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Elmhurst Ballet School in Dance Science Case Study

18 Jul 2017

Jade Wallace – From Elmhurst Ballet School student to Birmingham Royal Ballet Apprentice – photography Johan Persson

Elmhurst Ballet School, in collaboration with University of Wolverhampton and in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, is at the forefront of research in dance science and is pioneering ways for dancers to avoid injury by introducing ground-breaking fitness and rehabilitation techniques. The intervention, delivered by Performance Enhancement Coach, Nico Kolokythas MSc, ASCC, PhD Student at University of Wolverhampton, gives dancers the option to sidestep surgery and return to an improved strength and fitness level observed at pre-injury.

It is fourteen months since Carlos Acosta, revered dancer and Vice President of Elmhurst Ballet School, officially opened the school’s on-site, state of the art Health and Wellbeing Centre, just weeks before his retirement from classical ballet.

The Centre is unique to a professional dance school of this kind and facilitates close working relationships between healthcare, artistic and boarding staff. The school currently offers students access to a range of health services including: nurses; doctors; physiotherapy; nutrition advice; dance psychology; strength and conditioning; and performance enhancement coaching.

Based in Edgbaston, Birmingham, Elmhurst Ballet School produces world class dancers through a holistic approach to training, education and health. This methodology supports the intensity of full-time training and helps students to develop into independent, collaborative and versatile artists, professional-ready for the competitive dance sector.

During the course of the current academic year, Nico Kolokythas has been putting the pioneering work to practise.

One case study is highlighted in a short film, Up the Spiral and shows the intervention with 2017 Elmhurst graduate Jade Wallace. Jade, a ballet category finalist in the recent BBC Young Dancer competition, will join Birmingham Royal Ballet as an Apprentice in August. Jade turned to the expertise of the Health and Wellbeing Centre to promote rehabilitation for excruciating ankle pain.

Nico Kolokythas explains:The purpose of this multidisciplinary case study with Jade had a two-pronged approach. First we decided with Nick Allen, Clinical Director at Birmingham Royal Ballet, that in order to eliminate the possibility of an operation we had to use all possible means available to promote rehabilitation of a pain in the ankle for Jade. Evidence based practise together with practise based evidence guided us to simply think outside of the box. As the school’s Performance Enhancement Coach I worked with Jade to develop foundation strength in order to be able to push the boundaries. However, the rehabilitation was not a straight line upwards, we did have moments where pain simply came back and therefore a careful regression and progression strategy was applied. 

Our second aim was to debunk the myths around female dancers using weights and resistance training in general with the fear of losing the classical aesthetic look. Research based practise in sport has shown that strength gains can be achieved without muscle size and this is clearly seen in Jade’s physique. We monitored closely her body composition and the numbers are impressive, decreased body fat and no change in muscle mass and therefore no extra size.

But the most important success is that we now have a dancer free of pain, who feels stronger, more confident with her body and who finds her dance effortless.”

Jessica Wheeler, Principal of Elmhurst Ballet School, said:

This case study and video shows how much importance Elmhurst Ballet School places on evidence based practise to deliver the best health and well-being provision for its students. Being at the forefront of research in dance science and having Nico Kolokythas working at the school as Performance Enhancement Coach has had a direct impact on the outcomes for students – Jade’s case study is testimony to this. Nico’s interaction with Jade has seen her return to full health, stronger and fitter than ever before and ready to start her professional dancer life with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The University of Wolverhampton and Birmingham Royal Ballet are partners of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS), alongside the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, University of Birmingham, and One Dance UK.