Embracing the Art of Strength
The ability to stand on one leg and move limbs independent of each other is a pretty standard practise among young Dancers. However, the ability to perform such feats has a number of variables and often there is emphasis placed on the wrong aspects of anatomy and physiology such as; mistaking undeveloped strength for a lack of flexibility or joint range of motion.
Basic movement patterns such as; Squatting, Lunging, Bending forward (Hinging) and their variations are fundamental functions of encompassing multiple joints and muscle groups. These movements, especially in adolescent and junior Sport development, are often seen as the corner stones of building strong foundations on which to create effective and dynamic movement.
Where does Ballet and Dance have it right and wrong...
I often talk to my Clients and the Dancers I work with about becoming a fundamentally strong human, in the most basic of movements, in order further enhance their Dancing. Which makes perfect sense in Dance terms too, whereby we ask Dancers to enhance the most basic of skills to begin with. However, Strength and Conditioning, at its roots, operates primarily on enhancing performance through improving general and specific training to manipulate the musculature and neural pathways to perform in a certain way.
Put bluntly, S&C within Dance, at any age, works to improve general strength through enhancing the efficiency of basic movement patterns so that Dancers have a strong foundations on which to perform the difficult skills and coordination required in Dance.
In Dance, there can often be an expectation or a CAN or CANNOT notion. I have come across a few belief systems whereby young Dancers believe, or have been told, they will either never have the physical attributes that are required for Dance.
In reality, I have come across those with "natural ability" whereby they are anatomically gifted and also have naturally sustained coordination. More on them later...
I have come across those with anatomical gifts who do not know abilities they possess because they do not possess the strength nor skill/coordination to access their potential.
Similarly, there are those who have natural strength in abundance and simply need to harness skill and, perhaps, look to improve flexibility and skill of using such mobility.
Nevertheless, to a certain extent, YES, you have what you were born with, but You or your Dancers are certainly capable of altering and improving the skills, athleticism and artistry that are possessed.
So... where to start, well through research, and plenty of time spent as a practitioner in this field, it appears that even the most talented and extraordinarily "strong" Dancers do not have the underlying strength foundation to cope with the demands of Dancing throughout the working week nor to deal with the volume of repetitive exercise that takes place throughout Class, Rehearsal and Performance.
What we classify a strong Dancer in the most sport science based sense is the capacity to repeat movement efficiently with minimal energy lost to movement or error. However, beyond that, having good strength/endurance is essential to preventing injury which can, and most probably will, affect any Dancer on any level.
By giving Dancers the capacity for muscle function to occur repeatedly, we can drastically reduce the risk of Dancers' obtaining overuse injuries or presenting chronic symptoms related to the volume of Dance being performed. Beyond that, there is also a reduced risk that error will occur in particular movement and therefore reduce the risk of a 'one off' injury to any part of the anatomy.
Now, I appreciate that strength training has been given a name, similar to that of demonised figures throughout history, in the Dance world. However, there is a strong movement and swing, in the present dance era, towards Dancers performing both specific strength exercises to further enhance Dance ability. Yet, there is more to be gained from basic strength foundation and improving the general function and correct movement of fundamental anatomical functions.
Improving the ability to perform simple movements correctly like; Squats, Lunges, Forward and Rises in parallel will further enhance Dance performance by directly influencing and positively adapting musculature to cope with demands placed up on them. The more endurance a muscle has the greater the length of time it can perform desired and correct movement.
Once these exercises are implemented and foundation strength is gained, specific strength training exercises can be added.
A house will not survive a windy day with poor foundations.
Here is the wonderful Teacher of Classical Ballet, Sharon Johnstone from KS Dance performing her specific strength training in preparation for her upcoming Enrico Cecchetti Diploma next year.