How the Healthcare Team at English National Ballet School Handled Lockdown
“The coronavirus pandemic, and how it affected the training of our students, is certainly one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced at the English National Ballet School”, says Juncal Roman – Healthcare Manager at the ENBS. We all remember when we went into lockdown and were unsure when we would be back in the School building. Unfortunately, this has been longer than we all anticipated, but luckily, we are now back again in the studios and we all feel we have learnt a lot from the experience.
Initially, from the Healthcare and Performance perspective, our biggest fear and our top priority was to fight deconditioning of our students. Depending on the country of residence, some students were able to continue dancing in a studio; however, lockdown was very stringent in some other countries, and some students were under strict confinement in their flats for over 6 weeks! Reduced activity rapidly leads to loss of strength and to muscle atrophy, with long term detrimental effects, especially for elite ballet dancers.
Counterintuitively, having fewer ballet classes was a great opportunity, as it allowed us to tailor a schedule where students could train on their body conditioning more than they normally do, whilst managing fatigue better.
Our Strength and HIIT were very well received by the students, and while equipment was definitely an issue, we managed to improvise resistance using weighted backpacks, bottles of water and bands, and even got the students to do handstand presses to try and maintain upper body strength! We were happily surprised to find how motivated the students were, and by the end of the lockdown, it was them who wanted to do more. Learning from this unexpectedly positive response, we have decided to boost how we deliver our strengthening programmes by increasing the number of weekly sessions; our students have also become more independent at following programmes at home, which will be very beneficial when they are on a long School break and do not have access to a gym.
With more time available, we also managed to increase the number of Pilates classes (in groups, and one-on-one), up to the standard we would wish for our students. We found that students responded very well, even though doing Pilates from home was challenging due to the space limitations. Our students adapted very quickly and found a way to continue training; some students had access to a proper dance studio, whilst some others had to get creative and use their corridor or common space in their flats. This admirably demonstrates the level of commitment and dedication from our dance students, and this kept the whole Healthcare and Performance team going during these difficult times.
As part of our multidisciplinary support, our School nutritionist delivered educational sessions via video, and closely assisted our students to ensure they understood the importance of adjusting their diet and nutrition to match their new activity levels, help maintain muscle mass and optimal body composition, and well-being in general.
It was a good learning curve for the physiotherapists too, running remote video-based assessments and treatments is by no means easy. One of our students underwent surgery just before lockdown, and therefore needed to have all his post-operative physiotherapy and rehabilitation done remotely; we are very pleased it went well, and after his lockdown recovery, rehab and retraining, he is now fully back to dancing. This is just an example of how this process has taught us that we could deliver effective assessments and interventions remotely to our students, but we are very pleased to now be back face-to-face, even with the necessary PPE and extra hygiene protocols.
Another element revealed itself to us during the lockdown: now that students were away from the studio environment, inadequate floorings started to pose a risk of injury for some of them, especially by the time teachers and students were eager to progress to allegro practice (i.e. jumping). To do this safely, the healthcare team and teachers tightly collaborated to create a more periodised schedule, where the number of weekly sessions for jump practice was capped, and the number of jumps was limited to what research classifies as low-to-moderate (80-120 contact times). We also advised students on finding appropriate floorings and use trainers when necessary. Luckily, we succeeded in establishing optimum loading and managed to avoid overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, allowing all our students to keep training and progressing safely into the next School year.
The coronavirus lockdown period was definitely an immense learning opportunity for all of us to work remotely efficiently and a great example of how difficult situations make us work as a team even more. I would suggest to never underestimate how much dancers can do remotely. Healthcare practitioners, strength and conditioning coaches and other professionals can also make a huge difference/impact and this knowledge should be used in future situations where we find ourselves in different countries with constraints on equipment or space, such as touring, small dance Schools in small towns or for pre-season purposes.
Healthcare Manager – English National Ballet School