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The Dancer as a Performing Athlete

Physiological Considerations

Abstract

The physical demands placed on dancers from current choreography and performance schedules make their physiology and fitness just as important as skill development. However, even at the height of their professional careers, dancers’ aerobic power, muscular strength, muscular balance, bone and joint integrity are the ‘Achilles heels’ of the dance-only selection and training system. This partly reflects the unfounded view, shared by sections of the dance world, that any exercise training that is not directly related to dance would diminish dancers’ aesthetic appearances.

Given that performing dance itself elicits only limited stimuli for positive fitness adaptations, it is not surprising that professional dancers often demonstrate values similar to those obtained from healthy sedentary individuals of comparable age in key fitness-related parameters. In contrast, recent data on male and female dancers revealed that supplementary exercise training can lead to improvements of such fitness parameters and reduce incidents of dance injuries, without interfering with key artistic and aesthetic requirements. It seems, however, that strict selection and training regimens have succeeded in transforming dance to an activity practised by individuals who have selectively developed different flexibility characteristics compared with athletes. Bodyweight targets are normally met by low energy intakes, with female dance students and professional ballerinas reported to consume below 70% and 80% of the recommended daily allowance of energy intake, respectively, while the female athlete ‘triad’ of disordered eating, amenorrhoea and osteoporosis is now well recognised and is seen just as commonly in dancers.

An awareness of these factors will assist dancers and their teachers to improve training techniques, to employ effective injury prevention strategies and to determine better physical conditioning. However, any change in the traditional training regimes must be approached cautiously to ensure that the aesthetic content of the dance is not affected by new training techniques. Since physiological aspects of performing dance have been viewed primarily in the context of ballet, further scientific research on all forms of dance is required.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this manuscript and the authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to its content. The authors thank Prof Craig Sharp for his essential help and advice.

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Koutedakis, Y., Jamurtas, A. The Dancer as a Performing Athlete. Sports Med 34, 651–661 (2004). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200434100-00003

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Keywords

  • Muscular Strength
  • Female Athlete
  • Aerobic Fitness
  • Aerobic Dance
  • Dance Performance