The formal dance class has long been considered the cornerstone of training, providing all the technical, physical and aesthetic requirements of dance. In recent years a considerable amount of research has been carried out regarding the health of dancers. Findings from this research indicate that many dancers are not as fit and healthy as they could be. It has also been found that there is a discrepancy in the physical intensity level between training, rehearsal, and performance. This means that training methods, which are generally based on tradition, are not sufficient to help prepare dancers for the higher, more physically demanding aspects of performance. In light of these studies, and with increased understanding of the artistic and athletic needs of dancers in different genres, it is no longer acceptable to train dancers without preparing them physiologically for the demands of current choreographic work.1-5
What is Fitness, and Why is it Beneficial?
For dancers, the whole body (physical and psychological) is their instrument, their means of artistic expression. Dance calls upon all aspects of fitness. Good fitness is key to reducing the risk of injury, enhancing performance, and ensuring longer dancing careers. A healthy dancer is one who is in a state of being ‘well’ in both body and mind. A physically fit dancer is one who has the ability to meet the demands of a specific physical task at an optimal level. The goal of improving dancers’ fitness is to minimize the difference between the dancer’s individual maximal abilities and their performance requirements, so that they can become the best dancer possible.5,6
What Types of Fitness Are Most Important for a Dancer and Why?
While research indicates that some dance styles require certain elements of fitness more explicitly than others, in a well-rounded dance training program, it is necessary to consider all the components of fitness.
The components of fitness are:
Aerobic fitness – associated with moderate, longer-term levels of activity. Anaerobic fitness – associated with high intensity, maximal, short bursts of activity. Muscle endurance – the ability of a muscle to produce continuous movement. Strength – the ability of a muscle to produce a maximal force on one occasion. Power – the explosive (speed-related) aspect of strength.
Flexibility – the range of motion at a joint in association with the pliability of a muscle. Neuromuscular coordination – associated with balance, agility, coordination and skill. Body composition – the make-up of body weight by percentage of muscle and fat. Rest – a period of no activity, to allow for recovery and regeneration. While any change in traditional dance training regimens must be approached cautiously to ensure that enhanced artistry and expression remain the primary goals, it may be suggested that unless dancers are physiologically honed to the same extent as they are artistically, their physical conditioning may potentially be the limiting factor in their development. Ignoring the physiological training of today’s dancers could eventually hamper the development of the art form. It is the continual responsibility of dance teachers and educators to develop their knowledge and understanding of the physiological demands of dance, and be aware of the options for either integrating physical fitness training into the technique class itself or providing it through supplementation.7,8
In a recent study, full time contemporary dance students completed a year of weekly dance fitness classes alongside their regular technique training. Students perceived positive physiological adaptations such as reductions in fatigue, improvement in general energy levels and an improved capacity in their dance classes to sustain technique and jumping ability. The importance of warm up and cool down was also commonly cited and the recognition of the relationship between fitness and injury prevention was highlighted.9
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