Classical dance is an art, but it’s also increasingly a science.
Dr Luke Hopper, from the ECU Dance Research Centre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), is one of the world’s leading authorities on how dance floors are constructed, and how this impacts dancer performance and health.
His research has developed best practice in dance floor design and construction towards safer floor surfaces around the world, to support training and prevent injury in classical dancers.
It’s an approach that seen his work identified as having a ‘high impact’ in the Australian Research Council’s (ARC’s) recent Engagement and Impact 2018 assessment.
The assessment shows how universities are translating their research into economic, social, environmental and other impacts.
It comes after WAAPA’s research was also rated as ‘world class’ in the ARC’s recent Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2018 results.
Dr Luke Hopper said the way dance floors are constructed impacts dancer performance and health.
“Dance floors are sprung in a way to provide adequate shock absorption specifically for dance,” Dr Hopper said.
“This is necessary when a professional dancer might perform 150 jumps and landings in their daily classical ballet class alone.”
However, the flooring used by dancers while on tour could vary widely between theatres.
If a performance surface lacked the right absorption properties, dancers could sustain serious injuries.
“An ideal dance floor needs to strike the right balance between firmness and responsiveness, and also provide good traction, to avoid slips and falls,” Dr Hopper said.
Dr Hopper has partnered with Harlequin, the world’s leading dance floor manufacturer, to better understand the connection between dance floor composition, the preferences of the dancers themselves, and the data on performer injuries.
He is contacted regularly to provide advice about installing appropriate flooring and adapting training to the floor surfaces available to young dancers.
“This research has seen us work with some of the world’s top companies, including the Birmingham (UK) Royal Ballet and the Queensland Ballet, who have modified their dance floors and changed how they and their dancers work,” Dr Hopper said.
Key to Dr Hopper’s approach has been dancers’ own opinions of how their bodies react to different kinds of flooring.
Correlating this qualitative feedback with the quantifiable data of how dancer injuries have occurred while on tour make it a world-first study.
Bespoke research requires bespoke equipment. ECU has invested $250,000 in a state-of-the-art motion capture laboratory for this research, which includes 12 Vicon T40 motion capture cameras.
“Responding to sensors placed on a dancer’s body, the cameras map the biomechanics of each movement in minute detail,” Dr Hopper said.
The next steps in this research will focus on the needs of children who are learning to dance, and ways to ensure their safety.
“It’s now become standard practice across the sector for dancers’ safety to be the focus when fitting or refitting a rehearsal studio or performance space,” Dr Hopper said.
Other ECU research identified as having high impact in the Engagement and Impact 2018 assessment include nursing ratios, technology in education and digital forensics.
Read more about these projects on the Research with impact webpages.
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