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Helping dancers to find their balance

Wednesday, 08 May 2019

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New Edith Cowan University (ECU) research aims to help vocational dancers balance training demands, avoid burnout and reach the top of their game.

Dr Peta Blevins from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) explored dancers’ experiences of stress and recovery during their dance training. Twelve current and ex-professional ballet and contemporary dancers participated in the study.

“Professional dance careers require years of intensive training and vocational training programs are a standard pathway for aspiring dancers to develop as professional dancers,” Dr Blevins said.

“However, in order to successfully progress through their training students must be able to balance the physical stress of high training loads, external stressors (for example living away from home for the first time), and cultural factors with adequate recovery,” Dr Blevins said.

The study found that there were many potential sources of stress for vocational dance students, including the following factors:

  • Dance culture (Pushing through pain & fatigue, normalisation of injury, industry demands);
  • Intrapersonal factors (Personality, developmental concerns, health);
  • Interpersonal factors (Organisational relationships, external relationships, social identity);
  • Situational factors (Transition into professional organisations, major events, training demands, lifestyle).

Positive training environment key

The nature of the training environment may provide the basis for how dancers respond to stress, according to Dr Blevins.

“Dance training organisations can play an important role in enhancing recovery and well-being for students by developing a cultural environment that encourages adaptive responses to stress.

Cultural norms which encourage dancers to reject overtraining behaviours, that demonstrate a supportive and proactive response to injury, and that are supportive of a variety of body shapes and sizes, are essential for developing positive responses to stress,” Dr Blevins said.

“Negative responses to stress, such as ignoring injury, pain, and fatigue are related to poor training outcomes associated with overtraining and burnout,” she said.

A delicate balance

Dr Blevins said her findings support the literature that dancers endure high workloads, but it is an individual’s ability to recognise their own recovery needs that can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes.

“This finding suggests that there is benefit in improving dancers’ understanding of the delicate balance between training and recovery, the impact non-training stress might have, and the importance of recovery strategies for performance enhancement and well-being.

“Introducing monitoring systems within dance training can help dancers to understand their individual response to training and identify their personal recovery needs.

“Monitoring routines are used successfully in elite-level sport to maintain and enhance recovery, and the introduction of similar practise in dance training environments may also prove beneficial for dancers,” Dr Blevins said.

The study ‘Finding Your Balance’ is published in the Journal of Dance Education. Authors Peta Blevins, Shona Erskine, Luke Hopper & Gene Moyle.

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