In Part 1 I discussed stretching as one way of increasing ROM at a joint although the research has shown it’s not always effective. In fact, it may be that stretching has more of an effect on increasing stretch tolerance than anything else. Either way, stretching should only really target the muscles and potentially the fascia (again - research pending!).
The problem however, is when the restriction is not in the length of the muscle or fascia. When a muscle feels tight, people often assume the muscle needs to be stretched. It’s the natural conclusion; something feels tight stretch it! In reality, just because a muscle feels tight (i.e. it feels restricted) it doesn’t mean the muscle is necessarily short.
Let’s clarify. A short muscle is different from a tight muscle. A short muscle indicates that the muscle has difficulty lengthening during movement, or at its resting state it is actually shorter. This is referring to more of a structural property of the muscle. A tight muscle on the other hand refers more to the inability of the muscle to relax due to tension within the muscle - usually due to overuse. Muscle tightness and muscle shortness can both impact range of motion but will need to be treated differently.
If a muscle is short but relaxed, then stretching could be useful to increase the length of the muscle. If the muscle is tight and as a result has lots of adhesions (knots) however, stretching could actually exacerbate the problem.
Other ways of increasing ROM:
Strengthening a joint: This may sound counterintuitive, but if a joint is dysfunctional in some way, it may not be that the muscle needs to be stretched but that the opposing muscle group needs to be strengthened. During every movement at a joint one muscle group must shorten while the opposing muscle must lengthen. If you find you aren’t able to lengthen one side of a joint properly, it could be that there isn’t enough tension coming from the opposing side of the joint to create enough stability to allow this side of the joint to release. For example, if you feel like your calf muscle is really tight, try doing some strengthening work for the ankle dorsiflexors. The increased stability at the joint as well as the opposing tension may help the calf muscles relax.
I once had a really nice analogy made for me by a Pilates instructor of mine. If a joint isn’t functioning properly and the muscles around the joint are super ‘tight’ you should stop and think about WHY the muscles are tight before you go ahead and stretch the hell out of them. Those tight muscles might be the only things holding that joint in place. It’s important to add stability to a joint before you take away muscular tension.
‘Deep Tissue work’: You may have heard this term before. Deep tissue work is really just an umbrella term for any type of work that targets the deep muscles or connective tissue. There are many ways to do this including myofascial therapy, trigger point therapy, Muscle Activation Technique (MAT) or massage. Many of these require seeing a qualified bodywork therapist, but if this isn’t in your budget there are ways to do this type of work on your own.
Foam rollers, tennis balls or yoga Tune Up balls (slightly softer than tennis balls) can be your new best friend. Areas of particular focus for dancers should be the lateral quads, deep external rotators (piriformis), TFL, and gastrocnemius/soleus complex. Although Psoas and Iliacus are often in need of some work too, I would recommend having them treated by a trained and qualified bodyworker as they are quite deep to get into (and there are some kind of important organs you want to avoid in there). By working deep into the tissue you can start to break apart some of the adhesions and restore their proper function without actually stretching the muscles.
Food for mobility: Sometimes, lack of mobility at a joint can be caused by inflammation and increased fluid buildup. If this is the case, certain foods can help reduce inflammation at a joint and impact fluid easeful movement. Some studies have shown that ginger extract can be as effective as ibuprofen in reducing joint pain (1), fish containing Omega-3 fatty acids can slow the progression of osteoarthritis (2), and antioxidants like the ones found in dark-coloured fruits and vegetables can increase cell-wall elasticity and joint mobility. I would urge dancers who want to look more into this area of training to contact a holistic nutritionist to get more detailed information on the topic - Contact me if you need a referral!
Traction: In most cases, you will likely go to a health professional to get traction work done. As a massage therapist, I incorporate joint play including traction into most of my treatments. The reason for this is that joints are constantly being compressed by tight muscles, tendons and fascia, not to mention gravity! The two bones in a joint are brought closer together and the arthrokinematic movement at that joint can be compromised. Traction is a way of restoring the integrity of a joint by bringing apart the two connecting bones, restoring the circulation and bringing in new nutrients in to the joint.
Again, traction can be done on your own with the use of a thick band and any immovable post. Attach one end of the band to a pole (banister, bedpost, squat rack etc) and wrap the other end around your ankle. Begin to move back away from the pole putting the band on stretch. Lie back and feel the band tugging at your leg. Take deep breaths.
Neuromuscular processes: The last way to increase ROM doesn’t involve changing the tissue at all, but involves restoring the nervous system. When joints are held in positions for prolonged period of time the tissue surrounding the joint can adapt and become adaptively shortened/ lengthened. This is where the term ‘locked long/ locked short’ comes from. A similar process can happen with the nervous system. Because the nervous system has decided this new position is now normal, bringing the joint back into a neutral position will be interpreted by the nervous system as a stretch. Now if you try and increase the range even more to achieve the desired range of dance movement you will most definitely activate the stretch reflex (you can go back to part 1 to remind yourself what the stretch reflex is). Therefore, incorporating somatic work (imagery, breath, visualizing, etc) into your practice will be essential to allow the nervous system to let you achieve these new ranges of motion.
Other benefits of stretching
Up until this point I've discussed stretching from a purely mechanical point of view. There are however, benefits to stretching that go beyond the physical tissue which can be just as, if not more important.
The primary way is that stretching can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s ‘rest and digest’ system. In simpler terms, it can help you RELAX! It will likely come as no surprise that in this day and age, people are spending more and more time in their sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system). For determined and hard working dancers, this is even more true. The importance of rest and relaxation cannot be stated enough as an essential element of dance training.
Static stretching can actually slow down the body’s sympathetic nervous system resulting in lower blood pressure and heart rate, it can control stress, increase focus, increase blood flow from the extremities post class, and just generally make you feel really good! From a motor learning perspective, stretching included at the end of class can provide a time for reflection, integration and help solidify learning. Taking that 15 minutes to stretch after a class can ensure dancers aren’t running to their next appointment and psychologically digest what has just been learned.
When discussing the effects of a purely relaxation based massage, I once had a teacher make a comment that stuck with me. You don’t hear of people dying from ankle sprains, but people die every day due to stress. Don’t underestimate the powerful effects of relaxation.
At the end of the day, we need to remember that ultimately, our nervous system runs the show. If it doesn’t want us to go into a range of motion, it will be pretty darn hard to get there without injuring ourself in the process. No amount of mechanical work on the body will give the nervous system the urge to release a muscle that feels tight. Incorporating somatic practices including breath, imagery and mindfulness are the ultimate pathways to increased range of movement.
It’s safe to say that most people like to stretch. When I was doing mostly personal training, all I would hear from my clients was how much they were looking forward to the stretch at the end of the session. Teaching pilates, clients constantly ask if we can incorporate some ‘stretching’ into the session. Why? Because stretching feels good!
Dancers are no exception and in fact, are usually on the far end of the spectrum. Flexibility is no doubt an important element to certain styles of dance, but how to achieve optimal flexibility is the real question.
It's not unusual then, that when discussing flexibility your mind is immediately drawn to stretching. Stretching is a controversial subject to say the least, and recent years have seen a real shift in how movement practitioners and body experts are using it. I’ve recently changed my own approach to stretching as I’ve learned more about it - and definitely differ in my approach to stretching depending on who I’m working with.
We now understand that the amount of motion at a joint is impacted by many factors, and is actually more complex than just the 'flexibility' of the muscles surrounding it.
Stretching CAN be used as an effective way of achieving greater ROM as long as it is done with awareness and mindfulness. Stretching is not the time to ‘check out’ - in fact it requires a deep tuning in to the body.
The information following is directed towards dancers or those working with dancers, NOT the general public. For dancers, flexibility is an important part of dance training. I write a lot about dance as a unique area of sports science. Whereas other athletes require flexibility for functionality, dancers’ flexibility is an inherent element of functionality. Achieving range of motion beyond the functions of daily life is part of the aesthetic of dance.
In this post I will discuss how to use stretching to your advantage by explaining the what, how, why and when. In part two, I will discuss other ways of increasing your range of motion that does not include stretching.
So first a little background info on the topic:
Flexibility Vs. Range of Motion
Often these two terms are used interchangeably but they are in fact different.
Range of motion (ROM) refers to the degree of motion that occurs at a joint. This will be impacted by many factors including the structural anatomy of the joint, the surrounding soft tissue and connective tissue, muscle mass as well as neurological tissue.
Flexibility, is the ability of the soft tissue to elongate - so more specifically the muscles, tendons and fascia. ROM will therefore be impacted by the flexibility of the muscles however also takes into account other impacting factors. Someone who is hypermobile may therefore have a large amount of ROM at a joint, however still have ‘tight’ muscles. In fact, in my experience the more hypermobile dancers I work with often feel like their muscles are the ‘tightest’.
Common wisdom would assume that to increase ROM at a joint you need to stretch stretch and then stretch some more! And while stretching PROPERLY may impact the ROM, muscular factors will actually only account for about 10% of the limiting factors of ROM. I know!! 85% of these factors are joint factors which are largely genetic!! Some of these joint factors include the articulating bone and cartilage and the ligaments surrounding the joint (which we absolutely do NOT want to stretch). Muscular factors include the muscles and tendon extensibility. The other 5% will include more general factors like age, gender, body fat and environment. So therefore it’s important to know that some people will genetically be more flexible than others.
ROM can be either Passive or Active.
Passive range of motion, involves the amount of movement you have at a joint without any muscle activation. The joint is being moved by an external force (either another person, or a resistance band or towel). Active range of motion is the amount of movement you have at a joint through active contraction of the muscles surrounding the joint.
Dancers require both passive and active flexibility in different situations. The nervous system plays a huge role in mediating these two systems and so changing one type of ROM will not necessarily transfer directly to the other. Therefor it is important to train the type of ROM you require for your sport.
This is the million dollar question!
Surprisingly, there is no ONE answer for the best ways of increasing range of motion at a joint. It will depend on so many different factors. Some research advocates for stretching as a way to increase ROM at a joint, whereas other studies have found no increased benefits from certain types of stretching. This lends itself to the idea that different techniques are going to work for different people.
It's valuable to look at dance specific research wherever we can - and doing so, it appears that stretching can be an effective tool in increasing the flexibility of the soft tissue therefore effecting the ROM but only in that 10% that is muscular. If that is where your limitation is, then it would appear stretching could be quite effective. IF however, the limitation in ROM is coming from the other 85%, then stretching alone might not make a change. Research has also found that stretching can increase the ROM at a joint by increasing 'stretch tolerance' without any change in the muscular tissue. This will likely be an effect on the nervous system more than anything else.
I will be discussing some of the other less 'measurable' benefits of stretching more in part 2.
Types of Stretching
There are 4 main types of stretching and each can be beneficial if used safely and effectively.
Static Stretching: This involves taking a muscle into a lengthened position and holding it there. Research has shown that 15-30 seconds is adequate for holding a static stretches as it is more effective than stretches of a shorter duration but no different from stretches of a longer duration (like this study or this study).
Dynamic Stretching: This type of stretching involves a controlled and dynamic movement of the joint through its full range of movement. An example of this would be leg swings, lunges or arm arcs.
Ballistic Stretching: This type of stretching involves a repetitive bouncing movement. This form of stretching has been shown to produce short term flexibility gains however as it inherently lacks control, it is definitely the most dangerous so needs to be performed with care and caution.
PNF stretching: This type of stretching uses one of the body’s reflex systems called autogenic inhibition. There are various ways to perform this type of stretch but simply put, it involves taking the target muscle into a lengthened position and then getting it to contract against resistance to create an isometric contraction (contraction with no movement at the joint). The contraction is held for approximately 5 seconds and then released as the joint is brought to its new ROM.
Stretch intensity is where I encounter the most misconceptions. Many people believe that you need to feel a stretch intensely to gain the benefits that will come from that stretch. The harder you stretch the more your flexibility will improve right? Nope. This has been challenged by recent research looking into the intensity of stretch!
A 6 week experimental study was conducted looking into the intensity of stretches. Dancers were split into two groups: Group 1 stretched at their usual intensity of 8/10. Group 2 stretched at a lower intensity of 3-6/10. Results showed the the lower intensity group increased grand battement and developpé height by 20 degrees! The high intensity group on the other hand saw a very slight but not significant increase of only 5 degrees.
The results from this study also found that the high intensity stretching group showed an increase in inflammation blood markers. This means that the muscle being stretched was actually being traumatized (take a read here!).
The Stretch Reflex
The body is much more intelligent than we give it credit for. Its main priority is to protect against damage.
That is why the body has a mechanism called the Stretch Reflex. We have sensory receptors within our muscles called muscle spindles. When a muscle is lengthened too quickly or too intensely, these muscle spindles are put under tension and send a message to the muscle to contract as a safety precaution. This means that if you stretch a muscle too much, or too quickly that very same muscle will protectively (and reflexively) contract. If you are stretching so intensely that the stretch reflex is coming into play you are completely negating the effect of the stretch and because the muscle is going through an internal battle with itself you are likely putting it at increased injury risk. That feeling when you are stretching your hamstring and your leg begins to shake is probably a good time to back off the stretch!
What should be stretched and what shouldn't be stretched
Muscles and their surrounding connective tissue SHOULD be stretched. This will include the fascia that wraps around the muscles like a sheet.
Ligaments and the joint capsule SHOULDN’T be stretched. Ligaments are intended to hold a joint in place and by stretching them you are actually decreasing the integrity of the joint. Think of the ligaments as the seat belts of your joint. You wouldn’t go around ripping out the seat belts of your car. Because ligaments are non-elastic, if you stretch these tissues you will permanently elongate them. In response, the muscles surrounding the joint will have to work harder to keep the joint stable making them less efficient and more likely to fatigue. This will likely start a viscous cycle of the muscles feeling ‘tight’ because they are working so hard, stretching more, destabilizing the joint more, and feeling even ‘tighter’. Answer? Stop stretching the ligaments.
There may be times when it is appropriate to stretch the joint capsule or connective tissue to maintain the integrity of a joint due to injury or adaptive shortening in the tissue. This however, should only be done with the guidance of a health professional and with the appropriate strengthening work.
Of course the question then becomes how do you know what tissue you are stretching and that you aren’t in fact stretching ligaments? That is a really good question, and is why it’s important to work with knowledgeable and experienced practitioners with an extensive understanding of anatomy. A tip to get you started is you should feel the stretch in the belly of the muscle, rather than near the attachment points, or deep in the joint. There should be no sharp sensations or pain when stretching.
RULES for stretching
Here are a few rules that are good to live by when using stretching to as part of your practice.
1) Prolonged static stretching should be avoided before class, rehearsal or performance. It’s now pretty well unanimously thought by experts that prolonged static stretching before class or rehearsal can be temporarily damaging to the muscle and neurological tissue leading to temporary impaired performance. Numerous research studies have found that prolonged static stretching prior to class or performance impairs performance strength, power, endurance, balance, jump height, reaction time and movement time. etc. Although the neurological deficits resulting from static stretching may dissipate in up to 15 minutes, the muscular tissue can take up to an hour to regain it’s full strength . So no splits warm up!
2) Dynamic stretching should be included before class, rehearsal or performance.
Stretching however, shouldn’t be ignored entirely before class as it’s an important element of a proper warm up. When dynamically stretching, gradually increase the range of movement throughout the warm up moving into a larger range as the tissues become warm, and the muscles become activated.
3) The tissue surrounding a joint should be warm before it is stretched. This will ensure that injury doesn’t occur and will also ensure a longer retention of the tissue length.
4) Include some BRIEF static stretches before class, rehearsal or performance. Brief static stretches no more than 8 seconds can be used in a dance warm up so long as the tissue is warm, and they are not held for more than 8 seconds. This will insure that the joint is not weakened by the stretches (that is why it’s really important they aren’t any longer than 8 seconds) but the required flexibility is still achieved prior to dancing.
Why? different factors will impact a muscles ability to transmit force effectively to the bones. Neurologically as well, a muscle will exhibit less ability to activate after a prolonged stretch. So to make a long story short, DON’T do prolonged static stretching before a class and expect that you will be able to achieve your optimal performance. Remember, we’re trying to get the joint to it’s ‘functional’ range of motion before dancing.
5) Longer duration stretches for the purpose of increasing flexibility should be done when the tissue is warm and after class or rehearsal. If you are following a program to increase your flexibility, and are holding stretches for longer than 30 seconds it should be done either after class or rehearsal or at a different time completely in the day. If being done at a different time, make sure the tissue is warmed up properly through 10 minutes of light activity.
That all being said, for many people stretching will not make any change in their ROM at a joint. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So if stretching isn't working for you, there could be another answer!
In PART 2, we will look at some of the other benefits of stretching that aren't mechanical in nature, as well as other ways to increase ROM that doesn't involve stretching.
It’s been quite the build up, but Safe Dance Practice Module 1 is complete… Exhale!
I had 8 students who attended the first of the 4-part course, which was a great number and allowed for discussion and sharing without feeling too crowded. For those who are interested in the sound of this course but aren’t quite sure what it entails here is a little recap of the experience and what we covered:
The diverse group of attendees made for a really interesting platform for sharing. Participants consisted of a mix of both professional dance artists who were also teaching dance, as well as those teaching other movement forms like pilates, yoga or fitness. We had an ex-professional dancer turned fitness instructor watching her 8 year old daughter in the competitive dance scene now. We had a ballet dance teacher with a phD in dance pedagogy, a dance studio owner, and many dance artists teaching ballet, contemporary, jazz, acro, heels dance… pilates, fitness and yoga!
The course began with a discussion on what safe dance practice was. I always like to start with this because although it’s the reason we’ve all gathered, it’s not always obvious what our goal is. We started with big picture questions, then narrowed down the conversation to what we could do as individual dance educators promoting safe dance practice in our own environment.
One of the topics that came up in this discussion was the the difficulty in wanting to protect and respect the traditions and history of different dance forms while also challenging some of these traditions. We have made so many scientific gains in recent years and what we know about training and safe practice has changed dramatically. There comes a point when we can’t be afraid to respectfully challenge what is being taught and begin to influence a new culture of dance.
Where is that line though? How can we do that respectfully? We agreed discussion and education were probably the places to start.
We then dove head first into an anatomy review. We discussed bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons; What they do, what they are made of and how they are involved in movement. For some participants this was a nice refresher, while others were excited to be learning new things. We discussed the mobility-stability continuum in the body and what joints need to create safe, efficient movement. This built the basis for our understanding on how the body functions holistically through movement.
The main focus of this Module 1, was anatomical and biomechanical principles of alignment, so after our anatomy refresher we jumped into a discussion on alignment. We broadly discussed the importance of alignment in dance movement (both static and dynamic), what ‘good’ alignment was, why it might be important and how we might go about achieving it.
We then went through a few postural analyses together as a group. As we went through a few examples of participants’ alignment, and started to recognize some common themes and alignment deviations to this population. We did this by learning how to find body landmarks in the body, and visually assessing how they stacked up in the line of gravity and where tension might be held in the body.
This fed nicely into the next section where we went through alignment deviations common to dancers. Some of these included anterior pelvic tilt, hyperextended knees, thoracic extension and excessive pronation/supination. As we made our way through the body, discussing alignment deviations joint by joint, we considered how each deviation was affecting the kinetic chain and how changes at one joint impact the rest of the body.
Lastly, we discussed how, as dance teachers, we could go about impacting dancers’ alignment. Changing alignment is unfortunately more complicated than just lengthening what is short and strengthening what is weak, although that can often be a good place to start. We discussed the neuromuscular re-patterning that is necessary to go about making changes in postural habits. How can we do that though? … We discussed different ways we can successfully re-pattern the neuromuscular system.
The afternoon consisted of a combination of lectures, discussions, movement and sharing.
One of the participants spoke about her experience:
“I'm a former dancer and now a yoga teacher. The concepts and information in Hannah's course are certainly transferable to safety in yoga teaching. Hannah is amazingly clear, articulate and engaging in her approach to sharing information. There was a great balance between theory and practice and she had a real life example to help explain any theoretical question that a participant posed. I definitely plan To take the other modules as well’.
Another participant said:
"Hannah is incredibly knowledgeable about the human body and how it relates to dance practice. The information is progressive, relevant, and fun to learn".
We are gearing up for Module 2 on May 7th, which will look at supplementary training and the nutrition and hydration needs of dancers. There is still time to register so be in touch if you are interested in attending!
E-mail email@example.com to register!
Safe Dance Practice … Healthy Dance Practice … Safe and Healthy Dance Practice… Safe and Effective Dance Practice! These are all terms that are used by various organizations and educators to explain a similar concept
But what really is safe dance practice and what does it entail? I recently did a workshop presentation at the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) Regional meeting in Toronto on behalf of Healthy Dancer Canada on this very topic, so I thought it would be worth while to put it down on paper. Almost as often as I get the question ‘What is Dance Science’ I also get the question ‘What is Safe Dance Practice’?
What is Safe Dance Practice?
‘Well informed dance teachers can enable dancers to dance for longer and enhance performance. We know that it is in the studio that future generations of dancers are born, either for the professional theatre, or for recreational pleasure. By keeping dance teachers up to date with the best information we have, those dancers will have greater longevity and the life-enhancing joy of dancing.’
I like this quote, as it speaks to the growing understanding among dance educators, researchers and dancers that recognizing and implementing safe dance practice principles is essential to the dancer for multiple reasons:
Safe Dance Practice can be defined as “allowing all dancers of every age, ability and style to engage fully in the act of dancing without risk of harm to the body or mind, while also supporting them to achieve their full potential” (1). Therefore, SDP is about both limiting risk of injury (both physical and psychological) while enhancing performance potential (both physically and psychologically).
We say LIMIT risk because risk can not be avoided completely! Dance, like any physical activity, has its inherent risks however injury rate among this profession is extremely high with studies citing it to be anywhere up to 98% annually (2) . What we can do, is try to limit unnecessary risk and be educated on what to do if injury does occur.
What Safe Dance Practice is NOT
When discussing SDP with fellow dance educators I will sometimes get a natural almost visceral negative reaction from people who think that safe dance practice means telling dancers that they can’t do certain things. Safe Dance Practice is NOT about restricting what dancers can do ... we are not the dance police! It’s not about bubble wrapping dancers preventing any risk or harm and as a result stifling creative risk.
In fact… SDP is about the exact opposite. By educating and empowering both dancers and dance educators with the exact knowledge and skills to provide the best support, it will open the door to more opportunities. Longer careers, less time off for injury, more chance for a successful and meaningful dance career.
What SDP is really about is educating dancers on how best to deal with an acute injury ensuring the greatest chance for quick recovery. It’s about providing the research based information on how to best utilize supplementary training so as to enhance dance performance while minimizing the risk of overtraining. It’s about recognizing postural deviations as either functional or structural and knowing what to do when you see them and how they may impact technique. It's really about using the amazing scientific research and advances we have made in the 21st century and disseminating this information to the people who actually use it!
Safe dance practice also incorporates the stylistic requirements of the genre, respecting the integrity and historical developments of each dance’s current style. Acknowledging potential issues or risks does not necessarily mean certain movements are inappropriate and contraindicated. It requires a complex interplay between safe practice recommendations and stylistic requirement… and this is where the discussion starts.
What is the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate?
I’m currently entering my final term of study to become a Registered Massage Therapist in Canada. In Ontario, Massage Therapy is a registered profession ruled by a college (CMTO) and as a result there are very strict and regulated rules that I must follow to call myself an RMT. As there is currently no governing body for dance teachers the result is anyone can open up a studio and teach dance, regardless of their background.
Safe in Dance International is an organization that provides certifications for both dancers and dance educators to provide evidence that they are teaching dance with awareness of safe dance principles. SiDI is endorsed by the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, a partner with Healthy Dancer Canada and the provider of the Safe Dance Practice course I will be discussing here. Although there is no ‘law’ that a certification is necessary it can provide dance schools, parents and teachers with the confidence that as an educator you have the knowledge and education to teach safe AND effectively giving your students the best chance at success.
If you are interested in applying for a healthy Dance Practice Certificate, you must apply and provide evidence of your teaching through both written work and a DVD of your teaching. Applicants can apply independently if they feel they have the adequate knowledge to do so, or they can apply under the guidance of a Registered Provider. Registered Providers can provide support in the form of courses, or independent support.
A Safe Dance Practice course will be running in Toronto beginning April 9th, 2017 to prepare applicants for the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate. The Safe Dance Practice course can also be used as CPD hours for RAD teachers! Each workshop can be taken individually or all four can be taken together to best prepare for the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate.
Safe Dance Practice encompasses both physical, psychological and environmental elements.
The course is split into 4 modules, each covering 2-3 of the 10 Core principles.
Module 1 will look at the more anatomical and biomechanical aspects of dance training. In this module we will cover a basic overview of the muscular and skeletal systems including the main muscles and structures significant in dance activity. Posture and alignment will be covered in relation to dance activity including discussions on static vs dynamic alignment. We will discuss how to recognize deviations in alignment common among dancers, whether they are structural or functional and what to do about them. Transfer of training in regards to posture and alignment will also be discussed.
Module 2 will look at the physiological side to dance teaching. In this module, we will discuss supplementary physical conditioning including the components of physical fitness related to dance and why supplementary training might be important. By the end of module 2, dance teachers will have the skills to create a needs assessment for what types of supplementary training their dancers need, how to create a supplementary training class, and how to incorporate it into their dancers’ schedule. This module will also cover the nutrition and hydration needs of dancers, disordered eating, the female athlete triad and how to give nutritional advice to dance participants.
Module 3 will look at the psychological aspects of dance training as well as motor learning in relation to dance training. During this module participants will learn about safe progression, sequencing and structure of dance activities including the appropriate preparations for stretching, jumping and lifting activities. Transfer of training will be addressed as we look into how to bridge the gap from class to performance, from supplementary training to class/performance and how and when to best give corrections and feedback. Lastly we will discuss the psychological needs of dancers, how to create an optimal motivational environment and the skills needed for creating a psychological toolbox for your dancers with the use of goal setting, self-talk, imagery and relaxation techniques.
Module 4 will discuss injury prevention and management strategies. Included in this module we will cover common injury patterns among dancers, how to recognize risk factors for injury (including technical faults, environmental factors and physiological practices) and how to create strategies to minimize risk. As injury risk can not be completely eliminated we will look at emergency responses to injury as well. Proper warming up and cooling down practices will be covered including a chance to apply this knowledge into practice! Lastly, we will discuss the dance environment in relation to minimizing risk and ensuring moral safety in the studio and safeguarding.
So are you curious about how pelvic alignment affects turnout? How you can create an environment that meets your students psychological needs? How you can ensure your students are getting the most out of their training?
Then this course is for you!
To register download the registration form below and email to firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Quin, E., Rafferty S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. Human Kinetics.
(2) Russel, J.S. (2013). Preventing dance injuries: Current perspectives. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013(4)
Sometimes I wish I had an easier job to explain. The question “what do you do?” would be much easier to answer if I was a high school science teacher, or a lawyer. But on the flip side, answering “I’m a dance scientist” starts up all sorts of conversations at a party.
My favourite example of this was when I was visiting a small town in the south of France where no one spoke English. Being the friendliest village I have ever visited, we were invited over to our neighbours house for dinner. Having French skills that would barely pass the 4th grade level I found it hard enough to say “pass the olives” so you can imagine my difficulty when they asked me what I was studying. ‘La science de la dance’ - “huh?”. Explaining what I do is hard enough in my native tongue, let alone another language. I muffled my way through a broken explanation of what I was studying wishing at that moment I was an engineer.
Sometimes I explain it like this. You know sports scientists? All those people that work with the Toronto Blue Jays to make sure that they are doing exactly the right amount of activity at exactly the right times. Scheduling in their training sessions and their rest days, making sure they are eating exactly the right food before and after a game, that the biomechanics of their pitch means that exactly the right amount of spin occurs in the ball to psyche out the batter. That they have the power to hit a home run, the speed to sprint to first base and the psychological skills to survive a bases loaded scenario. These are the scientists that investigate how these athletes can perform their absolute best. Now a dance scientist is similar, just without the multi-million dollar industry.
Simply put, as a dance scientist I look at ways to optimize all aspects of a dancers life and career. Whether it’s improving their performance, their wellbeing both physiologically and psychologically or keeping them dancing as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Sounds pretty rad right?
So why do dance scientists get our own completely different category? There isn’t anyone called a “Baseball Scientist” or a “Hockey Scientist”. To answer this, it’s important to understand that dance is a unique category of movement as it crosses over into the domains of both art and sport. As an angsty teenager I remember getting into viscous fights with my friends on whether dance was a sport or not. Suffice to say, there is no clear answer. Dancers need the athletic capabilities of an athlete, with the creativity and soul of an artist.
Sports Science vs. Dance Science
Sports science is a mature field of research. Most universities have a sports science department and there are numerous research journals expanding the field; therefore there is already a built up collection of research. A basic understanding of performance optimizing principles are now pretty much understood and research is now looking into much more specific details like very specific supplementation uses.
Dance science on the other hand is relatively new. At this point we are still trying to pinpoint the physiological demands of dance, and what “good performance” even means. I say relatively, as I believe recent years have crossed a threshold where Dance Science has really forged its own path. Yes, there is a crossover and research from the sport domain can be helpful - however, It’s simplistic to take the research being conducted in the sports science field and apply it directly to dancers. A creative and critical approach must be taken by dance scientists to apply research from other fields to a dance setting that is appropriate for the population.
An excellent example of this is the subjectivity of what ‘improved performance’ really looks like. For a marathon runner, an improvement in performance is an increase in speed or endurance resulting in faster splits, and ultimately a faster marathon time. There is very little subjectivity there, if your marathon time improves from 2:15 to 2:14 BAM, improved performance. With dancers however, it gets a bit more tricky. Is the dancer with the higher jump height better, or perhaps the one who can whip out 6 pirouettes in a row, or perhaps, is it the one that who has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ but for whatever reason you can’t take your eyes off her as she moves across the stage. This is an added complexity that is unique to dance and other aesthetic sports.
How can a dance scientist help YOU?
When I was studying dance pre-professionally in university, I often got asked the same question “what are you going to do when you turn 30 and can’t dance anymore”. Yikes! Why should dancers careers stop in their mid thirties? Or 40s for that matter? Although my ultimate goal was never to become a professional dancer, the question stuck with me. I decided I would like to help those who want to fulfil that.
I would argue that research is only as relevant as its application. It’s all well and good if amazing research is being conducted in the field, but if it’s not being integrated back into the studio or performance setting what use is it? For example, current evidence suggests there are optimal ways to warm up and cool down the body for dance class or performance but how many teachers are actually integrating this into their classes? Is this information accessible by teachers who may not be in the research field?
I like to think that most teachers are open to helping their students become the best dancers that they can be in the safest way. There is no reason for them not to be - however the question becomes how accessible is this information and how is it being delivered?
My aim, as a dance science consultant is to break down that barrier! I remain up to date on the physiological and psychological research that is being conducted in the dance science field and apply it into a real dance setting. By working alongside teachers and dancers, I aim to help navigate how informed research can lead to the practical application of a safer dance environment.
Lastly, I want to stress that Dance Science is not about limiting what the dancer can do. It’s not about telling a ballerina they shouldn’t be going on Pointe, or that an Irish dancer shouldn’t land with straight legs. It’s about finding ways to best help these dancers thrive in their artistic discipline and give them the tools and skills to make safe and educated decisions. It’s about educating teachers on how to best lead dancers through their stages of development and reach artistic maturity. It’s about creating an environment where a dancer can thrive. It is here, as a dance scientist that I believe we combine the science of training with the art of movement.
Hi! I'm a dance science educator, Pilates instructor and Personal Trainer residing in Toronto. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.