Seeing the benefits of strength and conditioning for young dancers

Nico Kolokythas, of the University of Wolverhampton, is Elmhurst Ballet School’s Performance Enhancement Coach. Elmhurst Ballet School is a full time vocational ballet school for 11 to 19-year olds under Birmingham Royal Ballet. Tori went to talk to him to gain an insight into the importance of strength and conditioning for young dancers. At the time Nico was teaching a strength and conditioning class to a year 8 boys’ class.

The students began the class doing different types of crab walks as Nico explained Elmhurst know that dancers need to be more adaptable and athletic. Nico then asked the year 8 students to perform basic travelling squats and lunges across the room in which were then developed with rises and developpé’s. Students were asked to create their own travel strength phrase to take use of the students’ own artistic scope. Some students performed the actions with ease whilst others struggled to keep the legs aligned. Nico pointed out that the students who were involved in a strength intervention were able to perform the actions with ease highlighting the need for strength and conditioning for dancers. This is also highlighted in his research into dance student’s jump height. He found that the girls deteriorate in jump height, which is in line with development literature, but this shouldn’t be the case in dance because dancers train!

The year 8 students were then told to climb the monkey bars to do pull ups as a fun assault course. That’s when Nico talked about his struggle with bringing strength and conditioning into the ballet world. He was astounded by how the students bowed at him at the end of class and has changed this around to high five and fist pump students instead. He then remarked that he realises that culture is changing, and many young people just want to take strength exercises from apps and YouTube.

The year 8 class finished with a row of mats and the students practiced front rolls, walk overs and flips. Nico reminisces that the students couldn’t even jump from one box to another at the start of the year. They struggled to stop themselves after a jump because of lack of control. But now most of the year 8 students are flipping. He said this has helped them gain resilience skills in which will help them overcome stresses in the dance world. He said he achieved this through fun games and positive reinforcement. He bases his teaching on the fact that if the students can physically push themselves then this creates strength.

Nico recommends that all dance teachers enhance their students’ performance through:

  • Strengthening fundamental movement: Squat, lunge, control of the trunk and hip hinge with flat back. See Nico’s Instagram page @strengthmotionmind for details.
  • Begin with how to do the fundamental skills then work on how many they can achieve.
  • Facilitate strength and conditioning classes with the aim to create an athletic body. Strengthen the body to upgrade the engine.
  • Make sure the students know how to push and pull with a partner. For example, two dancers facing each other holding hands and push and pull between the both.
  • Basic gymnastics.
  • Resistance training will only come if they achieve the fundamentals but don’t be afraid of strength training.
  • Strength is commonly associated with muscle size. Teachers should be demystify this notion and promote the development of strength for injury prevention and performance enhancement.

To find out more, please click here on a previous case study on Elmhurst and injury. Nico is due to release a strength and conditioning education pack for student dancers 11 +. Based on Fifa’s 11+.  More can be found out after its release on 18 July 2018.