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Inquiry into Dance Training, Injury Management and Artistic Expression:

Key Concepts to move the Art Form Forward

 

Principal Investigator and Author: Rhonda Cooper - BFA, MPT, FCAMPT, acupuncture, Sessional Dance Instructor at SFU, Registered Physiotherapist, Oakridge Physiotherapy Centre

Collaborators: Rachael Corbett - BSc, PT, RCAMPT, IMS, Registered Physiotherapist, Diane Lee & Associates

Valia Spiliotopoulos - PhD, Academic Coordinator & Associate Professor of Professional Practice, Faculty of Education, SFU  

Funded by: Canada Council for the Arts

Abstract:

Purpose: To investigate current thinking regarding the training of dancers, injury management and prevention, and the development of artistic expression prevalent amongst the professional dance community.

Methods: In this qualitative study using grounded theory (Strauss and Corbin, 1990), 30 professional dance artists/educators were interviewed. The interviews were recorded and transcribed, then coded independently by three researchers. The data, in the form of codes and immerging themes, was triangulated for validity and reliability.

Results: The three researchers found frequent repetition of over 20 codes regarding the three major themes of the research: 1) key concepts for the training of dancers 2) key concepts for injury prevention and management 3) key concepts for development of artistic expression. These themes are discussed in the results section of this paper.

Conclusion: Artistic development in dance is facilitated through various educational approaches. These approaches include functional awareness of how the body works, awareness of integrating emotions with cognitive thinking as well as metacognition and critical thinking. Injury prevention can be facilitated by heightened awareness of not just the physical body, but emotional and mental state. Injury management includes seeking treatment and rehabilitation from health care professionals and, equally as important, using the injury as a vehicle of learning and transformation. The research indicates that trust, imagination, curiosity and resilience are necessary attributes for the dance artist to thrive in this often difficult and challenging field.

 

Introduction

The passage of knowledge regarding dance technique, managing injury and artistic expression has traditionally followed an oral history. This paper aims to provide the dance community with a written report containing a cross-section of the current ideology regarding the art form of dance and its inherent risk of injury. For the dancer, this paper aims to provide ideas and concepts for optimizing training, performance and artistic development. For the teachers of dance, this paper aims to provide key concepts and approaches for facilitating the learning and growth of dance artists. For choreographers, this paper may provide a better understanding of the dancers’ experience and needs within the work and inspire ideas that will allow the dancer to more fully embody an artistic proposition.

Perspective(s) or Theoretical Framework

This study takes a holistic approach towards investigating injury prevention and excellence in dance – one that explores how personal history, emotional disposition, physicality, mental attitude and spirituality contribute to the development of a dance artist as a whole. Key thinkers in holistic education date as far back as Plato, and include more recent thinkers such as Dewey (1963) and Vygotsky (1978). Recent research in dance education and artistic development has focused on the importance of holistic, embodied teaching and learning (Bannon, 2010; Snowber, 2002; Stinson, 2004) as an alternative to traditional, transmission-based models of facilitating artistic growth and expression.  These more progressive models view dance education as a means of not only training dancers for a final performance, but supporting the development of the artist from a social, emotional and spiritual perspective in the hopes that they will, not only excel in their art form, but transfer those capacities learned to other contexts and have a more meaningful life experience. For the dance artist, sustainability of practice and longevity of career may be enhanced by a more holistic approach to the art form.

This study also uses a community-based research approach (Hall, 2009) whereby there is collaboration between “institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Boyer, 1996).  It is hoped that the findings on holistic approaches to dance pedagogy from the dance community will inform best practices in dance and arts pedagogy in dance education and that dance or embodied, experiential learning can be viewed as an approach that can be used across disciplines as a cross-curricular competency. Dance training can be viewed as a way of coming to understand, accept, define and develop the self.

Methods

Study Design: This is a qualitative study using grounded theory as the method for data collection and analysis. Participants: The concepts presented in this study have come from the analysis of information gathered from 30 interviews with dance masters residing in Vancouver and Toronto.  The artists interviewed were a representative sample of the professional dance community and were not selected based on evaluative criteria, but on availability and interest (Table 1 – Research Participants). Data: The interviews were conducted in person by Rhonda Cooper and recorded on “Audio memo.” ™ Interviewees answered ten questions (Table 2 – Interview Questions) regarding injury prevention and the art form of dance. The audio memos ™ were then transcribed by Caitlin Brown and Shannon Baker. Data Analysis: Three researchers then read through the transcriptions searching for key words representing distinct ideas regarding injury management and the art form of dance. Once the researchers had independently established the codes, the data was triangulated and the themes emerging from the data were discussed and agreed upon. Results: The key concepts presented in this paper were determined by the codes that appeared most frequently in the collection of interviews. Discussion: The codes were then synthesized and three major themes developed. Conclusion: An overarching hypothesis was established.

  

Table 1 – Research Participants 

 

Carol Anderson

Associate Professor York University Department of Dance

Peggy Baker

Artist-in-Residence at Canada’s National Ballet, Artistic Director Peggy Baker Dance Projects

Lara Barclay

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher, Choreographer

Josh Beamish

Artistic Director of Move Company

Johanna Bergfelt

Dance Teacher at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre

Peter Bingham

Artistic Director EDAM Dance

Susie Burpee

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher, Choreographer

Justine Chambers

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher, Choreographer

Dario Dinuzzi

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher

Alexis Fletcher

Professional Dancer currently with Ballet BC

Curtis Foley

Professional Ballet Teacher

Pat Fraser

Artistic Director The School of Toronto Dance Theatre

Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

Artistic Director of Tara Cheyenne Performance

Judith Garay

Associate Professor Simon Fraser University Dance Area, Artistic Director of Dancers Dancing

James Gnam

Artistic Director of Plastic Orchid Factory, Dance Teacher

Samantha Gray

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher

Jay Hirabayashi

Co-Artistic Director of Kokoro Dance

Farley Johansson

Co-Artistic Director of Science Friction

Natalie Lefebvre

Professional Dancer, Dance Teacher and Artistic Producer of Plastic Orchid Factory

Rob Kitsos

Associate Professor Simon Fraser University Dance Department, Professional Dancer and Choreographer

Jennifer Mascall

Artistic Director of Mascall Dance

Marlise McCormick

Director, Choreographer, Production Designer

Rachel Meyer

Professional Ballet Dancer

Pat Miner

Artistic Associate: The School of Toronto Dance Theatre

Emily Molnar

Artistic Director of Ballet BC

Sylvain Senez

Rehearsal Director of Ballet BC

Heidi Strauss

Independent Dancer, Dance Teacher and Choreographer

Darryl Tracy

Independent Dance Artist/Neurological Physiotherapist

Makaila Wallace

Independent Dance Artist

Wen Wei Wang

Artistic Director of Wen Wei Dance

 

Table 2 – Interview Questions

 

 

 

  1. In your opinion, what are the fundamentals of dance technique that enable the human body to do extraordinary movement?

 

  1. In your opinion, what physical, intellectual, and emotional traits make a professional dancer?

 

  1. What technical corrections have helped you become a better dancer?

 

  1. How do you think errors in your alignment or way of moving have weakened your dancing and/or contributed to injury?

 

  1. How have you gone about correcting these non-optimal strategies?

 

  1. How do you deal with injuries?

 

  1. What are your comments on emotional and mental aspects of performance/training?

 

  1. Who has influenced your dancing, teaching, and/or choreographic style?

 

  1. How has this person/mentor/teacher influenced you?

 

  1. What did you learn from them?

 

 

Analysis

 

In response to the interview questions the following codes were prevalent in over 33% of the interviews. In other words, the code must have appeared at least 10 times in the data to be considered part of the current thinking shared by the dance community. The following lists begin with the most frequent response.

 

1) In your opinion, what are the fundamentals of dance technique that enables the human body to do extraordinary movement?

 

  • Heightens kinesthetic awareness (18)
  • Strengthens self-discipline (17)
  • Develops strength and power (17)
  • Strengthens the mind/body connection (15)
  • Trains sound biomechanics and optimal alignment (15)
  • Develops versatility (13)
  • Teaches co-ordination (12)
  • Ignites curiosity (12)
  • Trains efficiency of movement (11)
  • Develops an understanding of movement (10)
  • Develops movement sophistication (10)
  • Develops motor control (10)

 

2) In your opinion, what physical, intellectual, and emotional traits make a professional dancer? 

  • Curiosity (16)
  • Discipline (15)
  • Responsiveness (13)
  • Passion (12)
  • Resilience (11)
  • Self-awareness (10)
  • Adaptability (10)
  • Authenticity (10)

 

3) What technical corrections have helped you become a better dancer? 

  • Listen to your body (12)
  • Find the ease of the movement (11)
  • Don’t make shapes, experience the movement (10)
  • Individual corrections regarding alignment (10)

 

4) How do you think errors in your alignment or way of moving have weakened your dancing and/or contributed to injury?

  • Muscular imbalances (13)
  • Erroneous beliefs (12)
  • Lack of awareness (11)

 

5) How have you gone about correcting these non-optimal strategies?

  • Took responsibility and figured it out for myself (19)
  • Took strategic, progressive steps to implement new strategies (11)
  • Used Pilates as a means to restore balance, alignment and muscle symmetry in the body (10)

 

6) How do you deal with injuries?

  • Seek help from health-care professionals (17)
  • Work through injuries (12)
  • Take them as learning experiences (11)
  • Investigate them to develop greater understanding (11)

 

7) What are your comments on emotional, and mental aspects of performance and training? 

  • Navigating difficult emotional states – stress, nervousness, fear (14)
  • Presence/experiencing the moment (12)

 

8) Who has influenced your dancing, teaching, and/or choreographic style?

  • Teachers, choreographers, artistic directors (28)

 

9) How has this person/teacher/mentor influenced you?

  • Planted seeds of creativity (19)
  • Pushed me (13)
  • Mentored me (12)
  • Nurtured me (10)

 

10) What did you learn from them?

  • Technical aspects of the craft (16)
  • To go deeper into the journey (11)
  • Physical thinking (10)
  • To be in the present (10)
  • To experiment (10)

 

Results

 

I) Key Concepts for the Training of Dancers 

 

  1. Synthesis of mind and body

In an optimal state, mind and body function together to create ideas and movement. As the dancer learns and develops greater co-ordination and ease of movement we witness a visual projection of the simultaneous thought processes and neurological patterning that are developing within the person. The integration of intellect, emotion and physicality is what allows the dancer to embody ideas and articulate these concepts in sophisticated ways. The training of dance artists can therefore be considered the practice of integrating the mind and body to function together as one coherent entity.

Although developing a heightened awareness of physical sensations regarding the biomechanics of the body and the physics of motion was a common theme throughout the interviews, the findings of this study indicate that it is insufficient to train dancers physically with focus on strength, alignment, co-ordination and speed alone.

The development of dance artists needs also to facilitate the development of imagination, sense of poetry, unique ideas, unique identity, and the ability to tolerate an often-uncomfortable state of reaching beyond known parameters. In doing so, dance educators invite their students, not only to excel as dance artists, but to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and growth in all areas of their lives.

“But what we don’t want to lose, in whatever our training is, is our sense of ourselves and our own imagination and our ability to appreciate new ideas and concepts.”

- Peggy Baker

 

‘ . . . contact (improvisation) is just a vehicle through which you can understand yourself, it’s a reflective vehicle, how somebody responds to you is information.”

- Peter Bingham

“ . . . there is a scientific element of technique in the fact that we’re using a flesh and blood architecturally gravity based instrument, but then there is that utter, utterly subjective magic thing, . . . “

- Natalie Lefebvre

 

“Dance artist changed, you know it’s not just about technique. I think it’s creative mind and how you see things.”

- Wen Wei Wang

 

  1. Dance is not an image or a shape. It’s a narrative.

 

By synthesizing the autobiographical stories of the participants, the investigators saw a natural progression in dance training from mimicking dance vocabulary to understanding the movement that creates the visual aesthetic seen.

Many of the dance artists interviewed talked about using image and shape to learn movement in the early days of their training, but as these artists matured, they worked more with feeling (physical sensation or emotion) and speak about dance as a series of experiences. A series of experiences can create a narrative/story.

The participants in this study conceptualized dance as movement or story vs. image or shape. The aesthetic image continuously emerging from and created by the task, narrative, function, energy or kinetic idea being explored.

“ . . . I was really copying on a superficial level, and I was trying to do things, I was trying to take on shapes, and trying to figure out how people did these really hard things. (What helped my development as a dance artist was) all of the ideas that took me away from that ridiculous notion that just by trying hard you can learn to do something. That took me to my body and to a more listening state where I actually was, the experience became, and shifting inside of that experiential world became the pathway to development.”

- Peggy Baker

“ . . . it’s not shapes, it’s experiences.”

-  Johanna Bergfelt

“ . . . if we understand form as aesthetic or perhaps expression, that it’s inextricably linked to function. And if the approach is taken to focus on the function of things, the form will arrive, and then it’s almost a more authentic way of expressing. As opposed to going into the form first, or trying to approach the look of things.”

- Susie Burpee

“ . . . when I can do things from a sensational perspective instead of an outside idea of shape or form, I feel like there’s some voluptuousness coming into movement . . . “

- Alexis Fletcher

“ . . . a lot of people learn how to dance through shape. And that’s so limiting, because those are just shapes.”

- Pat Miner

 

“Well, I think I teach in the same style that I best learned which is more from a feeling and less from structure.”

  • Makaila Wallace

 

  1. Though it may have been an image of a dancer that inspired a person to enter into dance training, this image of a dancer needs to be released so that the artist can claim her own voice.

 

This progression from “mimicking” dance steps to “understanding” movement is paralleled by a change in motivation from wanting to look like a dancer to identifying as a dancer who is then motivated by the experience of dance itself.

Although the beauty of dance may be the inspiration and motivation, the data indicates that it does not serve the teaching and learning of dance to take an aesthetic approach. This can mean letting go of the image of “a dancer” that brought the student to class in the first place and acceptance of themselves as absolutely unique, functional and boundlessly expressive being rather than as an aesthetic object.

Beautiful images of dancers may be strong motivators to start dance or work hard in class, but it seems that the dancers own curiosity about the work, inextricably connected to their self-identity, is what drives most serious dance artists.

“One of the main things for me and that I think is important is a non-aesthetic approach. Then we add aesthetic as dancers but the body itself is a body, it’s not an aesthetic.”

  • Peter Bingham

 

“The aesthetics come because you understand it.”

  • Curtis Foley

 

“I think when I learned from a younger age, it was about visual copying of what we saw and then kind of evolving and having a little bit more understanding of the joints and just a little bit more maybe intellectual input into how the muscles were happening like what muscle fibers are needed to use or what muscles come with accessing or understanding what joints are a rotation joint as opposed to a hinge joint and then it becomes more of a mental understanding first before I could apply it to the body and then kind of at this stage and sometimes when you start to perform works that are, you perform the work 40 times in a year then it’s not so much about remembering the patterns or kind of understanding all of that is there and then it becomes more about your emotional understanding of yourself in that piece and that will change you physicality of it too, how you express it, and then if it becomes something that is really close to you, it becomes more like a little bit of a spiritual connection which will change the way you move at the same time.”

  • Samantha Gray

 

“ . . . in the last five years I’ve actually become a choreographer instead of someone who’s trying to choreograph.”

  • Juthith Garay

 

 “When do you become a dancer? When you decide you are a dancer.”

  • Carol Anderson

 

  1. The body is not an object. It’s a subject.

Understanding of dance movement requires awareness that the aesthetics of dance arise from functional origins. By definition function is practical, it refers to the ability to do a task. In dance, aesthetics arise from the ability of the dancer to master the physics of movement, utilize the biomechanics their body, problem solve interactions between bodies in space, and express ideas physically.

In regards to dance performance, the research suggests that the function of the dancer is to communicate the ideas of the choreographer to an audience. The audience then interprets meaning from the work. The dancer learns to commit to developing the function that creates the form – focusing on the subject rather than the object. The dancer brings their awareness to the experience of the movement rather than the images they are creating and how they look from the outside.

“ . . . my role in this is to bring myself with generosity to the world of the choreography so that these people can witness and experience that, and that’s all it is.”

  • Peggy Baker

 

“ . . . there are ways of approaching embodying choreography and that is sensing it, you know, if you are sensing what you’re doing then you’ll remember the feelings, not the shapes, the shapes are familiar, but how did that feel when I did that is an interesting way of remembering choreography.”

  • Peter Bingham

 

“I think it’s just so beautiful to see a movement when it’s pure and it comes from the real mechanics of the body.”

  • Dario Dinuzzi

 

“ . . . like you’re looking outside of yourself to find an answer about something that has to come from inside of you.”

  • Alexis Fletcher

 

“ . . . on an intellectual level, I think there needs to be a certain understanding of what you’re doing and not just a kinesthetic sensation of it . . . “

  • Natatie Lefebvre

 

“Ginelle Chagnon from Montreal really always helped me find new or novel ways about how to use weight and use my body so that none of these things became posed or an idea of what I thought it was but it was actually about the function and the purpose of what the movement is . . . “

  • Darryl Tracy

 

  1. Ability to absorb feedback and incorporate it quickly.

 

Openness (a non-defensive attitude) towards feedback and the ability to quickly apply it to the work were seen as important traits to develop in dance artists.

 

Openness requires a sense of trust between the dancer and the teacher and/or choreographer. Without trust it is difficult for any learning or growth to occur. The need to have trust and love underlying the learning and creative process was mentioned by many dance artists.

 

“He used to say ‘oh, I’ve got time’ and ‘you’ll get it’ and this sort of generous open acceptance of who you were and if you were willing to listen to what he said, he would just give you the information.”

  • Judith Garay speaking about dance teacher, Alfredo Corvino

 

“I think a lot of art making and learning has to do with breaking patterns in terms of what you think something is. Like if you can erase that and that’s when new things start to happen when you really start to absorb new information. I think we’re just so . . . it’s so repetitive, dance training, particularly if you’ve been doing it a long time, that you just go into dance mode.”

  • Rob Kitsos

 

“ . . . you have to understand that sometimes that lens is not there to help us, that other person, the third party, so you have to really believe that they are there to help.”

  • Emily Molnar

 

“ . . . the way you work, the way that you absorb it, how much that your love for it is a part of it, is a part of the way you work.”

  • Rob Kitsos

 

“ . . . without love things fracture and fall apart.”

  • Justine Chambers

 

  1. “Don’t believe me. Figure it out for yourself.” - Peter Bingham    

 

The data overwhelmingly indicates that dancers must go beyond listening and being receptive to feedback, they must figure things out for themselves. All artists interviewed expressed an enormous sense of personal agency to solve physical and artistic problems for themselves.

 

It follows that dance educators are somewhat limited in their ability to influence the development of the dance artist; because for an artist to fulfill their greatest potential they must find out who they are and what they are working with. Dance educators can facilitate their students’ sense of agency by giving them time and space, as well as encouragement, to enter into problem solving explorations.

 

Another teaching concept that emerged from the study is the idea that, as each artist is absolutely unique, individual feedback tends to be more effective than general feedback. The study suggests that the most effective feedback is specific to the dancer and given in a spirit of kindness and generosity.

 

Many dance artists interviewed talked about the importance of having patience with themselves. It seems that most technical concepts in dance are ideas that take time, repetition and sensory awareness to become fully integrated into the person. The study suggests that mastering the skills required for dance takes willingness on the dancer’s part to invest significant time and energy in working and playing with technical concepts.

 

“ . . . we need to change the way we’re looking at training dancers and we need to empower their sense of autonomy and their own intelligence to figure it out and be responsible because often that’s happening later in people’s careers . . .”

  • James Gnam

 

“ . . . it is also about figuring out ways to grow and to develop where your weaknesses are. “

  • Makaila Wallace

 

“I try to teach them (dance students) to take responsibility for themselves and to understand how their body works, I do think every body works differently.”

  • Lara Barclay

 

“ . . . a constant refinement of technique, like constantly questioning, like is this the best way for me to do this?”

  • Farley Johansson

 

“Ohno Kazuo taught me that I’m the only one who can teach myself.”

  • Jay Hirabayashi

 

  1. Curiosity and Personal Growth

 

One of the barriers identified as detrimental to the development of dance artists was a tendency to place too much emphasis on pleasing the teacher or trying to be evaluated as ‘good.’ This effort to be seen as “good” creates a reliance on others to validate the dancers work and may diminish the dancers own interest and curiosity about their art.

 

The desire to please others may take the dancer away from discovering their own inherent strengths and abilities, especially if those qualities are not given value by the teacher or choreographer.

 

This study strongly suggests that dance artists must cultivate their own interests along side the ideas of their teachers, choreographers and fellow dancers in order to find their unique artistic voice.

 

“I think a big hurdle that causes a lot of problems further down the line is when people are looking for validation form their teachers and their choreographers.”

  • Farley Johansson

 

“Don’t work on being interesting, work on being interested.”

  • Justine Chambers

 

“It’s not about the judgment of other people, it’s about truthfully following through on your own impulse.”

  • Peggy Baker

 

“ . . . whatever they have it becomes innate and when you see somebody dancing like that who assumes everything about what they’re supposed to do and really digests it and likes it and they become the choreography as if it’s their own. It’s a rare thing, but when that happens you can see the talent, you can see that somebody is going to have the perseverance and just request it of themselves to be a dancer.”

  • Sylvain Senez

 

“It’s the craft of learning to put your own personality in the background, and yield into the form that is the body speaking. Yield to the form of dance. The form is greater than you; you’re a participant in it. And for you to actually speak to people, you have to have done a lot of work, emotional, mental, and physical work to do that.

  • Jennifer Mascall

 

II) Key Concepts for Injury Prevention and Management

 

  1. Injury as a vehicle of transformation

 

One repeated theme in the research was the agreement that dancers should receive more information regarding anatomy and biomechanics earlier in their training. For most dancers interviewed their education in these areas came in response to an injury that might have been prevented had they been given more information about optimal alignment and biomechanics earlier. 

 

The data indicates that often injuries are due to muscle imbalances and the impact these imbalances have on joint alignment and mechanics. It was also evident in the interviews that injuries occur as the result of uncontrolled emotional states - see “Self-regulation: Metacognition and Integration of Emotions.”

 

The data strongly suggests that injuries are often a source of intense learning and growth because the dancer receives critical feedback at a time they are in a highly receptive state to accept and apply the information given. It appears that, in the process of recovery, the dancer becomes more aware of their physical, emotional and intellectual landscape and how this relates to their injury. This critical awareness leads to an intention to change non-optimal habits – be those habits physical, intellectual or emotional.

 

After synthesizing the data on injury, the investigators concluded that injury and the subsequent rehabilitation process becomes a fruitful journey of positive intentional change for dance artists. It is not unusual to see a dancer return from injury more defined in her artistry.

 

“ . . . you’ve got to treat your injuries, you’ve got to respect them and most importantly, you have to learn from them.”

  • Farley Johansson

 

 “ . . . what’s amazing about injuries is that it really improves your dancing. And it improves your dancing because you use all sorts of other things you didn’t even know you could use for dancing. And that’s vital information. And I think in terms of self-awareness and work on your dancing, injuries are the biggest teacher”

  • Jennifer Mascall

 

 “Injuries are a blessing in disguise: that disc herniation taught me that if I have pain, look at it, address it, try and ?gure out what it is, there is a certain pushing through that needs to happen at times but it comes down to awareness”

  • Natalie Lefebvre

 

 “Whenever I have a student who is injured, I say you need to go to physio, you need to understand what happened, why it happened, and you need to prevent it from happening again because if you don’t understand it, it’s just going to repeat itself.”

  • Lara Barclay

 

  1. Cross Training and Somatic Practices

 

Below is a list of the cross-training techniques and somatic practices that came up in the interviews in response to the question “How do you deal with injuries?” These were practices and techniques the dancers used to prevent and manage injuries as well improve their dancing.

 

Pilates

Yoga

Physiotherapy

Osteopathy

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Gym work out

Skiing

Alexander Technique

Body Mind Centering

Massage Therapy

 

This study indicates that, contrary to the belief held by many dance students and teachers that “one must eat, breathe, and sleep dance to be successful,” cross training, getting adequate rest, and experiencing activities other than dance actually contribute to the development of the dancer. The investigators reasoned that by experiencing other disciplines, the dancer is able to make new neuromuscular connections that contribute to a wider, more versatile dance vocabulary.

 

It seems that, for the dance artists interviewed, experiencing different physical arenas had the effect of increasing the dancers’ awareness of their unique being.  Just as viewing problems from different perspectives can be the key to understanding solutions, experiencing the body in different disciplines revealed capacities and boundaries that had been unrealized in the dance studio.

 

For many study participants, somatic practices helped them to find and release unnecessary tension.  Some participants observed that, once this muscular tension was released, they were able to access more optimal alignment, more balanced muscle activation, and a sense of being able to breathe with the movement.

 

A few dancers spoke about developing their strength and speed by going to the gym and following the principle of progressive overload. More often, dancers talked about the importance of developing strength and speed within dance technique class and used particular exercises, such as adage and petite allegro, to work on these areas.

 

Yoga, Pilates, and other somatic techniques were championed for their integration of core strength, alignment and body symmetry. Many dancers spoke about injuries coming out of working with choreographers that favored the right leg as the supporting leg and the left as the gesture leg (or visa versa), causing a series of imbalances within the myofascial systems of the body. These dancers explained that yoga, Pilates and other symmetrical somatic techniques were invaluable in making them aware of their muscle imbalances and correcting them.

 

In regards to the overall symmetry or balance within the structure of the body, many dancers spoke of the importance of opposition. A sense of opposition allows for a reach pattern within the body without causing the dancer to be pulled off her center.  Opposition was mentioned as being important in balance and turning as well as movement direction and special awareness.

      

Although cross-training was clearly considered a beneficial adjunct to dance training, it was not recommended that cross-training replace dance training. 

The investigators conclude from the body of the research, as well as their professional expertise and personal experience, that dancers need to practice the specific movements that they will be expected to perform. Just as with any athletic endeavor, optimal training is facilitated by attention to the specific parameters of the activity.

 

“I started noticing that I probably have muscular imbalances so I started doing more Pilates and I was doing that about twice a week and I noticed a big, big difference in my core and also my knees started to feel better.”

  • Rachael Meyer

 

“I’ve always done a lot of extra training outside of dance which has helped me understand my dance corrections a lot more.”

  • Lara Barclay

 

“Once the bones are aligned, the muscles will follow.”

  • Alexis Fletcher

 

“ . . . you need to stand evenly on two legs and then you go from there.”

  • Johanna Bergfelt describing a principle from Christine Wright’s class

 

“ . . . my background was as a downhill ski racer and it’s, I think in many ways it’s good training or preparation for dance because it, well it is different in that it is, it really is a life or death sport and that if you’re not paying attention you can die.”

  • Jay Hirabayashi

 

  1. Resilience is developed as we accept failure is part of the process of learning.

 

When we seek to learn a new skill or develop an understanding of a new concept, it is unrealistic to think that we can master the skill or comprehend the concept instantly. Therefore, pushing oneself to greater competency and knowledge requires willingness to be awkward and incorrect. This can be difficult for the dancer who is constantly judging their performance whether in class or on stage. This study strongly suggests that it is beneficial for dance artists to understand that mistakes and failures are a necessary part of the learning process, one that can lead to dramatic transformation if carefully reflected upon.

 

Dancers need to expand their capacity to stay with the discomfort of being awkward, making mistakes and experiencing failure so that they can use the opportunity to gather the knowledge these experiences contain and then move forwards with the knowledge that they’ve gained.

 

“ . . . what if we don’t separate failure from the way we’re moving through it?”

  • Justine Chambers

 

“ . . . it’s about acceptance of the self and it’s about presence of the mind and it’s about being okay with failure.”

  • Natalie Lefebvre

 

“ . . . the ability to learn from experience, difficult and unpleasant and profound and powerful to take all those experiences and continue moving forward . . . understand how you’re moving through the world that you live in and be able to pick yourself up in that world over and over again.”

  • James Gnam

 

“You need to be intelligent, you need to have talent, self-discipline. You need to be really resilient, so be able to deal with failure, injury . . . “

  • Pat Miner

 

  1. Self-regulation: Metacognition and Integration of Emotions

 

The concept of self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert (Shanker 2012).  Self-regulation is about regulating emotions; it is not about being non-emotional. Emotions are critical for the learning process as there needs to be some excitement, curiosity and pleasure in the task in order to motivate the learner. The process of learning and discovery requires integration between emotional and sensing areas in the brain with areas designated to rational thought and planning.

 

This study clearly indicates that dance training provides a way to work on this type of brain integration as the dancer is required to be aware of, feel and experience each moment at the same time they must remember and plan movement sequences with subtly and precision.

 

The ability to integrate emotions with thinking is one of the strongest markers for children doing well in school and later on in their careers (Shanker 2012, Diamond). Including dance in more school curriculums may be an excellent way to increase awareness of and strengthen self-regulation behaviors in school age children.

 

Some study participants talked about the necessity of an emotional landscape as part of performing, but were aware of the danger of unruly emotions spoiling a performance or causing injury. Five out of the thirty dancers interviewed talked about “adrenaline injuries.” These were injuries that happened when a dancer was pushing too hard in performance or rehearsal. It appears that the same passion that drives a dancer forward in their career can disable the artist if not integrated with rational thought.

 

Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge – what one does and doesn’t know – and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985).

 

Many dancers spoke about using their understanding of how they learn to plan strategies for learning choreography. These strategic plans incorporated ideas for dealing with potential difficulties like learning from video, or working with a new choreographer. Some participants talked about preparing themselves so that they could stay calm and learn despite being engaged in processes that they found difficult and challenging.

 

Many dancers spoke of the importance of understanding themselves, knowing who they were, and acknowledging their value. A few participants commented that the dancers who were successful were the ones who knew who they were and could carve out their own niche. Knowing one’s self is a lifelong journey, and the dance artists interviewed were certainly engaged in this exploration.

 

“ . . . what would make somebody a strong professional dancer is the ability to integrate the mind and the emotion in the body.”

  • Jennifer Mascall

 

“ . . . I think you need everything that you know all the time and that the sensitivity and the emotional landscape of an emotional life of a person has everything to do with how they learn and how they learn to dance and how they dance and in some ways is one of the things that people can really draw on if they can figure out the way to do it in an effective and healthy way. “

  • Heidi Strauss

 

“I was too keyed into my emotional life and not enough keyed into my reasoning mind.”

  • Peggy Baker

 

“I feel like it’s the ones who are taped into who they are that really get something happening for themselves.”

  • Susie Burpee

 

“It’s really valuable to know your worth and know the dancer that you are.”

  • Josh Beamish

 

“ . . . physically you’ve got to be able to take it, intellectually you’ve got to be able to recognize what’s going on and emotionally you need to be able to deal with not feeling 100% 100% of the time.”

  • Farley Johansson

 

  1. Efficiency of Movement – just the right amount of effort.

 

A common code that came up in regards to training in dance and injury prevention was the notion of regulating the amount of work put into different movements. Varying the amount of force to fit the requirements of the specific movement rather than muscling through everything resulted in more efficient, dynamic and sophisticated movement.

 

Many artists commented on excelling in dance when they stopped just engaging everything they could and became more mindful about the specifics of the force required for the movement. The conserved physical and mental energy could then be spent towards better articulation of their body and increasing their awareness of sensations and emotions.

 

This study indicates that dancing doesn’t need to be strenuous and difficult to be beautiful, interesting and worthwhile. Approaching movement with too much muscular effort is as ineffective as using too little.

 

“Tension masks sensation”

  • Peter Bingham quoting a common theme of contact improvisation that he first heard from Nancy Stark Smith

 

“ . . . work isn’t always about force, as we know, it’s about redirecting or rechanneling the nervous system’s attention to movement that doesn’t necessarily mean force, very often it may be less force or it may be the coordination of firing, . . . “

  • Darryl Tracy

 

“ . . . you’ve got to understand how to modulate tension or force and just try to move with ease, even if you’re doing explosive or ballistic stuff . . . “

  • Farley Johansson

 

“ . . . the interesting thing is that focusing on the basic human elements of what we do with our bodies naturally actually helps us access an understanding of how to turn it into something virtuosic. “

  • Josh Beamish

 

  1. Facilitating awareness of the dancer’s own absolutely unique anatomy and physiology.

 

Awareness of ones limitations, acceptance of ones limitations, and acknowledgement that there are limitless possibilities within those limitations is a central theme in the research. It is a theme of self-awareness and self-acceptance as the springboard for learning, growth and development.

 

We are defined by both our abilities and our limitations. We are in a better position to expand our abilities when we realize and accept our limitations. Some limitations can be overcome through the learning process and some will break you if you try to break them.

 

Dancers reported that injuries often occurred when they tried to change the structure of their body to better fit what they understood to be the required aesthetics of a dancers’ body. One common theme was trying to gain greater turnout by torqueing the knees, ankles and feet.

 

Optimally, when an injured dancer goes to any type of body therapist, they receive individualized information from an outside eye regarding their unique movement habits and how that relates to how they are functioning. It is assumed that this critical feedback is given with an attitude of care and nurturing in order to facilitate recovery from injury and promote healthy working habits. This study indicates that this critical feedback is valuable not only for managing and preventing injury, but also for the dancer’s understanding of her unique movement patterns, preferences and habits and how that relates to her abilities in dance.

 

 


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