For all the data lovers... this one is for you. Dance Science in practise.
Do not be deterred by the nature of this article. We are going to go on a journey through how much hard work Dancers actually do. We are all aware that Dancers work hard, and anecdotally, the history books and news articles of a Ballerina's foot and the weird and wonderful positions that Contemporary and Hip Hop Dancers put themselves into, are well advertised on Youtube and wider networks. But how much energy, effort and physiological/psychological stress are Dancers putting themselves through.
Over the last decade there has been a surge in research surround Acute:Chronic workloads in Sport Science. A learned gentleman, Tim Gabbett, is arguably the go to researcher in the field of quantifying how much training and stress Athletes are subjected to on a daily and yearly basis. Usually, Parents and Teachers report how many hours of practise a young Dancer performs on a daily and weekly basis. However, we need to look at this quantification of Dance Training in greater depth.
How much impact, central and peripheral fatigue are Students and Professional Dancers subjected to?
What are the links between the fatiguing effects of Dance and performing well the next day?
Are Dancers adequately recovering after a day of Dance Training so that they can continue to perform and practise with an adequate level of accuracy and exertion the following day.
How much Dancing should someone be doing in order to improve at an optimal rate?
Is the intensity and volume of Dancing suggesting that individual may sustain an injury through overload?
What are the psychological stressors that are markers of over-training and fatigue?
Are we taking psycho-social factors into account?
These are all questions we must entertain. A considerable majority of Dance Injuries reported by NHS clinics around the UK over the last two years are overuse injuries that occur at typical sites for Dance injuries. Lower limb injuries are the most common in Classical Ballet due to considerations such as pointe work and the volume of jumps that Dancers are exposed to without pre-requisite or adequate lower limb strength.
Therefore there is a large calling for us to quantify how Dancers are feeling and how much training they are doing so that we can offset or mitigate injury risk. Similarly, allow Dancers the time to gain the required adaptations so that they can cope with these large training volumes and not sustain typical injuries from 'over-using' their already heavily exerted systems and movement patterns.
So what do we do and what efforts have been made?
The latest article from The Guardian regarding the Strength training that Royal Ballet company perform demonstrates the consideration that Ballet Companies should have for the performance schedule and ensuring that Dancers are physiologically equipped to cope with the Demands of Ballet.
During my time aiding KS Dance in all things Strength and Conditioning, we have collected daily data regarding training load using the Session RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) method. This involves a Dancer rating their own perceived level of exertion (0-10) for each class or rehearsal they perform and multiplying this by the length time (minutes) in which they took part in the session.
This allows us to create class (acute) and long-term (chronic) workloads data and analyse how the volume and intensity of their training changes in accordance with the rep or choreography changes and compare styles in terms of intensity and exertion.
How can we use this data?
Throughout the 17/18 season, KS Dance was using this data to change and control weekly workloads on a real time basis in order to create enough progressive overload for Dancers to improve but keep large surges in workload to a minimum so that Dancers could have adequate periods to recover. This process also allows Dance Science staff to individually aid Dancers returning from injury and those facing fatigue manage their training for the benefit of their progression, whilst allowing the Coaches and Teachers visual feedback on how the Dancers are feeling and the challenges they are facing from training and performance.
Initially, this tool was in developmental stages and therefore we would analyse weekly and daily training loads to advise the Dance Staff how much volume and intensity to include in their sessions. If there was a sharp increase in weekly load then we could advise Teachers and Coaches to remove certain elements, like repeated jumps and single leg landings, fro