Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Basics of Nutrition - How much and of what?

It can be confusing hearing conflicting advice over what quantity of what nutrients your diet should consist of. How much fuel does your body need, and what is the right fuel for the demands you place on your body? There's no straight answer, everyone's body is different however the bottom line is you need to fuel your body appropriately for the work you need it to do.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Injuries and dancing

Injuries happen, it's a fact of life. Studies have shown that in any given year up to 90% of professional dancers will sustain an injury that makes them lose time from work (it makes for some disheartening reading, but have a look - JDMS study CJSM study SJMSS study and MPPA study). That's a lot of injuries in a lot of dancers. Yes we can do our best to prevent them and we should, because it's possible to reduce the instances of injury and that should be a priority for all of us. However injuries happen in any activity where you are pushing your body to it's limits, and when they do we still need to be able to get on with our lives.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Fanaticism in the Ballet World

I've been reflecting on last week's attack on Sergei Filin. In many ways it's brought the best and the worst of ballet to the world's attention.

There are fanatics in all walks of life; in sport, in business, in medicine, in law... it is not a normal mindset but it exists throughout our society. I would hate it if fanaticism on this extremist level came to be associated with ballet more generally; yes there are fanatics in the ballet world, and yes one of them appears to have attacked Sergei Filin in the most horrific manner. However, the vast majority of those working in ballet, even at the highest most competitive level, find the attack every bit as reprehensible as the rest of the population.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The rules of supplemental training

Supplemental training will make you a better dancer. There's no question about it. Being stronger, faster, more agile, more powerful, more flexible, generally fitter... all of it will improve your dance performance. But it's no good deciding you're going to push yourself and develop outside of the dance studio if you don't do it sensibly. There are some incredibly simple rules you need to follow if you're ever going to make progress in additional areas you're training, otherwise you're just going to waste your time.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Dance bag essentials - tennis balls

Every dancer should keep a tennis ball in their dance bag, it doesn't matter what style of dance you do, from ballet to bhangra to ballroom, all of you are going to get tight muscles at some point, if you keep something as basic as a tennis ball in your bag you have a way of working on them wherever you are. When I was dancing full-time I think I forgot what it was like to wake up without some part of me aching or feeling tight and it was often at it's worst after a heavy class or rehearsal. Rolling muscles out with the ball became as much a part of my cool down as stretching did and made considerable difference to how long I could last between physio or massage appointments without totally stiffening up.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tradition and Authority

The tradition of respect for authority in classical dance is, in many ways, a great thing. It is a respect for wisdom, experience and the years of dedication in others that has built the art form into what it is today. In children it develops respect for elders, for teachers, for knowledge, it encourages self-discipline and self-control.  However I truly believe respect is something that should always be earned. Whether in your personal or professional life, whether it is your boss, your teacher, your coach, your partner, there is no entitlement in respect.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Sleep more

Finally one thing that no one in their right mind can complain about with training. You need sleep. Lots of it. For most people 5 hours a night isn't going to be enough, most of us can do pretty well on 7-8 hours a night, some people need 8+. If you wake up feeling crappy every morning, with your muscles feeling weak and you feeling foggy-headed, you either need to tone down the drinking, or you're not getting enough sleep.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Teaching technique in children

Teaching isn't as easy as running through syllabus and expecting your students to catch on sooner or later, or it certainly shouldn't be. When you're teaching young dancers you are affecting their physical being - their posture, their muscle development, their bone strength, their body composition. They aren't going to know it, but their teacher has a huge responsibility for ensuring that they are taught safely and effectively.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Over-pronation of the feet

A degree of pronation is normal, as the foot needs to adapt to contact with the ground, however over-pronation occurs when the arch of the foot excessively flattens or 'collapses', the heel rolls inward and the soft tissues stretch. This is a common problem in dancers of many genres including jazz, modern and theatrical dance, but the problem is most pronounced in ballet dancers.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Periodisation Training and Dance

I came across periodisation training being used with dancers for the first time while I was studying for my Masters. My supervisor was really interested in it's application to dance and advocated it being used across various forms of dance training. It's used by coaches of pretty much every sport or physical activity you can think of and it makes perfect sense for dancers.

The physical abilities a dancer needs to possess are many and varied; we need power, strength, aerobic fitness, flexibility, agility, musicality... we need to possess all these at once and we need to perform at our highest levels according to specific schedules and deadlines. A training methodology that maximises peak performance, ensures constant physical adaptions are made and actively works to avoid burnout and overtraining would then seem a no brainer. It makes sense to use periodisation as a method of managing your supplemental training. You're always going to be in technique classes and rehearsals, but it can be used as a means of organising your training outwith the dance studio.

It means being seriously organised, and having the discipline to stick to your training plan but it's effectiveness has been repeatedly proven across a range of disciplines and if you're serious about performing at your best having a well thought out training schedule should be an absolute priority. This is a brief outline of the basic premise of periodisation and how it can be applied to dance training.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Managing your training

One thing almost everyone working within the area of dance science will push is supplemental training. I bang on about it constantly. It's important as exclusive dance-only training does not adequately prepare the body for the demands of performance. Class provides the training for technique and artistry, however for the required athleticism, you need to train your body in a range of areas so that when it comes to performance you are not only physically equipped to perform the choreography and therefore less likely to get injured, but you are also able to perform at your best.

Finding the time for this can be problematic. If you are lucky enough to be employed by a company that provides additional physical training you're in a very fortunate minority. For those who aren't, finding clear cut time for supplemental training can be difficult. For dance students, there is often the need to juggle practical training with course theory and part-time employment; for freelancers their is the balancing of rehearsal, performance, class and other employment, if you're working in an area such as hospitality to supplement your income your hours are erratic at the best of times and for those employed by companies full-time who do not receive supplemental training, it can be difficult to commit yourself to further training outside of the hours spent within in-company training. Out with all of that, you need to be careful not to overwork yourself.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Revisiting the basics - Warm up and Cool down

Whether you're a teacher, a choreographer or just leading a rehearsal, for your dancers to perform at their best you need to ensure their bodies are adequately prepared. One thing that has been missing from teacher training programmes for years is the provision for this. On the one hand 99% of it is common sense, on the other it can be easy to forget your own practice when you're leading others.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Staying hydrated

Hydration is a pretty obvious issue, everyone has a water bottle in class and it's a nightmare making it through when you've forgotten it. Even so it's easy to become dehydrated without realising it, and a tiny degree of dehdration can have a significant effect on your performance. Bare in mind your hydration needs are different depending on your training load. If you're just doing a couple of hours, water will do. However if you're in classes and rehearsals all day, you need to recognise you're going to be sweating all day, and that you need to replenish both your fluid and  salt levels. If you don't want, don't like, or can't face spending the money on sports drinks, you can easily make your own by adding diluting juice and a quarter teaspoon of salt to your water bottle.

Also, remember anything caffeinated dehydrates, so 5 cups of coffee and one bottle of water aren't going to cut it, even if you feel like you've been drinking all day. If you're dancing full-time or close to full-time, try to drink 2 litres of water throughout your training day to stay hydrated. That excludes whatever you drink at breakfast and after you finish at the end of the day.

Just because it's obvious, don't neglect to think about it, make sure you're drinking enough.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Iron

Perhaps this isn't what you'd necessarily expect on a dance blog, and perhaps he seems as far removed from the field of dance as you can imagine, however it has a relevance that extends to any discipline of physical training - and as far as I'm concerned Henry Rollins has always been and continues to be, The Man. 

I stumble across this essay a couple of times a year, it's probably reproduced in nearly every fitness blog, website and discussion forum on the net, and for good reason. It's a reminder of why we should train our bodies, and what it can teach us about ourselves. It doesn't matter how you train, physical discipline is the same across the board. Your attitude to your training, to yourself and to others are all interlinked. Here's the article reproduced in full.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Strength Training - a note on pas de deux and partnering

This isn't specific to ballet - this is for anyone whose dance style incorporates lifts of any type, whether it's ballet, street, contemporary or lindy hop, ANY style where you are taking someone's weight increases your risk of hurting yourself if you're not careful. It should be pretty self evident that if you're lifting a person, you're going to need the strength to take their weight. You won't get that strength from practicing the lift a few times in rehearsal, you'll get it from strength training outside of the studio.

Aside from the concerns about bulking up, too many female dancers obsess over their weight, at the risk of their health, and avoid weight training themselves due to the worry that it will make them gain weight. Staying at 45kg isn't healthy for the average woman, ballet dancer or not. Too many female dancers control their weight through diet restriction. Get your body fat tested and despite being a size 4, you might be surprised to find it sitting around 20%. Average BF % for female ballet dancers is 17%, for contemporary dancers it's 20%. Compare that with female gymnasts (13%) and runners (14%); the reason it's higher on dancers than other athletes is the lack of strength training and the lack of adequate nutrition.