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The Australian Ballet Company is leading the way in dance medicine and I love seeing how things have progressed over the last 20 years. A great article in 2018’s April / May edition of Dance Australia (www.danceaustralia.com.au) outlines the progress of the Companies’ medical approach and activities.

In this month’s blog I’m going to talk about a few points that really stuck out for me and that I would love all my readers to really understand.

1. Warmups and Cool downs – In the past, dancers have just swung a leg around, maybe done some stretching before a class or performance. In fact, there are a lot of performances or competitions I remember pretty much not warming up at all! Then for cool down, you might chuck on some leg warmers or track pants and go about your business. Now, dancers in the Company are being given proper, high-level sports type warm up and cool downs. Just like elite athletes, they are using ice baths, or hot and cold spas to help recover after intense performances.

I believe that whilst dance students may not be at this elite level, it is still vital that students learn how to warm up and cool down properly to help prevent injury. Even if dancers aren’t planning yet to go onto professional dancing careers, dance injuries have the potential to affect your every day activities. My motto: You only have one body – look after it!

2. Weight Training, Resistance Training & Pilates: These are being used to prevent and rehabilitate dancers. David Hallberg, a visiting dancer from America, has recently undergone intense and long-term injury rehabilitation with the ABC’s medical team and noted that not all the exercises he received were ‘dance’ related. Cross training and utilising the experience of sports science (that has been researched and used for much longer than dance medicine practices) is enabling dancers to dance for longer and with less down time due to injury.

3. Preparing for the year – The medical team at the ABC watch the choreography their dancers are going to be performing over the year and develop programs to help prepare and support the dancers’ bodies. Given that choreography is becoming more adventurous and the audiences are expecting bigger, better and more out of their dancers, Dancers are needing more than their ballet or dance technique classes.

In an earlier blog I go into why dance classes alone don’t necessarily prepare dancers for performance. For example: One of the classes I am training at the moment is performing a lovely lyrical piece which requires lots of lifting for both the girls and boys. This requires strong arm, back and core muscles in a functional way not performed in dance classes. Through strength and conditioning classes, the dancers are improving in these areas so that they can more safely perform their competition piece.

4. Progression into workload – One of the highest times for dancers to become injured is after a break. During school holidays, dancers will often totally stop everything. Whilst it is important to rest, dancers need to continue to do some form of strength and conditioning to maintain muscles tone, flexibility and co-ordination. (Check out my Holiday Home Program Package on my website before these winter holidays to put yourself in the best position to start Term 3 :))

Along with this, is the onus on dance teachers to gradually increase the workload once the students have come back to class, to allow their bodies to adapt again. Dancers will always go back into class expecting to be able to dance at the same level as they had stopped before the holidays and throw themselves into their classes. This can be potentially damaging to their bodies and self-esteem, believing that they have ‘gotten worse’ will make them want to try even harder. Increasing the risk of injuries even more.

5. Know your body! – One of the other points that David Hallberg made was that the medical team at the ABC educated him on his body. They wanted him to be able to understand his body and be able to troubleshoot any ‘physical hiccup’s’ himself. This requires really understanding and knowing what your body is made up of (anatomy) how or why it works (physiology), what can go wrong and (most importantly) why! This is something that, again, full time dancers often get as part of their dance education, but part time students don’t.

Over the next few months I will be developing an online course specifically designed for dancers in anatomy, physiology, injury prevention and strength and conditioning that I hope will be able to address this inequality -so stay tuned!

Happy Dancing Everyone! x Julie


Have you ever noticed that when you first start learning a dance for a concert that the first few times you go through the whole dance you’re puffing and panting all over the place?

Well, given the way that dance classes and rehearsals are structured, that is not surprising. dance lessons are not designed to elicit cardiovascular fitness or adaptation.

For example, a Pettit Allegro or even Grand Allegro exercise may go for between 10 and 40 seconds, performed once, then the dancer may ‘rest’ for a minute or two whilst the next group performs the exercise or corrections are given. This type of activity pattern utilises what is called the glycolytic pathway (anaerobic glycolysis) for energy*. A dance performance, however, usually goes for longer, with between one to four-minute intervals of activity and brings with it higher levels of lactate.

So, if dance lessons don’t train for performance fitness, what can dancers do to improve their own fitness?

Many research articles exist studying this very problem. To mention a couple here, one study on low intensity aerobic training had dancers cycling for 30 mins, 6 times per week over 6 weeks. This did not impact (therefore did not increase) dancers capacity for performance (1). A different study, however, on circuit training combined with vibration training twice a week for 6 weeks, resulted in increased physical fitness (2). These results suggest that high intensity interval training (HIIT) produces the best results for dancers, especially those with demanding schedules. HIIT also mimics more of todays choreography, specifically that which incorporates falls to the floors, transfers of weight and even lifting other dancers.

What does HIIT for dancers entail?

Varsity dance suggest using Tabbatas – a 4 minute workout designed by a Japanese Scientist whereby exercises are performed as hard as possible for 20 seconds followed by rest for 10 seconds.

This is repeated for 8 rounds in total. The main points for best results and adaptation is to ensure:

  • The exercises are performed with correct technique

  • The exercises are performed at the highest possible intensity for the individual

An example might be:

Round 1 and 2: 2nd Position Sautés with Deep Plie,

Round 3 and 4: Passé Runs,

Round 5 and 6: Burpees,

Round 7 and 8: Jump Lunges

But the exercises can be varied and suited towards specific dance performance / choreographic requirements. They can also be dance related or non-dance related movements.

For optimum improvements, training during a usual class timetable should be three to four times per week and during peak rehearsal and performance times, only one or two sessions a week. Ideally all training should be periodised and developed with the demands of the specific performance.

Take home messages:

  1. Dance classes don’t prepare dancers for the cardiovascular requirements of dance performance.

  1. High Intensity Interval Training has been shown to increase cardiovascular fitness in dancers.

  1. HIIT can incorporate dance specific exercises as well as general fitness exercises.

***Dancewright can help you assess where you are now with your cardiovascular fitness and help you work towards your performance goals. Contact Julie now for a training package that will suit you! ***

More info on the technical stuff….

* Go here for a short video that explains energy pathways https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH6zO0EkxHI

** Go here for a short video that explains how lactate or lactic acid is formed . (‘Fermentation’ which is what you would know and would have felt as lactic acid)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-D1oes63_U

Resources:

  1. Angioi M, Metsios GS, Twitchett E, et al. Effects of supplemental training on fitness and aesthetic competence parameters in contemporary dance: a randomized controlled trial. Med Probl Perform Art. 2012 Mar;27(1):3-8

  1. Smol E, Fredyk, A. Supplementary low-intensity aerobic training improves aerobic capacity and does not affect psychomotor performance in professional female ballet dancers. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Mar;31:79-87

https://www.varsity.com./news/dance-team-strength-conditioning/

Rodrigues-Krause, J., Cunha, G. S., Alberton, C. L., Follmer, B., Krause, M., & Reischak-Oliveira, A. (2014). Oxygen consumption and heart rate responses to isolated ballet exercise sets. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 18(3), 99-105. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/jmrp/jdms/2014/00000018/00000003/art00001

Rodrigues-Krause, J., Krause, M., & Reischak-Oliveira, A. (2015). Cardiorespiratory considerations in dance: from classes to performance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 19(3), 91-102. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/jmrp/jdms/2015/00000019/00000003/art0000

Wyon, M. (2005). Cardiorespiratory training for dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 9(1), 7-12. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/jmrp/jdms/2005/00000009/00000001/art00002



Did you know?

The use of ‘turnout’ originates from the time of King Louis XIV when ballet was performed on raked stages. This new way of placing the feet made it easier for dancers to balance and move sideways.

These days ballet, in particular, demands dancers to appear to have 180 degree turnout – it has become the aesthetically pleasing norm. But in order to gain this desired effect, dancers must ensure they are approaching the position safely. Unsafe turnout practices can result in postural changes, degenerative issues, decreased strength and potentially bony changes. These issues are created due to the forces placed on the limbs and joints from using incorrect muscles.

For example: The femur can rotate more within the socket when the pelvis is tilted anteriorly (sicking you bottom out picture 1). If this method is engaged instead of recruiting the deep hip rotator muscles, poor posture can develop causing changes is lower limb positioning (picture 2) resulting in potential spine injuries due to the excess forces placed on the bones and connective tissues.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Many dancers focus on stretching to improve their turnout. While increasing flexibility is necessary, strengthening the muscles that then hold this turnout is often more important. This is seen when dancers can display a larger passive range of motion in the hips (picture 3) when assessed, than active turnout (picture 4). Put simply, your hip rotators are not strong enough to hold the body and limbs in its maximum available turnout.

So, what steps can dancers take to improve their turn out safely?

Several studies have been done on improving turnout. One in particular outlines a training program that was trialed with university level dancers

The steps below summarises the information gained from their research.

  1. Knowlege is Power! Educate yourself on the anatomy of the hip and lower limbs, especially to the muscles that cause rotation at the hip (piriformis, obturator internus, obturator externus, gemellus inferior, gemellus superior and quadratus femoris). There are plenty of credible online resources that provide information either in video format or text / picture format.

  1. Become Aware: Concentrate on firstly becoming aware of your turnout and feeling these muscles work. This can be easily done by laying on your back with your et parallel and rotating your legs to first position. Place your hands alternately under your bottom and on the side of your hips to feel the muscles moving. Concentrate on rotating from the hip, not the legs or feet. Then repeat the exercise standing, rocking back slightly on your heels to allow your legs to pivot to a turned-out position. Ensure that your core is engaged, hips are in alignment and your posture is correct. Be aware that you are likely to see more turn out while you are lying down (passive turnout), than you are standing (active turnout).

  1. Don't force it: Work within your current turn out range in class. Ensure that your hip placement and your posture is correct and that there is no pressure on your knees or rolling of the feet and ankles.

  1. Strengthen: Specifically strengthen the deep rotator muscles. This can be done through exercises like the Pilates ‘clam’, performing develops la second lying on your side then standing, using a rotating disk to practice plis in first, and in the coup position. Have an exercise scientist, personal trainer or a dance teacher who is trained in strength and conditioning, take you through these exercises initially, then you can practice them at home or before classes.

  1. Stretch: Ensure you stretch the muscles used after your strengthening session, such as stretching your rotators in the ‘pretzel’ position, sitting up out of your hips and a hip flexor lunge. Again, have a professional show you the best exercises for you first.

  1. Release: Use a tennis ball, foam roller or massage / trigger point ball to release and relax your deep rotator muscles

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice! Practice your strengthening exercises and your stretching exercises regularly!! This is probably the hardest part, but these stretches and strength exercises could be done whilst watching tv, or after class. Consistency (not quantity!) of practice will get the best results.

As always, consult your physiotherapist before entering into any extra training program to ensure you are moving and working in the correct way and won't cause any injury by doing so.

Resources

Pata, D., Welsh T., Bailey J., Range V., 2008, Improving Turnout in University Dancers, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 18 (4), doi: 10.12678/1089-313X.18.4.169

Welsh T., Rodrigues M., Beare L., Barton B., Judge T., 2008 Assessing Turnout in University Dancers, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 12 (4).

Picture Credits

  1. https://livelovefruit.com/5-exercises-correct-anterior-pelvic-tilt-get-rid-hip-lower-back-pain/

  1. https://www.precisionmovement.coach/anterior-pelvic-tilt-program/

  1. http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/understanding-the-screening-process

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294736304_Measuring_Dancer%27s_Active_and_Passive_Turnout


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