The Demands of Classical Ballet Performance

by Emily Twitchett, Manuela Angioi, Yiannis Koutedakis, Matthew Wyon

Over the past three years the University of Wolverhampton have been examining whether there is a link between physical fitness and aesthetic dance performance in classical ballet and contemporary dance.  The project has been led by Dr Matthew Wyon and Prof Yiannis Koutedakis and was made possible by a generous grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Emily Twitichet and Manuela Angioi have been PhD students working on the project and over the next few issues will provide abstracts and summaries of their exciting work.

Video analysis of classical ballet to date has been limited to examining elements of choreography. The aim of the project was to use a method of video analysis to describe the physiological demands of classical ballet performance, and to examine differences between artists, soloists and principal dancers. 48 (Male=24, Female=24; Artists=16, Soloists=16, Principals=16) performances were analysed, for factors such as work intensity, partner work, and the number of transitory movements (e.g. jumps, changes of direction) occurring per minute. Work intensity was either very light, light, moderate, high or very high. ‘Very light’ included minimal movement, or movement less strenuous than walking. ‘Light’ was of a walking intensity, while ‘moderate’ referred to movements of a similar intensity to a light jog. ‘High’ intensity referred to activity of a ‘running’ intensity involving large muscle groups or including lots of lifting. ‘Very high’ intensity was reserved for occasions which were similar to sprinting or maximal energy expenditure.

Statistical analysis revealed significant differences between roles, for the amount of time at rest (p<0.05), and for the amount of time performing at moderate intensity (p<0.05), with soloists and principals resting for 75.2±15.1% and 53±24.1% of the total performance, respectively (p<.0.05).  Principals also spent a significantly greater percentage of time at moderate intensity than both soloists and artists (p<0.05). Significant differences between males and females (p<0.05) were seen in the number of lifting and supporting movements performed. It was concluded that classical ballet is an intermittent form of exercise, utilising both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, which supports previous studies which have been published exploring this area. The demands of the performances analysed were different according to the role a dancer performed. Therefore it was also concluded that video analysis can help provide the basis for position-specific, supplemental training.


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Dance Science features strongly within the Dance Department at Wolverhampton with modules at undergraduate levels, an MSc Dance Science and opportunities for doctoral study in dance medicine and science.  Please contact Dr Matt Wyon for further details

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 71 – 2008