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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


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.



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.

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 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:  (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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25th Annual Meeting: A Live Update!

Posted By Hannah Etlin-Stein, Saturday, October 10, 2015
Another year, another IADMS Annual Meeting - this one celebrating the 25th anniversary of IADMS! 

Day two is only halfway through and already there have been some memorable presentations and movement sessions. 

Yesterday began with some opening remarks by the IADMS team and a welcome from Terrence Orr, Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the newest honorary member of IADMS. He was followed by a Clinical Symposium from Dr. Paula Thomson who discussed the differences between dancers with high and low internalized shame. Dr. Thomson broke down important information related to the psychological profile of dancers in a highly informative and powerful presentation touching on psychological issues many dancers face.

The day progressed with many presentations and movement sessions of a high calibre. One of these was presented by Dr. Danielle Jarvis, winner of the IADMS student research award sponsored by the Harkness Centre for Dance Injuries, who delivered to a packed audience! Outlining the research she did for her PhD work at the University of Southern California, Danielle clearly and concisely discussed the effects of jump strategy modifications on energetics during dance jumps.


The first day of presentations ended with the research committee giving an extremely informative presentation on survey research lead by Lynda Mainwaring and Esther Chou. We were all reminded there are no easy options when it comes to research and surveys are no exception! From specifics on how to avoid sampling errors, vague wording and formatting we were given an in depth ‘how to’ on survey research!

Overall the energy in the conference has been extremely high with this year’s Annual Meeting having the largest number of delegates attending. As you walk through the crowd during coffee breaks you can hear the buzzing sounds of young students networking with established researchers, exciting collaborations being created and big plans for the future of IADMS.


There has been some really good engagement through social media on our twitter feed so head over there to join the conversation via #IADMS2015. There are still loads of presentations ahead including the famous IADMS dance party this evening so stay tuned! 

Hannah Etlin-Stein

Tags:  Annual Meeting  live update 

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Learn, Share, Develop: The IADMS Clinical Experience Raffle

Posted By Alexander McKinven, Thursday, October 8, 2015

As summer fades, as the leaves drop from the trees, and as the nights draw in (well, in the northern hemisphere anyway) this is one of my favourite times of the year. Not because the winter is coming or that one starts planning end of year festivities but because it's the time for the annual meeting of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science.

Wherever it is in the world - Central Europe, Asia, or North America - one can be sure that as you walk into venue you'll bump into someone you met last year, see familiar faces who are at the leading edge of the dance science frontier, or be introduced to someone who has only recently heard about the organisation and is brimming with ideas to explore, challenge, and apply.

On so many different levels IADMS is special. I have never met so many intelligent yet humble and approachable scientists. And scientists who all want to learn, share and develop. Our annual meeting brings these people from the four corners of the globe for this very purpose. And it's celebrating 25 years of doing so.

To facilitate this sharing of knowledge, 14 clinical experiences have been sourced with internationally respected clinicians offering to spend quality one on one time with lucky individuals. I remember learning so much as a eager, young, developing physiotherapist from people who are still closely involved in the organisation; Marijeanne Liederbach at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in NYC, Sue Mayes of the Australian Ballet, and Sharon Morrison, former clinical director of the Jerwood Centre for the prevention and treatment of dance injuries in Birmingham, UK. 
Do you have a mentor who inspired you in the field or someone who you worked with who helped develop your scientific interests? These people helped to shape my clinical development and mentored me into the role I currently hold supporting the students at the Royal Ballet School in London.


Make sure you look out for the clinical experiences stand at the 2015 IADMS annual meeting in Pittsburgh and get your raffle ticket for the chance to learn from some our most inspiring members.


Alexander McKinven is chair of the Development Committee of IADMS

Tags:  Annual Meeting 

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Student Events at the 2015 Annual Meeting

Posted By IADMS Student Committee, Friday, October 2, 2015

The 25th Annual Meeting is fast approaching and the Student Committee is hosting and facilitating many exciting events for student members this year. The Student Social is an informal event, which will allow for students (21+) to connect in a relaxed environment the night before the Annual Meeting begins. A session for anyone interested in publishing is also on the schedule, hosted by the committee and presented by Jeffrey Russell (PhD, AT, Athens, Ohio, USA). Dr. Russell will be talking about his personal experiences with publishing research, highlighting specific challenges and discussing strategies to overcome each. As a part of our mission to drive connections between students and professionals, a Networking Session is one of our most anticipated events for the meeting. Students will have an opportunity to interact with many professionals in a variety of areas of Dance Medicine & Science including physiotherapists, educators, physicians, and researchers. Please see the descriptions of each event below for more information.


We can’t wait to meet and see all of you in just a week!


If you have any questions or comments, contact us at


Student Social


Networking and drinks with IADMS student members


8th October, 7.30-10.30pm


The upstairs VIP lounge at Olive or Twist (

140 6th St. Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Important info

Students must be age 21+ to attend and will need to show ID for entrance.


Publishing your research: Advice from the Experts


Aiming to publish your latest research study? Not sure where to start? Looking for the latest and greatest tips on publishing, specific to dance medicine and science? Then our session on publishing your research is the place to be! This talk will provide information for those who are interested in writing and publishing research in the field of dance medicine and science. There will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss your thoughts at the end of the session.


Saturday 10th October, 6.00 - 6.10pm


Salons 4-5


Student Networking Event


Our student networking event is an opportunity for students to connect with professionals and to build networks in their area of interest. This could be your chance to mingle with academics whose papers you’ve been reading all year, your chance to ask about their journey in dance medicine and science, or maybe even be the chance to find a mentor! Our student networking event is the perfect time and place so come along!


Saturday 10th October, 6.45pm


Salons 4-5

Tags:  Annual Meeting  students 

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A Young Dancer's Guide: What every young dancer needs to know about injury prevention and rehabilitation: Video from the 2014 Annual Meeting

Posted By Bobby Bernstein, Tuesday, September 29, 2015

IADMS Bernstein from Steven Karageanes on Vimeo.

Dance today is an athletically strenuous art form and many young dancers suffer from injuries. My co-author, Nancy Kadel, MD, and I have many insights into why these injuries commonly occur and how they can be prevented. The focus of this blog is on cross training for young dancers, one of the most important topics we discuss in “A Young Dancer's Guide: What every young dancer needs to know about injury prevention and rehabilitation”.


There are approximately 32,000 dance schools in the United States alone [1], and countless young dancers are under-informed about dance injury, prevention, and rehabilitation. This lack of awareness can result in young dancers sustaining potentially preventable physical injuries. Knowledge in these areas may be improved if parents seek out qualified cross-training instructors. Great cross-training options for young dancers include Yoga, Pilates, GYROTONIC®, and Yamuna Body Rolling™.


Working as a GYROTONIC® instructor for more than eight years, I have experienced that cross-training greatly improves the overall sense of how young dancers use their bodies. In the beginning, they are usually good at showing the movements and at mimicking what is demonstrated. However, they soon learn to feel the movements in their own bodies, to discover the range, tempo, and quality of the movements, and they gain a deeper understanding of how the body works. The following is an example of this learning process.


One of the most important skills for young dancers to learn is how to correctly turn out (externally rotate) their legs from their hips. Not all bodies are built to be able to achieve the level of external leg rotation, that is often demonstrated by professional ballet dancers. Young dancers being told that they do not have enough turn out in dance classes can cause mental distress and often results in far too many young dancers forcing their turn out from their hips, knees, ankles, and/or feet. This can cause preventable injuries in those areas as well as in their backs. My favorite way to teach young dancers how access and/or improve their true turn out is by using the GYROTONIC® Full Circles exercise.


Please note: In this exercise the student is lying in a supine position on the bench with the upper straps of the GYROTONIC® pulley tower attached to their feet and ankles. The straps are counter weighted cables used to teach control and for muscle conditioning. The movement starts with the legs together, straight, in parallel, and slightly higher than the torso. The legs are then brought up to a 90 degree angle with the torso. Next, the legs are externally rotated, opened to the sides and brought down and around until they meet again at the starting position.


To begin, I ask my young dance students to execute the Full Circles without instruction other than to use their abdominal muscles to protect their backs and to stabilize the movement. In most cases, young dancers will overuse their muscular strength, try to open the legs as far to the sides as they can in as close to 180 degrees of external rotation as possible, and to complete the whole circle at a relatively quick tempo. The movement usually lacks control and generally young dancers do not naturally use the correct muscles throughout the whole movement. Specifically, they do not use the correct deep rotator muscles to achieve their full external rotation before opening the legs to the sides. In many cases (depending on how deeply the head of the femur naturally sits in the hip socket), if the femur bones are not properly rotated before opening the legs to the sides then the heads of the femurs can be “blocked" by the sides of the hip sockets. In addition to not being able to access their full external rotation, this also causes gripping of the muscles, discomfort, and tension in the body. I will then ask the young dancer how the movement felt and they will often report some level of pain in the hip while doing the exercise and a snapping in the hip might also be heard. With further conversation it usually comes out that they also feel some hip pain, and many additionally hear this same snapping sound, when lifting their legs in high positions in their dance classes. (The sound most often indicates that the young dancer is also suffering from Snapping Hip Syndrome or Dancer's Hip, which is where the snapping sound is usually caused by the movement of a tendon over a bony structure in the hip.)


The next step is that I teach my students to feel the difference between forced external leg rotation and correct external leg rotation. To accomplish this I move their legs one at a time into an assisted, relaxed, fully externally rotated position and then back into parallel multiple times. I then teach them how to use their deep lateral rotator hip muscles to achieve their full external rotation. I continue to cue (hands on teaching techniques) their movements and to gradually increase their range of motion while maintaining the correct muscle activation as they open their leg to the side. Usually, the first several times they try to do this by themselves they continue to grip in the front of their hip and to tighten their quadriceps and gluteal muscles. However, by continued use of hands on cueing they soon un-learn these incorrect movement habits. The end result is that they are able to turn on the correct external rotation muscles without assistance and to correctly execute the complete Full Circles (which also includes the use of the inner thigh muscles, hamstrings, and abdominals) without any hip pain and without the snapping sound if it was also previously present.


Learning to move in this new way requires a decrease in tempo. As young dancers become more proficient in correctly executing external leg rotation an increase in tempo becomes possible. Their quality of movement changes naturally as a result of their new body awareness. Full Circles that started out with a forced, slamming quality as the legs opened to the side, gain a soft, easy quality of movement. Once correct rotation of the leg in the hip socket is achieved, and young dancers have learned to access their true turn out without forcing and gripping, they can then use this information in numerous practical levels in their dance training.


For example, this is how using correct turn out activation is then transferred into doing a correct tendu from first position (First position is when the heels are together and the toes are pointing away from each other with the goal of achieving 180 degrees of external rotation). I ask the young dancer to start with the feet in parallel facing the barre and then to simply open and close their feet from parallel to first position and back again several times. As they do this, I cue them to feel the correct external rotation muscle activation the same as was achieved in the Full Circles exercise. Then we work on maintaining the un-gripped turn out on both the standing leg and working leg as the young dancer does slow tendus through the entire range of the movement (A tendu is when the working leg is extended away from the standing leg to the front, side, or back, until the foot is fully pointed while maintaining contact with the floor and then the motion is reversed). Improved self-knowledge of this kind can then be further applied to correctly doing all barre exercises and more complicated center work. Improved execution of advanced dance combinations and choreography is only achieved when young dancers increase their over-all body knowledge, but for many aspects of dance this foundation of true external leg rotation with correct muscle activation is key.


In addition to the cross-training modalities initially mentioned, there are many helpful exercises that can be easily done in the studio before dancing. For example, young dancers can greatly benefit from doing warm-up/strengthening exercises with a resistance band every day. Nancy Kadel, MD also recommends the following:


“Doing slow pliés and relevés in parallel with a tennis ball between your heels is my favorite recommendation for dancers to warm up the little muscles in their feet and ankles in correct alignment.”


It is incredible to see young dancers being able to dance pain-free through greater self-knowledge. Supporting this increase in understanding can help the young dancers of today reach their goals healthily and become the great artists of tomorrow!



Bobby Bernstein

Professional Dancer

Certified GYROTONIC® Instructor

Dance Teacher

IADMS Member





[1] “Education Statistics-National Dance Education Organization”,, 2015

Tags:  cross-training  dancers  teachers 

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What Dancers and Dance Teachers Need to Know about Motor Development, Motor Control, and Motor Learning: Part III

Posted By Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, Monday, September 14, 2015

This is the third of three posts looking at the field of motor behavior and its impact on dance training. This post will deal with motor learning, which looks at the changes in motor skills caused by experience and practice, rather than development as described in a previous post. These changes can only be observed by changes in performance and are relatively permanent. This area of motor behavior is probably the most useful for dancers and teachers.

How dancers learn is strongly affected by instructional strategies and learning styles. The three main categories of instructional strategies are demonstration, verbal instructions/cueing, and feedback. Demonstration is very important to dancers, especially beginners, because we are so visual in our learning. What learners perceive when they watch the teacher or another dancer demonstrating is related directly to the coordination pattern of the skill. With verbal instructions, the important message is that dancers should not be overloaded with information when they are learning a new skill or combination. Instructions should be also be age-appropriate. Imagery can be highly useful in keeping instructions concise, stimulating, and suitable for the age group. Finally, feedback that expresses how the movement was done (knowledge of performance), rather than simply giving information about what occurred (knowledge of results), is far more useful.

The importance of motivation in dance training cannot be over-emphasized. Dancers need feedback that tells them what they need to improve, but the tone and message should always remain positive. Criticism does not imply negativity, and can be balanced with praise and support. It is important to set clear and reasonable goals for dancers, which sustains a motivational climate.

All dancers and teachers know that learning demands considerable practice. The issue is how to keep this interesting and progressive. Variability in practice is a key factor. While repetition is essential, variations can help with both developing the larger general motor plans as well as assisting in motivation. A movement or skill should only be repeated in the same way over and over when that particular form of the movement is going to be needed in choreography. Two other factors to consider are using random practice, that is, practicing a variety of skills alternately, and rest. Rest is crucial for muscle recovery as well as consolidating memory.

Dancers and teachers use several strategies to make learning easier. Segmentation means to practice sections of a phrase, before putting them altogether. Simplification involves doing a less complex version of a skill, such as a passé balance, before doing the complex version, such as a double pirouette in passé. Fractionization is for multi-limbed movements, and means practicing just the arms or just the legs before doing all the limbs at once.

Two other tools that dancers can use to assist in learning are mental practice and improvisation. Mental practice combined with physical practice can enhance learning, and even by itself, such as during times of injury, can help maintain skills. Improvisation allows dancers to explore movement concepts and focus their attention on fundamental ideas without worrying about choreographic detail.

With a firm understanding of motor development, motor control, and motor learning, dancers and teachers can make the most of the dance training environment.

Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, are IADMS members and co-authors of the newly released Human Kinetics text Motor Learning and Control for Dance: Principles and Practices for Performers and Teachers.

Tags:  dancers  motor control  motor learning  teachers 

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What Dancers and Dance Teachers Need to Know about Motor Development, Motor Control, and Motor Learning: Part II

Posted By Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, Monday, September 14, 2015

This is the second of three posts looking at the field of motor behavior and its impact on dance training. This post will deal with motor control. Motor control is the study of the nervous system, that is, the brain and all of the nerve cells communicating with the body, and how this system organizes and guides the muscles to create coordinate movement. It also explains how the senses such as vision and hearing, as well as information from the environment, are used to accomplish movement. The study of motor control can yield valuable tools for the dancer and the teacher.

Sometimes teachers suggest that dancers try to contract individual muscles consciously to create dance movement. However, once teachers and dancers understand how the brain functions to create movement patterns with multiple muscles, and the nonconscious processes that are ongoing, they will realize that what they are attempting to do is inefficient. They will be more effective using language that describes whole tasks.

One important aspect of motor control is attention, which simply put is concentrated mental activity. Today people think that it is possible to multi-task, but in truth, when two or more tasks demand the same type of attention, the brain must switch back and forth.  It cannot do the two activities at the same time.  This is why we can drive and listen to music, but we cannot drive and text safely at the same time, because both demand visual attention. If dancers are distracted in their attention in class or rehearsal, they will not be able to dance their best. Finally, levels of sleep and anxiety can greatly affect attention.

Motor control is a balance between movement that is primarily centrally controlled, and movement that is primarily responding to environmental factors. The simplest example of this balance is to consider an outdoors walk.  Walking is determined by what is called a central pattern generator (CPG).  CPGs are groups of nerve cells that can create rhythmic patterns, like walking, which can continue without sensory feedback once initiated. However, if the environment changes, such as approaching a stairway, the brain can respond to this feedback and alter the movement pattern. It may be possible that CPGs can be developed through dance training, such as continuous jumps in first position.

Another type of centrally controlled movement patterns is called a generalized motor program (GMP). By practicing variations of a given task, dancers can develop GMPs for movement categories. For example, dancers usually learn sissonne en avant first, and then learn versions to the back and to the side. They also learn finishing both open and closed, and many arm variations. This variety helps the dancer develop a GMP for sissonne, so that any new variation can be learned easily.

Dancers can also change movement while in progress if the movement is sufficiently slow. Otherwise dancers must wait for the next attempt to use environmental feedback, such as a correction from the teacher. Teachers and dancers also need to understand that as speed increases, accuracy diminishes. When teaching fast movements, it is best to work for accuracy first. However, the movement must not be slowed down so much that it becomes a different GMP. Walking is not simply a slow version of running!

Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, are IADMS members and co-authors of the newly released Human Kinetics text Motor Learning and Control for Dance: Principles and Practices for Performers and Teachers.

Tags:  dancers  motor control  motor learning  teachers 

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