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Physiological perspectives on puberty in dance

Posted By Siobhan Mitchell on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In our last blog post, Siobhan focussed on the psychological perspectives on puberty in dance training and here follows our second post in the series, this time focussing on the physiological perspectives on puberty in dance.  These posts follow on from our busy season of Regional Meetings in Australia, USA and UK where the focus of much of our discussions at these events was on how we work with children and young people to optimise their training.  Siobhan presented her session at the Healthier Dancer Day on The Adolescent Dancer in Ipswich in May 2017.  

 

 As someone who works with young dancers, you will observe a range of physical changes as they go through puberty. The physical changes of puberty encompass increases in height and weight, changes in the accumulation and distribution of body fat and lean mass, development of a variety of secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. breast development) and shifts in body proportions.

 

 So what are the processes and what exactly is going on for young people at this time?

 

 Puberty is a hormonally driven process resulting in marked changes in physique, form, and function. This process of physical change results in the attainment of an adult state, capable of sexual reproduction. The sequence of these changes varies significantly between boys and girls. Girls tend to mature around 2 years in advance of boys and so will experience physical changes at an earlier age.

 

 Individuals of the same chronological age may vary by up to several years in terms of their biological maturation, so chronological age is not a good indicator of physical development at puberty. That said, the average time for the growth spurt to take place among non-dancers is around age 12 in girls and age 14 in boys and takes on average around 3 years from beginning to completion. This age is especially significant as it coincides with a time when most dancers commence more serious training, a greater number of hours of training each week, and take on new physical challenges in training e.g. pointe work. 

 

 Embed from Getty Images

 

Benefits and challenges

 

 Puberty presents both opportunity and challenge for young dancers. On one hand, dancers benefit from improvements in strength, motor skills, and the activation of new motivational tendencies.  On the other, sudden changes in size and shape can disrupt flexibility and co-ordination. These changes inevitably lead to young dancers struggling with movements which they are used to being able to perform, this can increase risk of physical injury and psychological effects such as loss of confidence, reduced motivation and increased self-consciousness.

 

 Challenges

 

 Challenges include

 

          Overall decrease in technical skill and control for both male and female dancers

          Rapid change in limb length may temporarily inhibit motor performance (awkwardness)

          Flexibility can be disrupted by growth of the lower extremities and the trunk during growth                        spurts and the skeletal system maturing in advance of soft tissues

          Relearning and re-programming technique to adjust to new biomechanical challenges, e.g.                      rapid change in limb length can result in reduced strength, power and flexibility, in addition                      to increased injury risk associated with adapting to these changes

          Factors such as temporary low bone mass and adjustment to new biomechanical challenges                     can coincide with increased intensity of dance training

          Overuse injuries (e.g., Osgood-Schlatters/Sever’s disease) and burnout more common

 

These changes will impact upon some of the core dance movements, for example, reduced strength and flexibility will result in lower leg extensions; reduced balance and coordination will affect pirouettes and balance positions; and as technical control decreases, risk of injury increases.

 

In addition, one of the biggest challenges, from a training perspective, are differences in the timing of puberty and how to accommodate these differences to optimise wellbeing and training. Pubertal timing refers to the when pubertal changes, such as the onset of menstruation for girls, occur. The timing of puberty can differ by up to 5 years, a huge interval compared to other animal species – only humans and primates have such huge differences in timing. This means that individuals of the same chronological age can vary in biological age (pubertal timing) by up to 5 years, which has implications for training, talent identification and evaluation. For dance educators, such variation in development is a huge challenge and there is currently little understanding of how this variation impacts upon young dancers and how we can consider this in our approaches to training.

 

Benefits

 

          Accelerated gains in strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance in males; steady gains or                   plateaus in females

          Improvements in motor performance and physical health

 

Sex differences in relation to physical performance can be attributed to relatively greater body fat in girls (this essential body fat enables normal hormonal functions and reproductive capability) and greater absolute and relative leanness in boys, which exert opposite effects on performance. The former has a negative effect on most motor performance tasks and the latter has a positive effect, attributed to increase in size and muscle tissue. For male dancers these changes may be especially advantageous, enabling greater power and strength for grand allegro movements and could be emphasised during this period. While for female dancers, some will be at their peak strength and motor performance, benefitting their dance performance, and for others who experience a ‘levelling-off’ in strength and motor performance, encouragement may be needed to develop these aspects. With this in mind, both male and female students can benefit from developing their strength during this period of time.

 

Top tips for negotiating some of these challenges and making the most of the benefits

 

- Remember it’s temporary! Raise awareness amongst dancers and their parents about the normal and temporary changes associated with maturation

 

- Focus time and attention towards aspects other than technique which may progress more slowly during this time, such as musicality, performance and strengthening. This can help students to build confidence and make progress in other areas

 

- Be proactive in how you negotiate changes - Consider how you can support young dancers at this time – perhaps modify the content or environment of your classes, with consideration of the dancer as an individual (where possible)

 

- Reduce the stigma - Emphasise the beneficial aspects of puberty and raise awareness of these aspects to parents and students

 

- Focus on how movements feel as opposed to how they look during this time, to reduce training load and adapt exercises for students experiencing their most rapid periods of growth. In addition, training without the use of the mirror may be beneficial at this time.

 

- Promote maintenance of flexibility - Flexibility is most responsive to training during childhood and as a dance teacher this is the ideal stage of development in which to promote this attribute. Due to an asynchrony between skeletal and soft tissue growth at adolescence, flexibility can be disrupted, during this period the focus can be shifted to maintaining flexibility rather than promoting it.

 

 

Siobhan trained as a dancer before going on to complete a BA Hons in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton, an MSc in Dance Science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and an MRes in Health and Wellbeing at the University of Bath. Awarded a full ESRC studentship in 2014, Siobhan is currently in the final year of her PhD studies at the University of Bath. Her research interests are in growth and maturation, specifically, psychosocial implications of differing maturity timing in young dancers. Siobhan works as an associate lecturer and also delivers educational sessions for dancers and dance teachers on the topic of growth and maturation. Siobhan has been a member of IADMS since 2011, has been on the IADMS student committee since 2014 and is the current Student Committee Chair. Siobhan has presented at a number of international conferences including IADMS Conferences in Seattle and Pittsburgh, the IADMS regional meeting in Ipswich, the Royal Academy of Dance Conference ‘Dance Teaching for the 21st Century: Practice and Innovation’ in Sydney, Australia and the British Psychological Society Qualitative Methods in Psychology Conference, Aberystwyth, UK. Siobhan has published work in academic journals including the Journal of Adolescence and the Journal of Sports Sciences and was recently shortlisted as a finalist for the Ede and Ravenscroft prize for best postgraduate research student at the University of Bath.


 

References

Daniels, K., Rist, R., & Rijven, M. (2001). The Challenge of the Adolescent Dancer. Journal of Dance Education, 1(2), 74-76. doi: 10.1080/15290824.2001.10387180

 

Malina, R.M. (2014). Top 10 Research Questions Related to Growth and Maturation of Relevance to Physical Activity, Performance, and Fitness. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 85, 157-173.

 

Malina, R. M., Bouchard, C., & Bar-Or, O. (2004). Growth, Maturation and Physical Activity (Second Edition ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Steinberg, N., Siev-Ner, I., Peleg, S., Dar, G., Masharawi, Y., & Hershkovitz, I. (2008). Growth and development of female dancers aged 8-16 years. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 20(3), 299-307. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20718

 

Tanchev, P. I., Dzherov, A. D., Parushev, A. D., Dikov, D. M., & Todorov, M. B. (2000). Scoliosis in rhythmic gymnasts. Spine, 25(11), 1367-1372. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200006010-00008

 

Podcast on growth and maturation in sport

 

Tags:  dancers  psychology  puberty  teachers 

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