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Ballet for a Better Everyday

By | Health | No Comments

While this isn’t new news for any dancer, here is another scientific study to back it up:  Long term ballet training improves balance and muscle coordination.  Essentially, this study found that those who were trained in ballet were able to command greater physical control over their bodies and muscle groupings, even when presented with tasks that were not necessarily related to dance.  So dance today for a better everyday!

Published in December of 2015 in the Journal of Neurophysiology

Long-term training modifies the modular structure and organization of walking balance control

Andrew Sawers, Jessica L. Allen, Lena H. Ting

“How does long-term training affect the neural control of movements? Here we tested the hypothesis that long-term training leading to skilled motor performance alters muscle coordination during challenging, as well as nominal everyday motor behaviors. Using motor module (a.k.a., muscle synergy) analyses, we identified differences in muscle coordination patterns between professionally trained ballet dancers (experts) and untrained novices that accompanied differences in walking balance proficiency assessed using a challenging beam-walking test. During beam walking, we found that experts recruited more motor modules than novices, suggesting an increase in motor repertoire size. Motor modules in experts had less muscle coactivity and were more consistent than in novices, reflecting greater efficiency in muscle output. Moreover, the pool of motor modules shared between beam and overground walking was larger in experts compared with novices, suggesting greater generalization of motor module function across multiple behaviors. These differences in motor output between experts and novices could not be explained by differences in kinematics, suggesting that they likely reflect differences in the neural control of movement following years of training rather than biomechanical constraints imposed by the activity or musculoskeletal structure and function. Our results suggest that to learn challenging new behaviors, we may take advantage of existing motor modules used for related behaviors and sculpt them to meet the demands of a new behavior.”


Is Your Dance Teacher Qualified?

By | Ballet, Boys, Health | No Comments

Not unlike many parents, when my child was young, I wanted to enroll her in ballet.  My initial concerns included things like: commute, online reviews, schedule of classes, tuition….. But safety??  Without open water, baseballs, or heights to contend with I wasn’t really concerned.  Turns out, I just got lucky.

Unqualified instructors are not only a waste of time and money, but life-long consequences can arise from not stretching correctly, improper posture, or going en pointe too early.  Younger students are particularly at risk as their bodies are still developing and may not be ready to command the physical control necessary to execute the movements being asked without risking injury.  It is important that the instructors are knowledgeable of the physiological and psychological demands required at each stage.

Starting out with a good foundation is important as bad habits are hard to break.  Ensuring that one starts with a good routine, which includes a warm up, setting realistic goals, and being part of a supportive team are all skills that are will serve them well throughout life.  Muscle memory, the body’s tendency to revert to a learned position, develops naturally yet may require a great deal of conscious effort to “correct”.  I’ve heard from a number of current and former dancers that strangers will remark that their ballet background is evident simply from the way they carry themselves as they move about in everyday life.

I have come to really appreciate the true integrity and dedication to the art of ballet that Capitol Ballet instills in their students.  Dancers are placed and promoted based on ability—not age or parent preference.  The emphasis is on precision and technique—not performances or profit.  Check out some of the alumni; a testament to the quality and caliber of their instruction.

For more, read this BBC article: Unqualified Ballet Teachers Can “Damage” Children

Header Photo Credit: Thinstock; BBC