Dancers’ Health: The Future

by Dr Emma Redding, Head of Dance Science, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

The National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) was formed in 2012 with the mission to develop, implement, and disseminate scientific knowledge and evidence-based practice centred on the promotion and optimisation of health, well-being, and performance in dance. Dr Emma Redding, Head of Dance Science at NIDMS partner, Trinity Laban, shares the exciting plans and developments ahead for the future of dancers’ health.

While there have been substantial developments in dancer health in recent years, there is much more work to be done. We now have a number of NHS clinics, which understand the demands of dance however more are needed. Continual professional development courses in healthy dance practice are available however many more dance teachers should consider attending such courses. Lastly, the field of dance medicine and science research has grown exponentially in the last decade, yet there are gaps in existing knowledge regarding the prevalence and causes of injury and the biomechanical, social-psychological and physiological demands of dance.

Several of the partners of the National Institute for Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) will deliver a presentation entitled, The Future of Dancers’ Health at the forthcoming Dance UK industry wide conference in April 2015. They will share recent initiatives that have helped advance the field as well as debate ideas for the future of dancer health.

The presentation begins with a summary of recent research by Professor Matthew Wyon who will draw upon the most noteworthy findings of the last decade. In terms of dance medicine, research over the last decade has focused on injury occurrence within dance companies and vocational schools, the impact of injury prevention work and the effect of Vitamin D on muscle function and repair. Dance science research has allowed for a greater appreciation of the social environmental factors and motivational processes linked to well-being and optimal functioning as well as the positive impact of psychological skills training in performance contexts. The dance specific fitness tests that measure dancers’ physiological capacities and the investigations into the relationship between dance artistry and physical fitness have provided a sound basis on which to develop more effective training for today’s dancers. Lastly, the research into dance talent identification and development has provided a fresh understanding of what constitutes talent and how talent can be trained. This section of the presentation will conclude with a look to the future and a proposal of where future research efforts might best lie.

Leading on from here, Dr Emma Redding will share exciting plans for a large-scale, prospective, epidemiological research project, which will measure the multi-dimensional causes of injury in different populations of dancers, and the best strategies for preventing and treating them. The proposed project represents an important departure from previous research designs in the dance medicine and science field. The status quo has been to collect data via retrospective, self-report surveys or prospective studies of individual ballet companies or student and pre-professional ballet students. The few studies that have investigated professional dancers were situated within the professional company context where dancers are salaried with access to healthcare specialists. This ambitious project aims to, for the first time, examine injury among a large number of elite freelance dancers from a wide range of contexts (e.g. freelance independent dancers, salaried company dancers) and dance styles (e.g. contemporary, hip-hop, ballet).

Findings will enable the dance sector to develop optimal injury prevention and fitness programmes for dancers working and participating in a variety of contexts, helping to reduce the rate of injuries and get dancers back performing more quickly. Such a project will be the first of its kind and can involve all dance companies and schools wishing to participate.

One of the most important dancer health initiatives in recent years is the Dance UK Performance Optimisation Package (POP). The POP membership shifts focus towards injury prevention rather than treatment, an important aim of the NIDMS mission and vision. Helen Laws, NIDMS Manager, will explain the new POP in more detail and discuss how it will help further prevent injuries and treat dancers who might not otherwise have access to the support it offers.

Mark Rasmussen, Group Marketing Manager of Harlequin Floors, a long standing supporter of Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme and a founding supporter of NIDMS will conclude the presentation by talking from the perspective of the industry’s partnership in dancer health.

“I was quite surprised to be asked to speak again” said Mark who is also joining in the conference’s round table discussion on Fundraising on the Friday “but the promotion of healthy dance is such an important topic and a cause close to our hearts, I’m happy to share some thoughts on why industry support is so important in keeping our dancers dancing!”

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 89 – Spring 2015