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Learning from the Pro's: Australian Ballet Company leading the way in dance medicine.

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 ( 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

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