Resources

National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science Research

by Professor Matt Wyon, Professor of Dance Science, University of Wolverhampton

The National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) has three major inter-related aims – healthcare, education and research. The healthcare provision has received a lot of publicity with the two NHS clinics in London and Birmingham providing much needed free dance injury treatment and expertise. The education aspects are also well-known through Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme talks and the university courses and teaching of NIDMS partners.

Underpinning both the healthcare and education strands is research, and the NIDMS partners are involved in research aimed at improving the health, wellbeing and performance capabilities of dancers, including analysing the other services that the Institute provides.

Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the University of Wolverhampton collaborated in two studies that examined the extent of vitamin D deficiency in dancers and the benefits of supplementation in muscle strength and injury reduction.

In the first study1, vitamin D levels and injury incidence were measured at two time points – winter and summer – in dancers at BRB. The majority had low levels of the vitamin, with only minor improvements to statistics in summer. Injury incidence was also less in summer than winter. This isn’t surprising as similar patterns have been seen in other athletic populations who train indoors.

These results led to a second study2, where dancers received 2000IU vitamin D3 a day for four months (thank you to SunVit D3 for providing the supplements). In this study, muscle strength and jump height were also measured. Those who were on the supplementation had increased levels of vitamin D compared to the control group. They also showed improved jump height and muscle strength and less injury incidence. This research therefore recommends that dancers have a yearly blood test to monitor vitamin D levels and take supplementation if required.

Birmingham Royal Ballet has continued to collect data on injury incidence within the company3, which the Institute hopes to expand to other companies and schools in the future. This will give a more comprehensive understanding of the aetiology and incidence of dance injuries. Securing a research grant to examine this outside of the large companies and schools is still a primary goal of the Institute.

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Faster, choreographed by David Bintley. Photo: Roy Smiljanic

BRB and the University of Wolverhampton are also part of a study with the Football Association looking at cardiac risk in elite footballers and dancers, which has stemmed from highly publicised incidents on both the football pitch and the stage. The data has been collected and is currently being analysed.

The University of Wolverhampton has been collaborating with the University of Tartu, Estonia in studying ballroom dancers and comparing them to other genres to demonstrate the diversity of physiques and physical fitness of dancers4. Dancesport participants had a greater aerobic fitness than ballet and contemporary dancers, whilst contemporary dancers were more muscular than the other two. Research at Wolverhampton has also investigated neck injuries, similar to whiplash, that occur in dancesport competitors during the Viennese Waltz.

The University of Birmingham team focuses its research on the dancers themselves, exploring what facilitates the ability to self-regulate thoughts and feelings before, during and following dance performance5. In applying this work through their workshop programmes, the aim is to help dancers, starting when they are young and training in vocational school, to be more mentally resilient and in possession of better coping skills. This will enable them to have more control over their dancing, rather than being controlled by their engagement in dance and the surrounding dance environment6.

This research in the area of dance psychology centres on understanding and optimising the impact of the psychological environments, created by dance instructors and other key figures within the world of vocational and professional dance, on dancers’ motivation, engagement and wellbeing. From this work, there is now a better understanding of not only what causes unhealthy engagement in dance, but also what contributes to dancers thriving7. Via the Empowering Dance workshop programme, the University of Birmingham team is working with teachers, choreographers and other key personnel to create more empowering and health-conducive motivational climates in dance schools and companies from across the sector.

Trinity Laban has been collaborating with Wayne McGregor | Random Dance on a project seeking to develop a synergy in methods and approaches that might help to better study, understand and augment the connection between imagery and creativity, particularly in the context of dance-making. This resulted in a one-day interdisciplinary seminar entitled ‘Imagery and Creativity in Performing Arts: decision making, problem solving and breaking habits’, which drew on approaches in clinical psychology, sport psychology and neuroscience.

The dance specific fitness tests8-10 developed by Trinity Laban and the University of Wolverhampton are now accessible to approximately 1600 dancers and dance companies such as Boston Ballet and New York City Ballet via the US internet-based Dancer Wellness Project. The tests have been purchased by organisations including the Royal Academy of Dance, Cirque Du Soleil, the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, London and governmental organisations such as Department of Education and Communities and New South Wales government. They are currently being used to assess dancers’ physiological capacities in 17 different countries including Australia, United States and Hong Kong.

Other current studies by NIDMS partners include:

  • The link between balance and dance performance
  • Spinal mobility in the ageing dancer
  • Bone mineral density development in adolescent vocational dance students in the UK and Portugal
  • Outcome measures with the patients attending the RNOH dance clinic
  • Economy of movement in dancers – is this contributing to their low levels of physical fitness?
  • Physiological demands of hip-hop and break dancing

References:

  1. Allen, N., Wolman, R., Wyon, M. et al. The vitamin D status of professional dancers in the winter and in the summer. J Sci Med Sport. 2013; 16: 388-391.
  2. Koutedakis, Y., Wolman, R., Wyon, M. et al. The influence of winter Vitamin D supplementation on muscle function and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers: a controlled study. J Sci Med Sport. 2013; 17: 8-12.
  3. Allen, N., Brooks, J., Nevill, A. et al. The effect of a comprehensive injury audit program on injury incidence in ballet: a 3-year prospective study. Clin J Sport Med. 2013; 25: 373-378.
  4. Jurimae, T., Liiv, H., Wyon, M. et al. Anthropometry, somatotypes and aerobic power in ballet, contemporary dance and dancesport. Medical problems in performing artists. 2013; 28: 207-211.
  5. Duda, J. & Quested, E. Antecedents of burnout among elite dancers: a longitudinal test of basic needs theory. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2011; 12: 159-167.
  6. Bosch, J., Burns, V., Quested, E. et al. Basic psychological need satisfaction, stress-related appraisals, and dancers’ cortisol and anxiety responses. J Sport Exer Psych. 2011; 33: 828-846.
  7. Duda, J. & Quested, E. Perceived autonomy support, motivation regulations and the self-evaluative tendencies of student dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2011; 15: 3-14.
  8. Ehrenberg, S., Redding, E., Weller, P. et al. The development of a high intensity dance performance fitness test. J Dance Med Sci. 2009; 13: 3-9.
  9. Angioi, M., Nevill, A., Twitchett, E. et al. The development of a multi-stage ballet-specific aerobic fitness test: initial reliability and validity analysis. J Dance Med Sci. 2011; 15: 123-127.
  10. Abt, G., Redding, E, Wyon, M. et al. Reliability and validity of a multistage dance specific aerobic fitness test (DAFT). J Dance Med Sci. 2003; 7: 80-84.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 87 – Spring 2014