Body Conditioning

Body Conditioning for Dancers

For dancers, being fit to dance is natural, inevitable, and above all stating the obvious. Hours taking class, rehearsing and performing are all perfect ways to hone your dancing body and become the greatest athlete you can. In terms of dance, that is: many dancers are only fit to dance rather than being fit in a number of different disciplines. Forget pointe shoes, leotards and ballet barres, dancers also need to cross-train in order to excel. Being physically fit means that injury is less likely, but if it does occur, it also means you have various other methods to aid the healing process.

A famous study at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York (1975) compared forms of sport in a study, including dance, in terms of the athletes’ fitness capabilities. Ballet was ranked as one of the top disciplines, requiring high levels of strength, endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular ability. However, in order to maintain this wellbeing and fitness as a dancer, other forms of exercise must be carried out in order to complement your dance life.

For example, swimming is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise that will set dancers on their way to becoming fitter in a more general sense, enabling their bodies to withstand more than the (sometimes gruelling) demands of dance. In fact, any other cardiovascular activity has great results affecting dancers’ longevity for strength and power, co-ordination, flexibility and aerobic endurance (as dance is a predominantly anaerobic activity in which the dancer performs short bursts of high-energy activity rather than aerobic where the energy demands are more even)… you will not find ballet tights or Therabands in the pool or on the running track!

Other complementary activities include Pilates, the Franklin Method, Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais Method, enabling the body to adapt, as well as improving the alignment of the skeleton, for example. As soon as dancers stop working or conditioning their bodies, they start to ‘de-condition’’ and reverse, which can happens quickly, so it is important to keep using your physical capabilities outside the studio.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Dancers’ Career Development

Dancers' Career Development (DCD) LogoThe Dancers’ Career Development, founded in 1974, is a scheme which has been supporting professional dance for 38 years, helping them to make the transition from professional dancing to a new career by giving them the skills to continue working beyond dance as they hang up their ballet shoes. Initially The Dancers’ Resettlement Fund, it aimed to provide support to the dancers from the five Arts Council funded dance companies.

The organisation expanded its work in the 1980s to offer career support to all professional dancers in the UK. Today, the Company Fund provides for dancers who have completed a minimum of five years as a professional dancer with one or more of its nine contributing companies: Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Richard Alston Dance Company, Scottish Ballet, Siobhan Davies Dance Company and The Royal Ballet. The Independent Trust, however, supports all professional dancers who have performed for a minimum of five years in the UK. Both the Fund and the Trust operate under the DCD.

The DCD offers a range of specialist practical, psychological and financial retraining and career support services, tailored to each individua’s needs, allowing dancers to select the support needed for a successful transition and fulfilling career path. In addition to this support system, the DCD runs a comprehensive outreach and workshop programme in dance schools, companies and commercial productions in order to encourage dancers to expect transition periods within and from their performing careers, be they full of leotards, character shoes, tap shoes or tiaras. With the economic climate dictating funding and job frequency, this is becoming increasingly important, not only to help dancers to retrain in hundreds of different careers post-performing but to maintain an arts-focused arts industry. A 2011 survey showed that 89% of retrained dancers are still working in the profession they retrained in.

The new Dance UK Dancers’ Mentoring programme, funded by Dance UK and in partnership with the DCD is open to mid career dancers who have been identified by their peers as future leaders. Of the 16 dancers who took part when the programme was run five years ago, eight have gone onto leadership positions in companies such as Phoenix Dance Theatre, The Royal Ballet, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Candoco Dance Company, Scottish Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company. This specifically indicates that not only is the dance sector full of fantastic performing talent, but also the talent to adjust and contribute in an equally as rewarding capacity.

Image courtesy of the DCD.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Raising Funds For Your Dance Education

Dance Education Funds

With many young, hopeful dance students about to start auditioning for vocational performing arts colleges again, the question on most lips is, “how am I going to pay for this?”. Loan companies that students can apply to when they have secured a place at university are unlikely to offer loans to students attending vocational colleges unless the college offers a degree programme. Some unlucky, yet extremely talented students must turn down places at prestigious training institutions simply because they do not have the adequate funds to survive the course, sometimes because they do not get funding, such as through a Dance And Drama Award (DaDa), and are unable to afford the fees without it.

However, there are many methods of independent fundraising in order to get your legwarmers, jazz shoes and best leotards off to performing arts college. Fundraising can be extremely difficult, but hard work and determination prevails. If going to performing arts college means taking on three jobs throughout the summer and continuing to work throughout your studies then so be it – your passion and dreams to achieve success will carry you through.

Northern Ballet recently ran a successful Sponsor a Dancer campaign following the cuts to funding, and was the subject of a documentary called Arts Troubleshooter on BBC Two when CEO Mark Skipper acknowledged that fundraising can sometimes feel like begging in ballet shoes – other approaches are sometimes required. At The Royal Ballet School, they have a stated policy of never turning away a talented student because of finance. 96% of students there receive some form of financial assistance, enabling their tutus to twirl.

A few ideas of how to raise funds include contacting your local council, as some usually set aside money to be used for performing arts; trying to attract local press to your challenge to secure coverage and the hope of any sponsors; organising fundraising events such as performance and quiz nights with raffles; and working as hard as you can to raise as much for the funds as possible. Sometimes your determination to succeed is recognised by the particular institution you will be attending, and some offer scholarships to reward this hard work, sometimes for a term, a year, or even the rest of your time there.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

 

Preparing For Your Dance Audition

Dance Audition Tips

It is that time of year again, when applications to vocational dance and drama schools are starting to be filled in, tap shoes are dusted off and legwarmers are at the ready. Audition songs, monologues and solos must be prepared, forming the beginnings of nerve-wracking experiences for young, hopeful performers.

Dance auditions can be particularly intimidating, even for the most talented of dancers capable of performing triple pirouettes in their pointe shoes. Many argue that the anxiety that comes hand in hand with auditions can be very beneficial to the auditionee, increasing the adrenaline pumping round the body and firing the dancer’s performance into a new realm.

It is extremely important to prepare what you will be presenting to the audition panel down to the last detail in order to perform as well as you can. Make sure that you have fuelled your body with food that will sustain you throughout the day, in addition to making sure you stay hydrated. Depending on the type of dance audition, it is often a good idea to wear a striking outfit, such as a bright coloured leotard in order to stand out from the other candidates at the audition. You need to demonstrate to the panel why they should select you as one of their students, and the extra special quality you have that other candidates don’t have.

Arriving early to the audition is another way in which to prepare properly, and will help to settle pre-audition nerves, as well as giving you enough time to warm up mentally and physically before the day begins, going over any last minute details. Some argue that this may add to your nerves, but being late to the audition may make them even worse! Enjoying yourself is a key part of the audition, so whether your dance, speech or song is passionate, sorrowful or energetic, make sure you express yourself to the best of your ability.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Dance Accessories For Injury Prevention

Injury Prevention For Dancers

To enhance your lines, for a stronger body and an improved performance we have a range of essential dance accessories for the dancer eager to excel. However, it is vitally important to warm up properly to look after your body correctly, as it is the instrument with which to fulfil your dance desires… and if it is not cared for, it can be easily damaged.

Kitting yourself out in the latest dancewear, such as redesigned foot thongs and innovative leotards will not protect your body from the rigours of dance. Dancers wearing the newest jazz trainers and cover-ups must work hard to prolong their dance training and career using the right techniques and methods for their own body.

For example, the Original Deuserband is a classic, physio-therapeutical training band which is incredibly strong, working to flex muscles and increase fitness, strength and flexibility. Specifically for increased leg flexibility, the Deuserband is used worldwide by professional dancers as an aid to their training.

Latex resistance bands, such as those designed by Bunheads, are also used by dancers of all levels to target specific areas of the body that require strengthening. They are particularly useful for young dancers who are preparing for pointe work, and for exercise aiding injury recovery, displaying their ultimate versatility and usefulness.

An additional product which aids strength, and is also extremely useful for dancers preparing to wear pointe shoes is the Wobbleboard. It is also recommended by physiotherapists, working to strengthen the ankles to prevent injury.

Another versatile product is the Theraball, which targets all the major muscle groups for a full body workout, whilst aiding stretching and strengthening. Exercise balls of all sizes are renowned for their revolutionary design and purpose, often used for strengthening the core and upper body. In this essence, the Theraball is vital to maintain and dancing body’s dynamics and prolong dance lives.

Image courtesy of adria.richards at Flickr.

Summer School Fun

Summer Schools

With the ever-increasing emergence of “theatre-training” programmes, children and young people of the twenty-first century are receiving multiple opportunities to engage in the arts of singing, dancing and acting.

One avenue which is receiving more and more popularity each year is that of summer schools, which are offered by a variety of organisations and institutions alike. For those aspiring to further their theatre training at a performing arts college or similar, summer schools are an ideal way of giving the young person in question an idea of what it might be like to train at that particular college, as they grab their favourite leotards, dance tights or tap shoes. Summer schools are particularly useful to determine whether the student would like to audition for a place for the following year.

Usually an intensive one week course, summer schools offer a taster in many theatre disciplines such as acting, jazz dance, classical ballet, singing and pas de deux, culminating in a showcase performance. In addition to the benefits that students may gain, summer schools are also a chance for colleges and institutions to get a glimpse of the potential talent they may have auditioning, and gauge an idea as to a student’s possible suitability for their course.

Aside from the specific focus on training, for children and young adults summer schools provide the chance to meet other like-minded and motivated individuals who are looking to further their theatrical training in this way. Summer school can be a welcome break from the confines of some theatre schools or academies that the students might already belong to, allowing them to connect a little more with their individuality away from their stage school regulation uniform. Usually there are mixed abilities of students taking part, which may mean you might not get to put on your pointe shoes this summer, but will still have lots of fun!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Importance of Warming Up

Edgar Degas - Dancer Stretching at the Bar

Dancers are generally aware of the importance and benefits of conducting a thorough warm up before taking part in any physical activity, including dance, yet often other factors prevent this from happening. Being late to class or rehearsals, for example, can restrict your warm up time, or even cut it out completely. Most dancers undertake a strict “pre class” ritual of warming up and stretching their muscles out sufficiently, but in some cases, it only occurs before the first class of the year. There are numerous dancewear specialists who offer a variety of dance warm up clothes; it is equally important to warm up properly as it is to warm up at all.

The body must be physically prepared for the strenuous demands of dance, and this can be done by gradually increasing the temperature of the body and increasing blood circulation, such as performing a 5-10 minute jog. Whilst this is happening, it is beneficial to layer up your dancewear with “baggies” or extra clothing like hoodies and tracksuits. Dancewear specialists such as Plume and Pineapple have a huge range of dancewear specifically designed for warming up, indicating how seriously dancers should be taking this fundamental activity.

During a warm up the body prepares to work as a whole in order to dance as best as it can. The heart rate increases gradually, the muscles warm up to prevent injury and the ligaments and tendons become more flexible which reduces the chance of tears and injury. In areas of the body where there are large amounts of muscles used simultaneously, such as the legs, leg warmers are often useful in order to keep the muscles warm and engaged during warm ups and even at the start of class. A common injury for dancers is torn hamstrings, so utilising them properly through a warm up decreases the risk of injury. Warm ups also help the brain prepare for the task ahead, which increases your chance of enduring the exercise and benefitting from the harder parts of the regime of dance.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Footloose: Socks, Thongs and Shoes to Choose

Photo: bark on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4202477346

With the growing trends of dance-related talent shows throughout the media, the trend for wearing socks as a “performance accessory” is also emerging as one that is taking the dance sector by storm. Turn to So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance, or Britain’s Got Talent; socks are becoming increasingly popular to aid acts in spins, falls and complex lifts.

Whilst the dancers’ seemingly enhanced talent may be exciting to view and even awe-inspiring, the fact remains that there is a certain level of danger involved in wearing socks to dance, for example, an injury occurring as a result of a slip or fall. The number of YouTube clips presenting many dancers’ falls as “entertainment” are by no means criticising the wearing of socks for dance practice.

Undoubtedly, the use of socks can aid a dancer in class or rehearsals where a floor may not be suitable to dance on; however, the fact remains that during performance, the dancer may not have had sufficient experience of dancing without their socks. A great alternative to socks has been shown through the use of foot thongs, such as by Capezio, with numerous designs emerging as they become more popular.

Additionally, there is without a doubt, the largest range of dance shoes and sneakers on the dancewear market today, with numerous brands spanning a huge range of designs. Whether they are sold for grip, support of the foot, or simply for fashion purposes, brands such as Capezio, Bloch and Sansha have all produced excellent and indeed beneficial shoes for whatever the dancer needs. To observe such fantastic alternatives to the presumable risk of wearing socks to dance provides much hope for the future of dance, in that it will continue to be provided for, regardless of circumstance.