In past articles, we have attempted to dissect some research in concise bitesize chunks to allow Strength and Conditioning to be applied to every Dancer who reads these pages...
This time is no different, only we will be providing a greater insight into Dance Science research and giving you a chance to see how we directly apply well researched principles to Dancers who work with Science in Dance.
So... grab a coffee and strap in because this one will be a ride through the literature.
BUT FIRST... A Story.
Whether we like it or not Dance Science Research is around 40-50 years behind Sport Science in general, nevertheless there are some major outfits in the UK, and Worldwide, attempting to bridge the gap. That said, we can do all the research we want but if we do not move with the times and adopt a change in CULTURE, then Dance Science can have all the gizmos and tech but we wont see it in the mainstream. Thank to some major moves over the past 5 years amongst the IADMS and One Dance UK community. These cultural changes are apparent.
I, myself, in our own practice have been seeking to find the most effective way of implementing and using Science and S&C to help Dancers but there has been much resistance to say the least. A friend of mine and colleague,
recently asked my advice on how Science in Dance had become such a major influencer on a small group of Dancers without much obvious resistance.
Simply put... Science in Dance did not brow beat anyone about the pros of lifting weights or using periodisation. Instead we offered people the opportunity to use the resources and train and think like an athlete... From there the culture has developed.
Education of the next generation of Dancers is the key to cultural change and key to Dancers receiving healthy guidance as they transition into the professional world. Hence I was pleased to see so many under 18s and teachers of under 18s at the Science in Dance Conference last weekend.
Now... what do we really know so far... Well for the sake of this article which is just one in a series of a few, we are going to look at a Dancer's ability to keep Dancing, Day in and Day out.
We must first look at Dancers... They need ability to Dance... yes but they also need the physiological capability to repeatedly do this. Therefore we must look at the research from a two pronged attack. Firstly, the improving a Dancer's capacity to Dance through endurance, strength, flexibility and general robustness and secondly there ability to recover between bouts or sessions of Dance Training.
Initial research, looked at the aerobic capacity of Dancers... which to many people's surprise demonstrated that skilled Dancers have the same Max aerobic output as sedentary people. Why is this, well Dancers have developed such skill to perform movements that their bodies do not illicit a cardiovascular response, in effort to perform movement, that is adequate to stimulate improvements in fitness. Seems simple... However, we must now entertain the fact that if Dancers are not that fit and are simply skilful, then as they become fatigued and tired, so that skill performance will become less consistent and ultimately create an increased injury risk. THAT IS DEFINITELY NOT WHAT WE WANT!
Possible solution, well we could have Dancers performing CARDIO everywhere but that isn't time effective for them and would increase their aerobic power only slightly in 8-12 weeks and possibly put them further into a calorie deficit which is not advisable either. So, interventions where Cardio and aerobic endurance were the focus were probably not going to be as applicable for the average Dancer.
As the research develops through the years. Data suggests that injuries are the result of overuse issues in localised sites of the body and mostly related to the amount of impact with the floor that Dancers endure on a daily basis. Logically, this lends itself to improving the robustness of Dancer to withstand impact and endure ground contacts and repetitive movement. This must be done through specific interventions to target certain strength characteristics. And this is where the role of a Strength Coach came to be so crucial to the Dance World yet that are not readily found.
In the world of Sport, everyone has a Strength Coach. Top Sport Doctors and Physios recognise theat there is no professional more equipped to build strength characteristics than a read and experience S&C Coach. Dance should be no different.
In Dance, if we strip it down for one second, we are talking about jumping, landing and changing direction. Repeating the same movement over and over again not only requires skill but muscular endurance and suitable strength and power to perform. Practising a movement over and over again will make you more skilful but does not take into account the body's threshold that might be exceeded which could lead to subsequent injury.
In latter Dance Science Research, University Scholars have endeavoured to find the contributing factors to injury such as; pointe shoe type, floor type, stage gradient, Dance Genre, Skill Level, Age and more... However the one common denominator to all these factors is the Dancer's ability to cope with the demand of what they are asking themselves to do.
Injury research on the whole is beginning to elude to the possibility that we CANNOT prevent an injury but only mitigate the risk and improve a person's ability to perform movements repeatedly without adverse effects on the body.
If injuries are occurring through OVERUSE AND REPEATED IMPACT. Lets look at a few options.
1. Address the important of technique: Landing, Weight Transfer and positioning.
2. Allow Dancers the opportunity to make their bodies robust through Strength Training. Subtract that "IMPORTANT" extra Ballet Class with some form conditioning so that their bodies can adapt to cope with all the other classes.
3. Less is More. Allow time for appropriate recovery modalities: Ice Bath, Gentle Walking and cycling, adequate nutrition and sleep.
4. Consider the effects of Yesterday's efforts on Today's performance.
5. Seek more Muscular Strength instead of More Flexibility.
This article does not even scratch the surface with Dance Science Research but better still picks out some key concepts for reflection. If you want Dancers to improve and be less injured. Step away from the Cardio machines and more classes, and allow them time to recover from their efforts and gain the strength required to jump up and down 200-300 times a day.
Credit to NIDMS and One Dance UK for their efforts to promote Dance Health and Education. However we must focus our attention to educating our own Dancers on how they can succeed whilst lowering their risk of spending more time trying to recover from injury.
Muscular Strength/Endurance and Landing/Pointe Work Technique will prevail against overuse injuries.
Peace and Love!