Feature: Physiological Preparation for the Demands of Choreography

Sunday 12 April 2015 by Lara Hayward

Jessica Wright (with portable gas analyser) dances Wayne McGregor's choreography, as part of Physiological Preparation for the Demands of Choreography presentation #DUKfuture
Photo: Lara Hayward

Physiological Preparation for the Demands of Choreography (Healthier Dancer) – with Edel Quin, Dr Emma Redding, Sarah Beck & Jessica Wright #DUKfuture #DUKfuture, Laban Saturday 11 April 2015

What are the physical demands of contemporary dance choreography and how can dancers be better prepared to meet these demands?

Trinity Laban’s Head of Dance Science, Dr Emma Redding, introduced the session and explained the aims of the dance science team –looking at physiological needs of dancers informs training and preparation and better prepares dancers for the demands that choreography places on the body. Drawing on research data collected by dance science lecturer and PhD student Sarah Beck and team with Transitions Dance Company (part of Trinity Laban), Redding reflected on the dancer ‘fitness debate’, and explained that a discrepancy exists between intensity of training and performance. Interestingly, studies of dancer’s fitness, during a training/rehearsal period and subsequent tour, show that fitness improves as a result of performing, rather than the rehearsal period leading up to performance.

While dancer Jessica Wright was being kitted out with a scary-looking portable gas analyser, Redding explained how the analyser works – by monitoring oxygen update, carbon dioxide expenditure, VO2 max (a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use), heart rate, blood pressure, RER (respiratory exchange ratio) and intrabreath patterns the team are able to see the correlations between certain aspects of dance movement and the physiological effects on the body. Wright performed excerpts of Wayne McGregor’s choreography while the audience watched her dance and the resultant data being recorded on screen. Getting close to her maximal heart rate in certain sequences and the recovery during slower elements, it was fascinating to see Wright perform and the effects on the body during performance.

Edel Quin, MSc Dance Science Programme Leader, brought the session to a close by asking what can be learnt from measuring dance in this way. Quin asked whether choreographers and companies should consider building periodisation into schedules? Whereas, sport allows a ratio of activity to rest and a reduced training period before the main event (think ‘tapering’ prior to a marathon), dancers train hard right up to opening night. As the main causes of injury in dance are fatigue and overwork, Quin proposes that there is a clear need for the dance community to be more aware of what they are preparing dancers for.

So how can choreographers apply this information to better prepare their dancers?
The take-home messages/aspirations from this session are:

• Supplementary physiological training could be built into the rehearsal schedule taking account of specificity of choreography and individuality of dancers;

• Ensure quality over quantity in dance training. Help to plan rehearsals to balance physical practice with rest and mental practice with the aim to avoid injury via overwork and fatigure;

• Physiological training to be incorporated into budgetary and timeline considerations;

• Learn from experience, apply knowledge and build on it with other specialists in the area.

Quin noted that data collection has so far been limited to monitoring company dancers, with very little research being conducted on freelance independent artists. It sounds like more work needs to be done in this area (engagement with freelancers has been a constant thread throughout the day as a whole).

An empassioned audience discussion followed, a number of attendees commenting on the desire for the wider communication of dance science concepts and the need for the ‘science’ to be accessible to all. In my view, this session was a great example of bridging the gap between applied practical knowledge and science/data. Seeing Wright dance certainly brought the concepts to life!

More about Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer programme and the Trinity Laban Dance Science team

Report & photos: Lara Hayward

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