Feature: Balancing aesthetics and athletics

Wednesday 12 March 2014 by Laura Dodge

Kofi Aidoo Appiah - student at Tring Park School. Photo: Brian O' Carroll

A major conference next month, organised by Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programe in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, will explore the similarities and differences between dance and aesthetic sports, such as figure skating, gymnastics and diving. Building on lessons learnt during the London 2012 Olympics, it brings together top international teachers, coaches, athletes, dancers and researchers with medical and health specialists to share knowledge and expertise, find common ground and lessons to share between dance and the sports world. Laura Dodge spoke to conference organiser Niamh Morrin, a dance enthusiast who also loves running…

Why did you decide to organise the Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers conference?
The conference was inspired by the London Olympics. We wanted to take the momentum and passion of 2012 and use it to optimise British performance talent.
It is about opening up a dialogue between aesthetic professions, namely dance and aesthetic sports, such as gymnastics, ice skating, diving and synchronised swimming. For both, there is a real difficulty in balancing the aesthetic body ideal with increasingly-demanding physical and athletic challenges. I think the elite sports and dance worlds should share knowledge and learn from each other.

What topics will the conference cover?
A key topic is the optimisation of body composition through what you eat and how you train. We will be looking at the nutritional side of things and also the best strength and conditioning training to gain a physique that meets both aesthetic and physical demands.

The conference also looks at performance enhancement – making sure performers are at their fittest both physically and psychologically. We will look too at the darker side of things in terms of eating disorders, but we’re taking a really positive approach, considering how coaches and teachers can encourage a healthy approach to nutrition and weight management.

How did you put the conference programme together?
We had a diverse steering committee including athletics and dance professionals as well as medical practitioners. They were really pivotal in shaping ideas for the day and we responded by finding the most appropriate and inspiring speakers to discuss relevant topics. The steering committee was crucial as they are all working with elite professionals and understand the difficulties facing aesthetic performers.

All the speakers we have selected are currently working with professional dancers and / or Olympic level athletes. In fact, many worked to support Team GB during the London 2012 Olympics. So I know that the programme will be highly relevant for people in both the dance and aesthetic sports industries.

What are you most looking forward to?
There are so many things… I’m very interested in optimising body composition and we have two great speakers from the British Gymnastics team who will be sharing their experiences of working with some of the most elite athletes in the world. Performance Nutritionist Mhairi Keil and Strength and Conditioning Coach Ruddi Farquharson will each give their perspectives on how performers can maintain optimal physiques. They are working with gymnasts every day and are constantly challenged by the demands placed on them so it will be fascinating to hear how they work.

Another interesting speaker is Gareth Ziyambi, Specialist Sport and Performance Physiotherapist, who works with British champion diver, Tom Daley. He is going to talk about core stability – how and why it’s so important. There’s also a session giving an insight into the objectivity and subjectivity of judging aesthetic sport, as Vicki Hawkins, International Rhythmic Gymnastics Judge, will be discussing the incredibly complicated ways in which aesthetics are scored.

Why should people attend the conference?
It’s a really momentous occasion. It’s the first time people from British Olympic sports and the professional dance world have come together to share ideas and promote best practice. Anyone who attends will get to be a part of it and can meet some really incredible people.

It’s also a great professional development opportunity – the content is suitable for healthcare professionals working with athletes and dancers, teachers and coaches, dance managers and supporters, and of course, the performers themselves. It’s a chance to get inspired and have an insight into the elite training that usually takes place behind closed doors. You’ll find out the secrets that make our top athletes and dancers so successful!



Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers: training and optimising performance takes place on Monday 7 April 2014, 9:30am – 6pm, at the Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE.

Tickets are £30 – £110 (depending on professional status, with discounts for Dance UK and Royal Society of Medicine members) and can be booked at www.rsm.ac.uk/academ/spe04.php


Photo of Kofi Aidoo Appiah, a student at Tring Park School, by Brian O’ Carroll

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