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There is often a misconception that all dancers are very fit given their strict training regimes but is this always the case?

In general, dancers are very lean, flexible and have amazing strength but there some research has found that dancer’s aerobic fitness levels are similar to that of sedentary individuals and there is a lack of emphasis on aerobic training within the industry.

What is Aerobic Fitness?

Aerobic fitness is the body’s ability to endure and sustain prolonged bouts of exercise (much like a dance performance) and it is considered the least powerful but the most economical component of fitness. It is one of the most vulnerable systems for dancers during performances, which raises the question –  why is there not more emphasis on aerobic training within the dance industry?

Why do dancers have poor aerobic fitness levels?

The main focus on a dancer’s performance is often around their aesthetic ability like body alignment and flexibility rather that their physical fitness. During dance classes and rehearsals, there are many periods of rest in-between each dance piece meaning dancers often do not stress the aerobic system at an intensity that would make a vast difference to their aerobic fitness.

The exception to this is during dance performances when the aerobic system is used for a longer period of time and is stressed considerably more. This is because numerous routines are performed one after another, placing more stress on the aerobic system.  It would, therefore, be beneficial for a dancer to include aerobic training into their conditioning regime in order to improve their skills and physically prepare the dancer for a performance.

What are the benefits on dance performance with increased aerobic fitness levels?

Gymnastics is an aesthetic sport, similar to dance and it has been shown that increased aerobic fitness of gymnast’s results in increased performance.

Dancers are aesthetic athletes and have similar physiological needs as other athletes. They should follow the same physical laws as other athletes. As dance is an intermittent type of exercise similar to sports like football and hockey, which involves high bursts of energy followed by periods of skill and control, dancers would benefit from an improved aerobic foundation, much like other athletes.

Fatigue can have detrimental effects on dancing performance; it has been found that low levels of aerobic fitness are associated with increased fatigue. Fatigue in dance is one of the leading causes of injury! It takes your energy, precision, and accuracy away during dance movement.

How can dancers increase aerobic fitness?

It has been suggested that only 40% of an individual’s fitness are inherited from their parents meaning the other 60% is at the mercy of the individual and can be influenced by physical activity, lifestyle and diet.

When you think of aerobic fitness, everyone presumes a long distance run is the best way. But Interval training is a very good way for dancers to increase their aerobic fitness. Interval training is characterized by short burst of intense exercise followed by short periods of active rest (dance is never at a continuous intensity for a long period of time so this type of training compliments it well). You can do interval training in any form of exercise. Running, cross trainer, swimming and cycling are common ways to perform interval training.

Conclusion

The aerobic fitness of a dancer is just as important as the aesthetically demanding skills and techniques needed for a good performance.

The benefits of an increase aerobic fitness are:

  • More energy to put into your dance performance
  • Less fatigued so you will be able to train for longer without getting as tired
  • Increase accuracy of dance movements
  • Increase precision/alignment of movements
  • Decreased risk of injury

References

  1. Allen, N. and Wyon, M. (2008) Dance medicine: Artist or athlete?, Sports and Exercise Medicine, 35, pp. 6-9.  
  2. Angioi, M., Metslos, G., Koutedakis, Y. and  Wyon, M, A. (2009) Fitness in contemporary dance: A systematic Review, Sports Medicine, 30, pp. 477. 
  3. Angioi, M., Metslos, G., Twitchett, E.,  Koutedakis, Y and Wyon, M, A (2012) Effects of Supplemental Training on Fitness and Aesthetic Competence Parameters in Contemporary Dance: A Randomised Controlled Trial, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 27 (1), pp. 3.  
  4. Evans, C, H and White, R, D. (2009) Exercise Testing for Primary Care and Sport Medicine Physicians. Springer Science and Business Media: New York, Pp 7-11. 
  5. Koutedakis and Jamurtas. (2004) The Dancer as a Performing Athlete: Physiological Considerations, sports medicine, 34 (10), pp. 651-661. 
  6. Wilmore, J. H. and Costill, D. L. (1999). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.  
  7. Wyon, M, A., Abt, G., Redding, E., Head, A. and Sharp, C. (2004) Oxygen uptake during modern dance class, rehearsal and performance, Journal of strength and conditioning research, 18 (3), Pp. 646-649.

 

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