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Supporting Dancers’ Health Within a Dance Company: Practical Approaches for Managers

by Alison Whitaker

Artistic, creative and technical achievements are consistently pushed to new limits. They may be challenged by financial threat or dismissed by opinion, yet innovation prevails. Prioritising the development of work, sustaining employment, and expanding the cultural reach of dance are understandably essential at a company level. The health of dancers, although recognisably important, at times ends with a back seat in priority, with an onus placed on the individual dancer.

The health care available to dancers is diverse with many costly traditional and alternative therapies ready to be accessed. Little emphasis is placed on how appropriate the therapy is to a particular dancer’s needs. Specialisation is available, however I have seen many dancers use a hit and miss approach to finding the right therapist, often at £50 a session, during which time they may be out of work due to injury or illness. The Dance UK Healthier Dancer Programme is made up of many professionals who can suggest appropriate healthcare avenues and are willing to signpost dancers to the right place. The managerial body of a dance company or organisation can be that essential link for a dancer requiring specialised medical care with this free network. Strengthening the network between dance companies and healthcare benefits provides a gateway in sustaining dancers’ health.

“The health of dancers, although recognisably important, at times ends with a back seat in priority”

If emphasis on the health of a dancer is actively supported by a company, the individuals within that company are more likely to follow suit. An efficient way of doing this, while educating dancers and staff, is becoming involved in emerging research within dance medicine and science. This allows the company as a whole to engage with leading research specifically designed in improving performance and often requires little time. Studies are voluntary and researchers are obliged to be clear about the benefits of the study to those participating. In addition, involvement of this sort further enhances networks with funded institutions and projects.

On a similar note, dance degree courses can also build links between research and dance practice. Universities are particularly well-placed to bridge the gap between sport/healthcare professions and dance departments.  Facilitating networks at an undergraduate level benefits the future prospects of students. These important connections between professions are then in place to continue to grow and strengthen when graduates are employed within the dance sector.

At the forefront of applying dance science to a dance company is finding ways in which to improve performance. Incorporating rest, tapering schedules, and manipulating workloads to increase efficiency during both rehearsal and performance periods is known as periodisation. Other physically demanding professions, notably within sport, depend on this principle to programme their year; however, its application to dance has complications due to the structure of employment within the dance field. Elements can be quite easily incorporated, for example scheduling a two day break between a few days of rehearsals and a performance. Similarly, a break before a rehearsal period starts will improve the quality of rehearsals (Wyon, 2010).

Working towards reducing injury, stress and fatigue among dancers benefits everyone and actively supporting this is essential in making dancers healthier.

Reference:

Wyon, M. (2010). Preparing to Perform, Periodization and Dance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 14 (2), 67-72.

Alison Whitaker MSc GSR BASRaT

Alison is currently working at Springs Dance Company as the Company Administrator. She graduated from Trinity Laban in 2011 with an MSc in Dance Science. She is a member of BASRaT, a body of graduates specialising in tailored exercise programming and rehabilitation for elite athletes.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 84 – 2012