth. Conclusions: Greater consideration of maturation is needed within training systems and further research is warranted to understand these experiences in more depth and their implications for the physical and psychological wellbeing of young people in dance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-241
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Early online date22 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2020


  • Ballet
  • Delayed puberty
  • Maturation
  • Qualitative
  • Wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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