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Stretching: Some thoughts on current practice

Posted By Maggie Lorraine and Elsa Urmston on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dancers are often passionate about developing their flexibility, reaching ever-greater ranges of motion (ROM), as choreographers require ever-more spectacular contortions of the body.  For example, it’s been observed that the height of the développé in Les Sylphides Nocturne section has increased from 60° to nearly 180°, and of course, different dance styles require different ROM at different joints; Spanish dancers need increased ROM in the shoulders compared to a non-dancing population whereas classical ballet dancers need extensive ROM in the hips.  We see a wide range of images and videos online nowadays which see young dancers especially, pushing their body into incredibly contorted positions, often compromising safety and alignment, and possibly leading to increased likelihood of injury as they pursue increased ROM.  It’s not as simple as pushing dancers into various positions, as it has been reported that up to 17 factors can affect flexibility, including age, body morphology, genetics, gender, bones, nerves, muscle, ligaments, and connective tissue, so it becomes vital as dance educators that we educate our dancers to look after their body, practise safe stretching activities and understand that achieving optimal flexibility is a complex process.


 

How does stretching work?

The physiology of stretching is complex, and in fact the causal links between stretching and increased flexibility are not wholly understood.  As a result, research on optimal stretching approaches changes often, and it’s because of this that it is so important for teachers, dancers and choreographers to revisit their knowledge of stretching for dancers, and update their practice regularly.  Having an understanding of the muscular-skeletal system and its interaction with the nervous system helps, as does knowing that the main physical structure whose length can be altered is the muscle fibre.  The resistance to lengthening that is offered by a muscle fibre is dependent upon its connective tissues; when the muscle elongates, the surrounding connective tissues become more taut.  And so trying to find the balance between flexibility, muscular release, alignment and strength is vital.  For more in-depth discussion of the physiology of stretching, look at Matt Wyon’s article for IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers here.

Every body is different

Every dancer’s body is different. Some dancers are inherently less flexible or mobile. Dancers with ‘tight’ bodies are built for stability and have dense connective tissues. Their muscles are less extensible. Conversely, some dancers are innately more flexible; however, the hypermobile physique has an increased risk of injury. These dancers tend to have a larger joint ROM, but are also more vulnerable to serious ligament sprains. It is important to avoid comparing the flexibility of one dancer with that of other dancers and therefore it is imperative to work on the individual needs of each dancer.

It is worth noting that:

o   some joints are not meant to be flexible.

o   bony structures can limit movement of a joint.

When working with younger dancers, there are added complications.  The skeletal growth spurt in adolescence often results in a loss of flexibility so that muscle tissues become shorter relative to bone length until muscle growth catches up to bone growth. Dance teachers need to recognize that young dancers will go through a phase of apparent loss of flexibility. During this time there is also an increased chance of injury to muscles.  It is so vital to work gently with the body at this time, not only to avoid injury but support the dancer’s psychological wellbeing – the apparent loss of control, strength and flexibility at this time can be debilitating.

Stretching tips

·         It is important to perform stretching after dancing or another activity when muscles and connective tissues are warm. Never stretch cold muscles.

·         Stretch muscles and their connective tissue (fascia) and not structures such as ligaments, tendons and joint capsules.

·         Holding a static stretch for 30 seconds is enough to maintain joint range of motion and current flexibility but if increasing flexibility is the goal, then deformation of the connective tissue is necessary to produce permanent muscle length change. This will require gradual increase of duration and frequency of stretch.

·         A dynamic stretch moves a muscle group fluidly through an entire range of motion and some studies suggest a dynamic stretch is just as effective, and sometimes better, especially before a workout.


·         Never ever stretch to pain.


·         Stretch in aligned positions.


·         It is important to balance a stretching program with strengthening exercises. The reason for this is that flexibility training on a regular basis causes connective tissues to stretch which in turn causes them to loosen and elongate. When the connective tissue of a muscle is weak, it is more likely to become damaged due to overstretching. Strengthening the muscles, which are bound by the connective tissue, can prevent the likelihood of such injury. In the words of Julie Alter, "strengthen what you stretch, and stretch after you strengthen!”

Matt Wyon again explains the various approaches to stretching that exist here, discussing the benefits of static stretching, PNF techniques and fast stretching amongst others, and when to best undertake these approaches for best results.  New research by Morrin and Redding also suggests that "...a cardiovascular warm-up, followed by 30 seconds static stretches, followed by 30 seconds dynamic stretches, provides the optimum performance of vertical jump, balance, and hamstring range of motion."  Their research was reviewed on the IADMS blog back in 2015, you can read it here.

 

Overflexibility

Images on the web of teachers pushing their students’ limbs into positions, contorting the angle of the pelvis for example, or crunching the vertebrae of the lower back are prevalent.  It’s vital to remember that it is possible for the muscles of a joint to become too flexible. As muscles become more flexible, less support is given to the joint by its surrounding muscles because those muscles become more lax. Excessive flexibility can be just as bad as not enough because both increase the risk of injury.

 

Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to stretch the muscle further only serves to stretch the ligaments and put undue stress upon the tendons. Ligaments will tear when stretched to more than 6% of their normal length. Even when stretched ligaments and tendons do not tear, loose joints and/or a decrease in the joint's stability can occur and there is a greater potential for injury either in that specific joint, or indeed in other parts of the body. 

 

Yet our young dancers do aspire to achieve these positions – let’s work harder to educate them in the safe practice of stretching and balancing that with strength development.  IADMS have a wealth of resources to help teachers, dancers and parents to guide towards safer stretches, not only Matt Wyon’s paper that we have already referred to but the IADMS Resource paper on stretching also has some great guidance for safe practice.  Quin, Rafferty and Tomlinson’s excellent new book Safe Dance Practice has extensive references on the topic throughout, updating us with all recent research so we are as current in our practices as possible.


 

Further resources

 

Critchfield, B.  (2011). Stretching for Dancers Resource Paper.  Available here

 

Deighan M. Flexibility in dance. J Dance Med Sci. 2005;9(1):13-17.

 

Morrin N, Redding E. Acute effects of warm-up stretch protocols on balance, vertical jump height, and range of motion in dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2013;17(1):34-40.

 

Quin, E., Rafferty, S. and Tomlinson, C.  Safe Dance Practice.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2015.

 

Wyon, M. Stretching for Dance.  IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers.  2010;2(1):9-12.  Available here

 

Great little animation ‘Do you really need to stretch’ here too.

 

 

 

Maggie Lorraine is the Leading Teacher in Ballet at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Australia and is a member of the IADMS Education Committee.

 

Elsa Urmston is the DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training Manager in Ipswich, UK and is also a member of the IADMS Education Committee.

Tags:  dancers  stretching  teachers 

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Bridging Dance and Health in Brazil, Part I: The early steps of an emerging field

Posted By Clara Fischer Gam, Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In 2016, all eyes are on Brazil - country that will be hosting the Olympic Games this year. Inspired by this vibrant atmosphere, today we start a post series about the opportunities and challenges of Dance and Health in Brazil – from our members’ perspective!

 


A Brazilian myself, I’ve recently returned to my country after a year and a half in Britain. Having experienced a bit of Dance Science at Trinity Laban and engaged with its community, I arrived back aiming to sense the field in Brazil and readily get involved.

 

If Dance Medicine and Science is in its early stages above the Tropics, it is no surprise that Brazilians are still forging the field. There are about a dozen IADMS members in Brazil. Among us there are Dancers, Researchers, Dance Teachers, Physicians, Physical Educators and Physical Therapists spread across the country.

 

Although there is interesting work being published, not much research has been undertaken in the realms of Dance Medicine and Science in this land. “Looking for references in Dance, I found that less than 5% of the studies listed were related to Dance Medicine”, says our member Dr. Izabela Lucchese Gavioli, rheumatologist, Dance professor at UFRGS and sports medicine specialist in South Brazil.

 

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of research in injury prevention and performance enhancement”, states another Brazilian member Barbara Pessali Marques, physical educator and founder of the Bastidores Centre for Dance Conditioning, located South East Brazil. Like me, Barbara felt the need to leave the country for expanding her knowledge of the field. Now, she is developing a doctoral research at Manchester Metropolitan University and looks forward to bring fresh learning home. 

 

Feeding a field of knowledge in its infancy, we face many challenges for achieving legitimacy and acceptance. “At the universities, in the dance departments, the same debate persists as to whether dance should be part of the PT or PE departments”, states IADMS member Adriano Bittar, physiotherapist for Quasar Cia de Dança and Dance professor at UEG, Midwest Brazil. “There is no doubt that Dance should have an autonomous department, and remain a field in itself. But I feel that these out-of-date conflicts end up diminishing interaction with other fields and mainly suppressing important discussions such as dancer’s health”. Resistance can also be found in other parts of the dance sector, Dr Gavioli suggests that “It’s a matter of conflicting ideologies; people tend to think about dance science as rough and hard, which pejoratively labels knowledge that can be extremely useful to the dance professional”. 

 

We all know that issues of this kind resonate with Dance Medicine and Science worldwide, however in a country where most Dance programmes date from very recently, the circumstances could slow down the process for inquiry and communication to unfold within the sector. Paradoxically, it seems that the increasing number of courses being founded in the last few years opened up the space for discussing renovations in the traditional curriculum. Would there be a chance for implementing more up to date health modules in the programme? “The dancer is to some extend already a movement specialist, so by implementing dance medicine and science disciplines, their capacity to act upon their health and take ownership of their bodies would be expanded”, defends Dr. Bittar. Although there are changes taking place, at the moment health-related disciplines still encompass only a minor portion of the whole course. “Nationwide, programmes do not hold more than 5 credits dedicated to these subjects” affirms Dr. Aline Haas, an IADMS’ member who is Programme Leader of the BEd Dance at UFRGS, South Brazil.

                                                                                           

Taking a look at the overall picture, these members seem to agree that it is our task to nourish the field in order for it to thrive. If today in Brazil the intersection of dance and health is unsettled, I wonder how they could walk together, side by side. This inquiry motivated me to connect IADMS members in Brazil and to open up a space for integration and sharing to occur. After contacting them through the IADMS directory, we agreed to create a Facebook group to expand the possibilities of interaction. At the moment, we are about 30 people in the “Dance Science Brasil” group, connected through this network. 

 


In a country as big as Brazil, this initiative enabled me to gather information about some of the projects, aspirations and perspectives of the sector across the land through the eyes of our fellow IADMS members – which will be brought to you over this post series.

 

Despite the challenges involved in fostering an emerging field, it is very exciting to be at the source of future possibility – and have the chance to take part in it!

 

Watch out for the next instalment of Bridging Dance and Health in Brazil!

 

-          The Brazilian members of IADMS are:

            Adriano J. Bittar Sr

            Aline N. Haas

            Bárbara P. Marques

            Clara Fischer Gam

            Daisy M. Machado

            Flora M. Pitta

            Izabela L. Gavioli

            Kaanda N. Gontijo

            Marcia Leite

            Mariana G. Bahlis

 

 

Clara Fischer Gam, MS

MSc Dance Science

BEd Dance

Pilates Instructor

Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
clara.figa@gmail.com

www.clarafischergam.com

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Integrando Dança e Saúde no Brasil, Parte I: primeiros passos de um campo em ascensão

 

Em 2016, os olhos do mundo voltam-se para o Brasil - país que vai acolher os Jogos Olímpicos neste ano. Inspirados por essa atmosfera vibrante, hoje começamos uma série de postagens sobre as oportunidades e desafios da Dança e Saúde no Brasil – considerando os pontos de vista dos nossos membros brasileiros!

 

Eu também sou brasileira e recentemente retornei ao país, após um período de um ano e meio vivendo no Reino Unido. Por lá, pude experienciar a Ciência da Dança enquanto cursava meu mestrado na faculdade Trinity Laban Conservatoire, onde tive a chance de conectar-me à esta comunidade. Cheguei de volta com a intenção clara de compreender o campo no Brasil e a vontade pulsante de contribuir. 

 

Se a Medicina e Ciência da Dança está em seus estágios iniciais acima dos trópicos, não é de se surpreender que por aqui os brasileiros ainda estão construindo o campo. No país, temos cerca de uma dúzia de membros do IADMS. Fazem parte desse grupo bailarinos, pesquisadores, professores de dança, médicos, educadores físicos e fisioterapeutas espalhados por todo o país. 

 

Embora trabalhos muito interessantes venham sendo publicados ao longo dos anos, a quantidade de pesquisas desenvolvidas na área da Medicina e Ciência da Dança ainda é reduzida nessas terras: "Buscando por referências dentro do tema ‘Dança’, contabilizei que menos de 5% dos estudos encontrados se relacionavam com a Medicina da Dança", comenta Dr. Izabela Lucchese Gavioli, membro do IADMS, baseada em Porto Alegre, reumatologista, coreógrafa, professora de Dança na UFRGS e especialista em medicina esportiva. 

 

"Infelizmente, existem poucas pesquisas sobre prevenção de lesões e aprimoramento da performance", afirma outro membro brasileiro, Bárbara Pessali Marques, bailarina e educadora física, fundadora do ‘Bastidores Centro de Treinamento’ especializado em cuidar de bailarinos, na cidade de Belo Horizonte. Como eu, Bárbara sentiu a necessidade de sair do país para expandir seu conhecimento do campo. Nesse momento, ela está desenvolvendo a pesquisa de doutorado na Manchester Metropolitan University e espera em breve trazer de volta para casa todo o aprendizado adquirido com a experiência no Reino Unido. 

 

Por estarmos criando um campo ainda em seus primórdios, enfrentamos muitos desafios para alcançar legitimidade e aceitação: "Dentro dos departamentos de Dança das universidades, o mesmo debate persiste quanto a se a Dança deveria ser acoplada a outros departamentos, como Fisioterapia ou Educação Física", afirma nosso membro do IADMS Adriano Bittar, bailarino, fisioterapeuta na Quasar Cia de Dança e professor na UEG, em Goiânia. "Não há dúvida de que a Dança deve ter um departamento autônomo, e continuar a ser um campo em si mesmo. Mas eu sinto que estes conflitos antiquados acabam diminuindo a interação com outras áreas e, principalmente, suprimindo discussões importantes como a saúde do bailarino". Também é possível encontrar resistência em outras partes do setor de Dança, Dra. Gavioli sugere: "É uma questão de ideologias conflitantes; as pessoas tendem a pensar sobre a Ciência da Dança como áspera e dura, o que rotula pejorativamente um conhecimento que pode ser extremamente útil para o profissional de Dança". 

 

Sabemos que questões deste tipo circundam a Ciência e Medicina da Dança no mundo todo. No entanto, em um país onde a maioria dos programas acadêmicos de Dança datam de pouco tempo, as circunstâncias poderiam retardar o processo de investigação e o desenvolvimento da comunicação dentro do setor. Paradoxalmente, o número crescente de cursos universitários sendo criados nos últimos anos parece estar abrindo espaço para a discussão sobre reformas no currículo tradicional. Sendo assim, será que haveria oportunidade para a implementação de módulos mais atualizados sobre saúde do bailarino nos programas? "De certa maneira o bailarino já é um especialista do movimento. Portanto, com a implementação de disciplinas de Ciência e Medicina da Dança, a sua capacidade de agir pela sua saúde e se apropriar de seu corpo seria ampliada", defende Dr. Bittar. Apesar do progresso quanto a essas mudanças estruturais,  o número de disciplinas relacionadas à saúde ainda compõe uma pequena parte do currículo: "Em nível nacional, os programas não contém mais de cinco créditos dedicados a estes assuntos", afirma Dr. Aline Haas, gaúcha, membro do IADMS e professora de Dança na UFRGS. 

 

Observando o quadro geral, esses membros parecem concordar que temos a tarefa de nutrir o campo para que este possa prosperar. Se hoje no Brasil a intersecção entre Dança e Saúde é instável, eu me pergunto como elas poderiam caminhar juntas, lado a lado. Essa pergunta motivou-me a conectar os membros da IADMS no Brasil e abrir um espaço para a integração e troca ocorrer. Após entar em contato com eles através do diretório da IADMS, sugeri a criação de um grupo no Facebook para expandir as possibilidades de interação. No momento, somos cerca de 90 pessoas no grupo "Dance Science Brasil", conectados através dessa rede.

 

Em um país tão grande como o Brasil, essa iniciativa possibilitou a mim reunir informações sobre alguns dos projetos, aspirações e perspectivas do setor ao longo do território, através dos olhos de nossos membros da IADMS - que serão apresentados aqui para você nessa série de postagens.  Apesar dos desafios envolvidos na promoção de um campo emergente, é muito emocionante ver à frente o surgimento de múltiplas possibilidades - e ter a oportunidade de fazer parte desse processo! 

 

Fique ligado, em breve estará no ar a próxima edição do “Integrando Dança e Saúde no Brasil”! 

 

- Junte-se a nós no Grupo “Dance Science Brasil”!

 

 

- São membros brasileiros do IADMS:

Adriano J. Bittar

Aline N. Haas           

Bárbara P. Marques           

Clara Fischer Gam 

Cláudia Daronch        

Daisy M. Machado           

Flora M. Pitta           

Izabela L. Gavioli            

Kaanda N. Gontijo           

Marcia Leite           

Mariana G. Bahlis   

 

Clara Fischer Gam, Mestre Ciência da Dança

Licenciada em Dança

Administradora do grupo Dance Science Brasil

Co-fundadora do Corpos Aptos, Gestos Livres

Rio de Janeiro – Brazil


 

Tags:  Brazil  education in motion  research  teachers  translation 

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Happy Birthday, IADMS Blog!

Posted By K. Michael Rowley, Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The IADMS Blog turns 1 Year Old this month!

 

Happy Birthday!

Buon Compleanno!

Bon Anniversaire!

お誕生日おめでとうございます!

Χαρούμενα γενέθλια! 

Parabéns! 

¡Feliz cumpleaños! 

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag! 

Gefeliciteerd!

生日快樂!

 

  
Image: Getty Images

 

Over the last year, it's been our pleasure to bring you IADMS member perspectives; student, teacher, and researcher highlights; research summaries; Education Committee posts; and lots more fun, informative material! Thank you to the Blog Team and all contributors for a great year! We look forward to another great year and hope you'll keep reading! :)

 

K. Michael Rowley

University of Southern California

IADMS Blog Coordinator

お誕生日おめでとうございます!
Parabéns!

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IADMS Dance Educator Award Update

Posted By Margaret Wilson on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The 2nd IADMS Dance Educator Award was awarded to Janet Karin, OAM, for her passion and commitment to dance and for her tireless contribution to Dance Medicine and the benefits her work brings to countless dancers.  A former Principal Dancer of the Australian Ballet, Janet Karin was previously Principal Dancer of Victorian Ballet Guild and a member of the Borovansky Ballet. She performed in Giselle, Swan Lake, Les Sylphides,  Rudolf Nureyev’s Raymonda and Sir Robert Helpmann’s Electra, to name a few, with several roles created exclusively for her. She established her teaching career in Canberra, training many outstanding dancers, choreographers and teachers. She devised her own teaching system, The Karin System, in response to developments in understanding of anatomy, learning processes and teaching methodologies and to changes in the artistic and physical requirements of the dance profession.


 

The Karin System is designed to provide all students with sound technical development, opportunities to develop creativity and self-expression, the flexibility to progress at their own rate in a non-competitive environment and a broad understanding of dance as an art form. She developed dance studies courses for the Australian National University and for the ACT Department of Education. Ms Karin has received several awards including the Medal of the Order of Australia and the 2014 Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance Education.
 
Ms Karin has worked extensively within the area of cultural development and has designed and facilitated a range of national and international courses, conferences and workshops.  She was Chair of the host consortium (Australian Ballet School, Ausdance and Australian Sports Commission) that presented the 2007 International Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS) conference in Australia. After chairing the IADMS Education Committee and serving on the Board of Directors, Ms Karin was elected IADMS President for the years 2013-15 and currently serves as Past President for the organization.
 
As Kinetic Educator at the Australian Ballet School, Ms Karin focuses on the application of neuroscience principles to elite ballet training. She has a strong interest in research and is involved in research studies with several Australian and overseas universities. In 2009 she was awarded an Australian Centre of Clinical Research Excellence Grant to investigate dynamic pelvic stability. In 2014, Ms Karin was appointed a Clinical Fellow of Australian Catholic University, and she was appointed Professional Associate of the University of Canberra in 2016. Janet Karin has received the Medal of the Order of Australia and several awards for artistic direction and dance teaching. 


Janet is pictured here with Janice Plastino, recipient of the first Dance Educator Award, and both recipients are pictured with Margaret Wilson, Education Committee Chair, and Robin Kish, Education Committee Vice Chair and Dance Educator Award Chair.

 

 

Calls for nominations for the Dance Educator Award will be included in the next IADMS newsletter, but be thinking about colleagues who have demonstrated a commitment to the art and science of teaching dance that you wish to nominate.

 

Tags:  IADMS Dance Educator Award 

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Nurturing passion in dance

Posted By Imogen Aujla, PhD, on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Monday, December 21, 2015

Passion for dance is important: as teachers we want our students to be passionate, love what they do, and get involved at every opportunity. But is it really good for dancers to eat, sleep and breathe dance? What happens when passion turns into an obsession?


 

Research in mainstream psychology suggests that we are passionate about an activity when we love it, value it highly, and spend a lot of time on it. However, we can be more harmoniously or more obsessively passionate about an activity that we love. Harmonious passion (HP) means that we choose to engage in dance freely because we love it, but we don’t have any contingencies attached to it, and we can stop dancing at any time if we no longer enjoy it. Obsessive passion (OP) is a more rigid type of persistence, where dance takes up a large proportion of our identities and we find it difficult to stop. Often, people high in OP attach certain contingencies like self-esteem or social acceptance to the activity, so if they stop dancing they may feel that they have lost their identity and their sense of self-worth. Importantly, we have levels of both HP and OP about dance, but the two types of passion can have quite different outcomes. Research has shown that higher levels of HP result in greater enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being, and long-term involvement in dance. In contrast, higher levels of OP are associated with more negative feelings, anxiety, burnout and injury. So it’s easy to see which type of passion would be preferable among student dancers, but is there anything we can do as teachers to affect this? We may not be able to influence whether or not our students are passionate about dance in general, but we may be able to help prevent passion from becoming an obsession.

 

A growing body of research in dance and music suggests teachers can help to facilitate the development of HP by adopting autonomy-supportive behaviours. Autonomy essentially means that students feel they have a choice and a voice in class. You can help your students to feel more autonomous by giving them choices in class, such as the focus of an exercise, groups to work with, musical accompaniment or incorporating improvisation into technique exercises. You can also explain the rationale behind exercises. Helping students understand what an exercise is for or about will encourage them to set their own goals based on this insight which they can monitor and update. As a result, when students’ autonomy is supported, they are more likely to feel that they are engaging in dance for autonomous and harmonious reasons. On the other hand, very controlling behaviours from teachers may facilitate the development of OP by reducing students’ feelings of autonomy, choice and control. It’s also worth encouraging dancers who seem somewhat obsessive to pursue other interests and friendships outside of dance so that their identities are formed from many activities and relationships. Dance may be their favourite activity, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all!

 

Recommended reading

·         Aujla IJ, Nordin-Bates SM, Redding E. Multidisciplinary predictors of adherence to dance. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(15):1564-1573.

·         Mageau GA, Vallerand RJ, Charest J, Salvy SJ, Lacaille N, Bouffard, T, Koestne, R. On the development of harmonious and obsessive passion: the role of autonomy support, activity specialisation and identification with the activity. J Pers. 2009;77(3):601-646.

·         Padham M, Aujla IJ. The relationship between passion and the psychological well-being of professional dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2014;18(1):37-44.

·         Rip B, Fortin S, Vallerand RJ. The relationship between passion and injury in dance students. J Dance Med Sci. 2006;10(1-2):14-20.

·         Vallerand RJ. On passion for life activities: The dualistic model of passion. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 2010;42:97-193.

 

 

Dr Imogen Aujla completed her PhD at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and is now based at the University of Bedfordshire as Course Coordinator of the MSc Dance Science programme. 

Tags:  dancers  psychology  teachers 

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Using imagery to optimise dance training and performance

Posted By Sanna Nordin-Bates PhD, CPsychol, FIADMS on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Wednesday, December 2, 2015

 

Think of a time when you were really enjoying your dancing. Really think about it: how it felt, what you did, and who else was around. Was there music playing? Maybe you can even recall what you were thinking of, or focusing on.


My guess is that you could see the above scenario in your mind’s eye: the image of that time of dance enjoyment. This is the visualization part of imagery, and it is powerful in itself. But just like normal life (and dance training) is not just visual, you could also conjure up a range of other sensations, even though you were not actually experiencing them for real. This is why the term imagery is preferred to visualization: it acknowledges the importance of using multiple senses to make an image as vivid as possible. In fact, research shows us that imagery is more effective the more vivid it is, and vividness is achieved by using multiple senses. Essentially, it is these sorts of rich images which convince your brain that what is going on is real – it is stimulating the very same areas of the brain as actual movement, actual music-listening, actual seeing, and so on.


So why would you want to know this? Well, it is this rich imagery which has been shown to impact on all sorts of things that can be important to a dancer. Below I have listed just a few things that imagery practice can do, in the form of tips for what teachers can encourage dancers to try. I hope you find something fun and useful to try!


-          Improve learning, memory, and performance. Because imagery engages the same brain circuitry as training does, it is a highly valid form of practice. It is therefore a good idea to…:

1.      … encourage dancers to go over skills and sequences via imagery straight after you have done a demo, or when they are waiting for their turn.

2.      … finish a class by going over the newly introduced material via imagery, to help new moves “settle in” and make dancers more prepared for next time.

3.      … suggest that dancers do highly deliberate, structured imagery practice as a replacement when physical practice is not viable, such as when injured.


 

-          Support self-confidence, motivation and mood. We can practice not just concrete things like steps via imagery, but how we wish to feel, too. Top tips are to suggest dancers…:

1.      … imagine performing with their desired mood and confidence. Ask, for instance, how it feels in their bodies when they are confident. Do they then perform exercises in a particular way? Encouraging them to integrate those feelings or mannerisms into their mental practice will not only make it more fun, but also grow their confidence over time.

2.      … add emotional components when rehearsing a role mentally. There is more to a character or role than their steps, so they can include appropriate facial expressions, gestures and attitudes – maybe even how a character feels.

3.      … have a clear image of their long-term goals to return to when training is hard and mood is dipping. What makes it all worthwhile? We can all use an image like this to support motivation and boost mood.

 

-          Help planning and goal setting. Imagery can be used to plan for the next class, rehearsal or performance – or career. Especially high-level dancers can be suggested to…:

1.      … go over the things they learnt in the previous class, and any aspects they know will come up in the next class. This reinforces the learning from before, and prepares the mind nicely for class.

2.      … imagine their preparations for big events, to help them feel in charge. This is useful to do slowly, step by step. In which order will they do things like eat, warm up, and put a costume on? Do they need to prepare something for their travel or food? It is often useful to have paper and pen on hand for this, as it frequently results in the need to write “don’t forget”-notes or shopping lists of breakfast items!

3.      … do at least one goal setting session every year, where they go over what their dreams and aims for dance are, and hone those into specific, doable goals. They can use their imagination to conjure up different possibilities of what they might do, imagine themselves in different places (schools, stages…), and use imagery to find creative ways to reach their goals.

 

-          Aid the creative process. Imagery is great for preparation and technical improvements, but it is of course also a superb tool for the artistic side. Three suggestions are to…:

1.      … try at least one new image in each class, to keep focus, creativity and learning alive. Can you make a basic movement interesting again by creating an image for the arm as something different today? Then go one step further, encouraging dancers to create their own images.

2.      …let yourself create much beyond steps and positions. Inspiring yourself by making a story, perhaps together with the dancers, makes it so much more meaningful.

3.      …eat a varied diet to support your inspiration and creativity by reading, watching films or theatre, getting out in nature, and regularly exposing yourself to something new. Then see how these inputs can find their way into your teaching. Maybe the leaf-fall of autumn helps you imagine a new aspect for a piece? Maybe you will use your imagination to translate complex emotions from a book to a characters’ development in rehearsal?

 

As you can see, using imagery can really help a dancers’ development. It is also a good way of keeping yourself as a teacher fresh and creative, and of supporting dancers to take responsibility for their own learning by imagining their own goals, and creating their own images for movements and roles. But although the above may seem like a long list, it really is scratching the surface of what imagery can do. What will you try today?

 

Further resources:

Beyond Physical Practice

 

Birmingham Research in Imagery and Observation (BRIO) Group - Introduction

 

BRIO Group - Imagery Resources for the Classroom

 

The History and Research of Dance Imagery: Implications for Teachers

 

 

Dr Sanna Nordin-Bates completed her PhD on Imagery in Dance at the University of Birmingham in 2005, and is now a world-leading expert in the psychology of dance, based at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.  For more information, follow Sanna on twitter @DancePsychSanna

 

Tags:  dancers  imagery  teachers 

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If the shoe fits: Choosing the right dance shoe

Posted By Alycia Fong Yan, Wednesday, November 18, 2015

There are a large variety of different dance shoes to choose from, but which shoe is right for you, what did your dance teacher want you to wear, what will make you look good, and does it really matter in the long run? The difference in dance performance when wearing various shoe designs is not only something many dancers have experienced, but has been measured and shown to be true. There are several factors you need to consider when choosing a dance shoe: the fit of the shoe, the genre of dance, what you want your shoe to do, and what dance steps you want to perform best.


Having a shoe that fits properly will lower the risk of injury to the lower limb. If the shoe is too big or loose the foot can move around inside the shoe, while if the shoe is too small or tight the toes can become squashed and overlap each other, potentially leading to toe and foot deformation such as bunions. Although it is tempting to buy a shoe with a bit of “growing room”, in the long term it will be a much cheaper option to get properly fitting shoes and save on the healthcare bills further down the track.


Sometimes the choice of shoe for a dance performance or examination is out of the dancer’s control; either there are regulations to follow, or the dance teacher or choreographer wants a particular look for a performance. A shoe with a thicker outsole and more rigid upper, like dance sneakers, will not allow the toes, foot or ankle to point as well as they could when barefoot [Figure 1]. Regardless of how much effort is being put into pointing the feet, if the shoe does not allow the movement, the pointed feet and ankles are not seen.


Dancers can be at risk of repetitive impact-related injuries and cushioning in the shoe may help. But don’t simply go for the shoe with the thickest sole and visible cushioning. Advances in technology have made the shock absorbing materials thinner and more effective, so the newer models will actually be more shock absorbing even if they are more streamlined.


Jumps in high heeled shoes can feel heavy and cumbersome and research has shown that jump height is reduced when wearing high heeled shoes compared to flats or bare feet. This is because the capacity for the feet and ankles to propel the dancer into the air is reduced.


Select the shoe that meets the style of dance, but know that your performance may be different from when you are dancing barefoot or in a different pair of shoes. Like any form of training, a gradual increase in exposure to new footwear will allow the body to adapt movement patterns. Rehearse in the same shoes that you will perform in as early as possible to help improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury.


Alycia Fong Yan, PhD

Exercise and Sport Science

Faculty of Health Sciences

THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY


Recommended Readings

1. Fong Yan A, Hiller C, Sinclair PJ, Smith RM. Kinematic analysis of sautés in barefoot and shod conditions. J Dance Med Sci. 2014;18(4):149-58.

2. Fong Yan A, Hiller C, Smith R, Vanwanseele B. Effect of footwear on dancers: a systematic review. J Dance Med Sci. 2011;15(2):86-92.

3. Fong Yan A, Smith R, Hiller C, Sinclair P. Maximum height of a dance jump in different jazz shoes. In: Bradshaw E, Burnett A, Hume P, editors. 30th Conference of the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports; Melbourne. Australian Catholic University, Melbourne: Australian Catholic University; 2012. p. 428 - 31.

4. Fong Yan A, Smith R, Hiller C, Sinclair P. The effect of jazz shoe design on impact attenuation. Footwear Sci. 2013;5(sup1):S124-S5.

5. Fong Yan A, Smith RM, Vanwanseele B, Hiller C. Mechanics of jazz shoes and their effect on pointing in child dancers. J Appl Biomech. 2012;28(3):242-8.

6. Tuckman A, Werner F, Bayley J. Analysis of the forefoot on pointe in the ballet dancer. Foot Ankle. 1991;12(3):41-6.

7. Kravitz SR, Murgia CJ, Huber S, Fink K, Shaffer M, Varela L. Bunion deformity and the forces generated around the big toe : a biomechanical approach to analysis of pointe dance, classical ballet. In: Shell CG, editor. The Dancer as Athlete: The 1984 Olympic Scientific Congress Proceedings. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publisheers, Inc.; 1986. p. 43-51.

8. Pearson SJ, Whitaker AF. Footwear in classical ballet: a study of pressure distribution and related foot injury in the adolescent dancer. J Dance Med Sci. 2012;16(2):51-6.

9. Dozzi PA, Winter DA. Biomechanical analysis of the foot during rises to full pointe : implications for injuries to the metatarsal-phalangeal joints and shoe redesign. Kinesiology and medicine for dance. 1993;16(1):1-11.

 

 

 

Tags:  dancers  floors  shoes  teachers 

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Pilates: A natural choice for dancers

Posted By Margot McKinnon and Hannah Etlin-Stein, Monday, November 9, 2015

Dance is complex movement that integrates both artistry and physicality seamlessly. Dancers require the creativity and grace of an artist coupled with the strength and control of an athlete.


 

It’s now widely acknowledged by dance researchers, clinicians and educators that supplementary training is an essential ingredient to a dancer’s success and longevity. Dance class alone does not provide the necessary physical adaptations to ensure optimal performance and reduced risk of injury.

 

For most dancers, Pilates is a natural choice when it comes to supplementary training. Founder Joseph Pilates, began developing his movement program during World War 1. He immigrated to New York City in the 1920s, where he gained notoriety with the New York City Ballet. Dancers flocked to Joe’s studio because his method helped them dance better. Ever since, Pilates and dance training have been deeply interconnected.


Dancers feel comfortable with Pilates because the principles integral to dance training are also emphasized in Pilates. Pilates brings our attention to the importance of deep core support, pelvic alignment and full ROM allowing for fluid and controlled movement throughout the body. Pilates teaches us to how to integrate our spine with our limbs so overall movement is more fluid and embodied. This leads to efficient, fluid, whole body movements that are essential principles of dance.

 

 


My experience working with dancers over 15 years has proved that connecting mind and body lead to meaningful results. By building awareness about how movement works, where it comes from and how to connect to it kinaesthetically, dancers can bring a new level of sophistication to their dance practice. They are stronger and more flexible and more mindful of how to move with integrity from deep in the body.


 


Researchers have also started to examine the benefits of Pilates for dancers.

 

An experimental study by McMillan and associates found that a 14-week Pilates intervention improved dynamic alignment in ballet students. As well, a study by Amorim and Wyon found that dancers who participated in a 12-week Pilates Mat intervention increased their levels of muscular strength and flexibility compared to a control group who showed no changes participating in normal dance class. Due to these muscular adaptations, dancers were able to hold a developpé position for an average of 9 seconds longer, and increased their height 4-10°.

 

It’s important to note the importance of conditioning outside of dance class for both improved performance and protection from injuries. Dance movement stresses similar muscle groups because of repetitive movements. Pilates can encourage muscle balance by working joints through full ROM and building support in all layers of soft tissue.

 

 

 

Lastly, Pilates as a supplementary training feels familiar to dancers because it embodies artistry quality of movement and an emphasis on breathing, alignment and adaptation, deep core support and mobility. Because of this, dancers may enjoy and commit to Pilates with ease. This can mean a higher rate of adherence to supplementary training.


All photo are courtesy of Body Harmonics and used with their consent.


References:

 

Amorim, T. & Wyon, M. Pilates Technique for Improving Dancers’ Performance. IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers. 2014;5(2).

 

McMillan A, Proteau L, Lebe R: The effect of Pilates-based training on dancers’ dynamic posture. J Dance Med Sci. 1998;2(3):101-7.

 

Margot McKinnon is founder of BODY HARMONICS: Pilates studios, integrated health clinics and international teacher education program. www.bodyharmonics.com


Tags:  dancers  pilates 

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Keeping the enjoyment alive: Positive psychology for dance

Posted By Elsa Urmston on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Thursday, October 29, 2015

The next series of posts from the Education Committee shines a light on the psychology of dancers.  Over the next month or so, we have a range of blog contributions from leading dance psychology researchers and practitioners. Erin Sanchez (Dance UK) and Joan Duda (University of Birmingham) will discuss the Empowering Dance programme in the UK, a professional development workshop which draws on research finding that support the integration of autonomy supportive environments.  Sanna Nordin Bates (University of Stockholm) introduces us to the use of imagery in optimizing dance practice and Imogen Aujla (University of Bedfordshire) discusses the importance of passion in dance.  We kick off here with the first in the series exploring the application of positive psychology to dance practice and how we can create positive learning and creative environments in which our dancers can flourish.  

  

Think back… why did you first start dancing?  No doubt it was because of the sheer enjoyment and exhilaration of feeling your body move, often in time with the music, in front of an audience, of telling a story or evoking emotions.  Our love for the art of dance probably never fundamentally leaves us, but perhaps the daily grind of training, of managing and applying the criticism we receive from ourselves and those around us, as well as ensuring we get enough rest and fuel can detract from the pleasure we find in dancing.  Dancers in training might often feel as this young professional described to me her experiences in dancing: “It was a very stressful time for me – the need to succeed, pass, do well, all that stuff affected my enjoyment at that time.  I was having more fun away from university.”  As an educator, these kinds of comments have always been bothersome – what happens in a training environment to bring about this kind of sentiment and why is that a response from the people doing the training?  What strategies can be encouraged amongst young dancers to become more resilient?  And what can I do in my own practice to create an environment where enjoyment can be nurtured?

 

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is described by Martin Seligman and Mihalyi Cskizsentmihalyi (2000, p.5) as the “positive features which make a life worth living”.  Positive psychology is typified by constructs such as hope, courage, creativity, perseverance, tolerance, future-mindedness, being in the moment, empathy, engagement and enjoyment.  In 2009, Seligman and colleagues undertook a positive psychology education project in Australia, teaching about the topics which typify positive psychology, as well as trying to embed positive psychology values in the teaching of all subjects at the school.  Their findings reported that the students’ enjoyment of, and engagement in learning increased across the board and that cooperation and empathy amongst students and teachers was also consolidated.  It appears that there is something to learn here in how we teach, and indeed what we teach, that can support dancers in optimising their performance.  But there is perhaps a bigger picture here too.   Hefferon and Boniwell (2012) make the case for positive psychology contributing to health and wellbeing in general terms too; that positive psychology approaches can support happiness and contentment as well as be a way for us to support self-directed behaviours in all that we do.  So, if our overall well-being is sound, and we have a positive attitude towards dance as part of our whole life, it appears we are better able to cope in the face of adversity and enjoy what we do.

As an area of academic endeavour, positive psychology is a growing area, especially in dance, and has many sub theories through which we can structure research and shape practice.  One such theory is Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory.

 

Flow

Flow is defined as “a subjective, mental state contributing to optimal experience, which is characterised by complete absorption in an activity, at given moment in time”(Csikszentmihayli, 1990, p. 53).  It’s perhaps typified in popular culture in the film Billy Elliot.  The moment when Billy is auditioning at the Royal Ballet School and is asked what it is he most likes about dancing.  He says, “I dunno … it sort of feels good, sort of stiff and that, but once I get going, then, I like forget everything, and I sort of disappear.  I can feel a change in my whole body.  Like there’s a fire in my body.  I’m just there, flying.  Like a bird.  Like electricity. Yeah, electricity.”  We’ve all been there I am sure!  From a theoretical perspective, flow is comprised of nine dimensions, conceived as constituents of the flow experience described above:

·         Skill-challenge balance – achieving a balance between the skills that the dancers have and the challenge which is presented to them

·         Action and awareness merging – refers to the moment when the action you are carrying out and your awareness of it appears to blend into one

·         Clear goals – having a clear sense of direction

·         Unambiguous feedback – clear, direct feedback from tutors and other dancers

·         Concentration – an environment in which concentration can be supported and achieved

·         Control – perceiving a sense of control over what you are doing

·         Loss of self-consciousness – in a flow state, we lose our self-consciousness and are able to invest fully in that experience

·         Transformation of time – time might stand still, speed up or slow down

·         Autotelic experience – refers to the intrinsic enjoyment we get from doing activity purely for the reason of doing it, and nothing else


Csikszentmihalyi describes flow himself in this TED talk.

 

What facilitates flow?

There has been much research in sport, leisure activity and work-based settings, and a small amount in dance, which has identified what facilitates flow.  Have a look at the further readings which are recommended below.  In summary the facilitators, or antecedents of flow fall into personal or situational factors; so things that the dancer themselves can control, and those which are influenced by the environment around them. These include:

Personal Antecedents

Situational Antecedents

Mental preparation such as image-based rehearsal, rituals, getting in “the zone”

Suitability of space including flooring, lighting, warmth, etc.

Physical preparation such as warm up, breathing, fitness, sufficient rehearsal

Relationships with peers and teachers

Having confidence in skills and expertise to complete the task

Feeling unjudged and trusting others

Finding the fun in a task

 

 

So if these things help people achieve a flow state, then helping dancers autonomously develop the personal skills above may better ensure their enjoyment in dancing for themselves.  But we too, as educators working with dancers throughout their careers, can shape our teaching climate to foster positive psychology. 

The constructs of flow itself can perhaps act as a way to shape our practice.  For example, balancing the skills of the dancer to the challenge of the tasks set can immediately foster a sense of capability and brings about enjoyment itself.  Setting clear goals in class and creating an environment for dancers to concentrate engenders the flow experience.  Ensuring that your feedback is timely and unambiguous helps too, and making sure there is some fun in class can ensure that autotelic experience we seek.


There are many other educational frameworks which can support the occurrence of flow and promote positive psychology.  A useful one is Epstein’s TARGET strategy, an acronym for the following:

·         Task - designing class activities for variety, individual challenge and active involvement, focus on learning through fun and task-involvement, rather than competition. 

·         Authority - involving dancers in the decision making process, offering leadership roles

·         Recognition - recognising individual development rather than rewarding talent alone

·         Grouping - encouraging cooperation by working together, small groupings and using multiple ways of organising those groups

·         Evaluation - using criteria for development using self-set goals, to involve students in process of evaluation

·         Time - providing opportunities and time for improvement, time management, flexibility in reaching goals using various pathways

 

More recent research that my colleague James Hewison and I have undertaken, has been to look at how flow can enable greater willingness to take risks, particularly within the teaching and learning of Contact Improvisation.  Full details of the study have been published in the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (see further resources), but our findings point to a range of structures which enable flow to occur and greater risks to be taken.  These include:

·         Starting with small, scaffolded tasks and building to larger ones in terms of:

o   Task length

o   Simple to complex

o   Familiar partners to those less well known

o   Quiet to loud

o   Solo to group

o   Private to public exploration

·         Allowing time for full exploration, discovery and play

·         Engendering an environment of trust and on-judgment

·         Building a community of learning of which the teacher are a part

·         Offering space and time to discuss the significant and not so significant

 

There are lots of ways in which we can keep the enjoyment alive, these are just some and there are of course many more.  For further information have a look at these resources:

American Psychologist:  Special Issue on Happiness, Excellence and Optimal Human Functioning.  January 2000, 55(1).

Csikszentmihalyi, M.  (1990).  Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.  New York: Harper Collins.

Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I.  (2011).  Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications.  London: McGraw Hill.

Seligman, M.  The pursuit of happiness: Bringing the science of happiness to life.  Website available at:  www.pursuit-of-happiness.org  (Accessed: 13.11.13)

Urmston, E., & Hewison, J. (2014). Risk and flow in contact improvisation: Pleasure, play and presence. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices6(2), 219-232.

 

Elsa Urmston is DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training Manager in Ipswich, UK, and member of the IADMS Education Committee. 

Tags:  dancers  motivation  psychology  teachers 

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From Student to Professional: Raising the next generation of IADMS – cheers to the next 25 years: A recap of student events at the 25th Annual Meeting

Posted By Carina (Stern) Nasrallah on behalf of the IADMS Student Committee, Saturday, October 24, 2015

  


Students from all over the globe had the opportunity to interact with colleagues and professionals alike at a variety of student-oriented events at this year’s Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The evening prior to the start of the annual meeting, students mingled at a local Pittsburgh bar, catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances.  Later during the weekend, Dr. Jeffrey Russell from Ohio University spoke to students about the process of publishing research in a peer-reviewed journal such as the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.  He encouraged students not to be daunted by the prospect of publishing research but to view it as an opportunity to contribute to the expanding body of dance medicine literature and show pride in their hard work. A quote that stuck out from his talk was, “if you produce excellent work, people will notice,” which was encouraging students to continue to produce high quality research and writing over a span of time, and excellence can be achievable. 

A highlight of the student events was a stimulating networking session hosted on the second evening of the conference.  Eight different sub-disciplines of dance medicine & science were represented including medicine, physical therapy, athletic training, research, nutrition, psychology, dancer wellness screening, education, and advocacy.  Each group had the opportunity to engage with one or more professionals currently working in the field.  The room was a buzz with questions and discussion.  The enthusiasm was contagious as these students found themselves surrounded by like-minded peers who were equally curious to learn about careers in dance medicine & science.


 


Scattered around the room were a contingent of young professionals who had recently made the transition from student to professional.  They had attended previous annual meetings or joined IADMS as student members and had “grown up” in the IADMS; learning, growing, and connecting, and eventually trading in their student membership for professional status. They were able to share about their own challenges and victories with pursuing careers as recently as the past few months; some were even currently seeking employment. As the International Association for Dance & Science celebrated its 25th anniversary, likewise it celebrated the raising up of the first generation of researchers, educators, healthcare practitioners, and advocates in the field of dance medicine & science.  The student attendees of this year’s conference are the professionals of tomorrow and it is indeed their passion and knowledge that will carry forward the legacy of IADMS for the next 25 years.


Tags:  Annual Meeting  students 

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