The argument of whether dance is a sport or an art has been rumbling on throughout the modern age. With an older post by the Royal Opera House recently being retweeted by various ballet companies, it is an argument that is set to continue. The problem perhaps begins when we view art and sport as two separate categories, sport is often seen as a process (ie, the match or game itself is the sport) whereas art is often the outcome (ie the painting produced at the end). In this way we miss vital pieces of physicality that artists are involved that creates the final work. It is of my opinion that dancers themselves are athletes that strive for artistry within their movement, but it is the choreographers themselves that are the artists. As an athlete you constantly try to improve, repeating the movements you need to achieve your goal. For dancers this means dancing and learning the movement patterns. But are their others ways to help with your performance that don’t involve dancing? That is what this article will endeavour to find out.
It would come as no surprise to many that dancers need to have a huge amount of endurance. This is the ability to keep on going. Performances can be 2 or more hours long, and for many you’ll be on stage for most of this. Compare this to a sport and you’d need to look at endurance athletes, like marathon runners or cyclists, who show the same duration of physicality. To do this you need to have a good level of cardiovascular fitness, this will allow your heart to require less heart beats to get the blood to the right places, meaning you can keep going for longer until you feel the need to stop. Improving this area of fitness would mean engaging in activities that raise your heart rate for extended periods of time. This could be running, cycling, dancing or boxing. There are of course, many other activities that would do this. Training in a modality that you’re not used to is difficult. The activity will require different muscles groups and you’re likely to feel less passion towards this secondary activity. For many dancers, me included, running is something you dread, you feel like you can’t do it, like you’re not built for it. While you can dance for an hour, running for even 15 seems impossible. To this extent measures of cardiovascular fitness are often inappropriate to use, the bleep test is a prime example of this. An alternative was created by Trinity Laban, called the Dance Aerobic Fitness Test (DAFT) that is a series of movements that gets progressively faster and harder as you move up the stages, much like the bleep test. In this way DAFT accounts for the use of specific muscle groups that dancers are used to using and so the overall level of their Aerobic Fitness is not effected by the modality.
But, there are advantages to be had through cardiovascular training of a different type. Training in this way will help even out or identify any imbalances that may be formed through the dance practise, ie, always leaping with the same leg, that you engage in. Further to this it will help add additional challenge to the heart that in the long run will improve cardiovascular fitness, this is particularly important if you’ve reached a stage in your dance training, where you can comfortably perform for the whole length of time. Either you need to up the challenge the dance is providing you with or begin another activity to help increase it. This being said dancers don’t need to be able to run marathons every weekend, people train exclusively for marathons in a different way, instead just a little jog/cycle here and there at a nice pace that will get the heart beating at an increased level, and sustaining that for a long as you can/want to will see benefits in your endurance when it comes to a performance. Being able to stay 100% throughout the whole performance will help your levels of performance and will decrease the fatigue you feel coming into the last part of the show which will also help with audience acceptance of you as a dancer. Ultimately making you a better dancer as a result.
However, having great cardiovascular fitness is not everything. Dancers are expected to pull of physically demanding movements that require strength and power as well. For which specific training is the best as the body will adapt to that challenge in the right way. In order to have a better golf swing, you’d practice at a golf range, instead of going swimming. Which is much like what you’d do to help with your dance training, to improve; your turns, you need to do more turns, your jumps, jump more, your lifts practise more lifts. Over time you’ll begin to improve and you neuromuscular system will adapt and respond to the feedback it gets. There are alternatives though. For example, if you’re not quite strong enough to begin lifting people, you could start by doing weight training to help build muscle in the areas you need to have strong lifts. With turns it perhaps isn’t as simple as going to the gym, technique plays a big role in whether the turn will work or not, as well as balance, which can be trained in a slightly different way to repetition. Maybe as you brush your teeth you try to balance on demi-pointe, or you spend a few moments each day balancing on one leg. Once these exercises become a little easier you could start using an unstable base like a Bosu Ball (the half stability ball with a board on top) or add in additional movements like changes are arms or a developé.
I hope this has given you a little overview about the other types of training that will help with your dancing. In the future I hope to do more posts about integrating dance and fitness, so stay tuned! Once again any questions are suggestion let me know, and be sure to follow my Facebook Page: RADanceFitness for information about classes and what I’m up to.