The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
You are here:> Home > Developing Practice > Animated magazine > Searchable archive > Issues 1996 - 2001 > Making health matter
Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Making health matter
Animated, Autumn 1999. Jessica Shenton highlights the latest research projects which constitute part of Dance UK's innovative Healthier Dancer Programme
Dancers' health, fitness and well-being are reliant on a number of things including the provision of good health care education, ongoing research, the dissemination of recent findings good technical training and/or technique and the implementation of healthy practice. In order to help the dance profession develop this vital area of work the Healthier Dancer Programme, set-up two advisory bodies - the Medical Advisory Committee and the Physiotherapy Advisory Group. Members were drawn from a range of disciplines, each possessing an extensive knowledge of the dance world and their own medical specialisms. Their focus - to discuss recent research from around the world; present case studies and actively support one another and the programme by:
  • Reviewing and advising on the newly updated Practitioners Register

  • Writing book reviews in non-science speak to disseminate the most current research and information

  • Providing lectures for various Healthier Dancer events

  • Providing the Healthier Dancer Programme with valuable advice and/or knowledge

  • Creating new Information Sheets

  • Forming specialist sub-groups with additional invitees from the wider dance community for specific research projects of which there are currently three.

All are vital, of equal importance and in early stages of development. The resultant findings are scheduled to be presented at the Healthier Dancer Conference in October 2000.

The Injury Prevention Screening Group
Chaired by Dr Roger Wolman, the group comprises 12 highly regarded chartered physiotherapists and dance teachers and one pilates practitioner. Their remit (and first stage of the project due to limited funding and availability) is to focus on the provision of training in the classical sector for the 11 to 18 age group.

Why Screen?
We discovered that the 'bottom line' for screening within the majority of professional dance schools is dependent on whether they will have a 'safe, investment' (ie. Is the dancer physically and mentally strong enough for the rigors of training and a future career in dance; and equally, will the career suit the potential dancer?). It is also about many other issues. The aim of vocational training, amongst other things, is to improve technique, artistry, versatility, agility, musicality and strength. The screening serves to enhance this by helping to educate students about the care of their instrument and so prevent injuries; increase the longevity of their career and protect the dancers investment in themselves and their future. It also provides a window of opportunity affording both the physiotherapist and student a chance to learn from one another, whilst empowering the student to understand their own physiological make-up by providing them with personal pointers that they can work on within, and outside of class and ideally, with the full support of the dance teaching staff.

Aims and Objectives
The group had firstly to focus on what is currently practised in the professional dance schools around the country. A brief questionnaire was sent out, asking what their aims and objectives were and what their screening processes involved. Our aim was to find out how we could design a screening programme that would fit in with a varying group of needs, ages, and within each schools time limitations - a process reliant on the cooperation of many schools and organisations. From the gathered information, we were able to see how much time was given to each pupil at the beginning of their first year - a crucially important time for collecting data and for educating the student on how best to care for themselves. We were also aware that due to the dancer's age and resultant growth spurt, much of the information gathered would change on a regular basis. It was also essential that we look at the sensitive and moral dilemma as to whom the information belonged to and how it would be used. Are you, by screening a pupil, giving away information that they would otherwise not wish to be divulged?

Thus, it was felt that in designing such a programme, the educational element was one of its most important factors. The students gained a practical understanding of their own anatomy and physiology; were given clear feedback and could, if need be, work by themselves on some areas that required improvement and/or strengthening. We also found that by involving all the concerned parties - ie. the dance teachers, physiotherapists and dance students in both the process and dissemination of information that they could all learn more about each other's disciplines. Such a process could also enhance communication within the school reinforcing best practice, already prevalent in most establishments.

The group then looked at the range of physical and psychological areas that should be addressed and assessed. The amount of time devoted to assessment by schools varied greatly and we have had to look at a way of suggesting tests in order of priority. For example, if a school only had an allowance of 20 minutes per student, we needed to encourage them to focus on ten vital steps. It is in this area that the group's work continues to progress (although it will only meet for a year and a half) and we hope the outcome will be the publication of detailed guidelines. However, if we do 'end up' with acceptable guidelines that are usable throughout the professional training system, the programme might, in the long-term, also supply vital data for additional research projects and provide invaluable information and advice for the whole of the dance community. We will just have to wait and see what transpires.

Stress and Conflict at Work
In conjunction with Professor Cary Cooper and Helge Hoel at the Manchester School of Management and four dance companies (two classical, two contemporary), Dance UK decided to participate in a research project looking at stress and conflict in the work place, which it is hoped will provide crucial information for dancers' well-being.

The research has adopted a systemic approach. If you imagine the dance company as a family - instead of looking at the issue of stress and conflict from an individual's perspective, we reviewed the 'whole family' - looking at every aspect of employee stress and everyone involved within each of these companies. This ranged from the dancers and dance staff, including the artistic directors, to marketing, administration, and personnel departments, and allowed us to look at the 'whole picture' of stress and conflict within dance companies.

Both the CBI and TUC have supported this major research project (which in its entirety will have involved 12,000 individuals) as it aims to answer questions such as: What is the scale of the problem? What aspects of workplace behaviour are connected with bullying? And what are the potential impacts, or effects of such behaviour? By answering such questions we may not only help to raise awareness of the problem of stress and conflict, but also provide dance - both management and dancers - with the necessary knowledge to counteract any such problem in a pro-active and professional manner. The potential cost to the companies from stress may be underestimated. Sickness and absenteeism alone may account for large losses in productivity and poor performance. As a result efficiency, creativity and morale are especially likely to suffer - all are essential attributes in the dance sector. Short-term contracts and the threat of redundancies leave people working in a climate of uncertainty. It is therefore in the interest of the company dance sector (and the profession as a whole), as well as individual companies, to increase our knowledge and understanding of this problem.

Project Description
Questionnaires were handed out to 196 employees from the four companies during February l999. The study aims to explore the relationship between work-environment, peer-group relationships and management styles. The consequences for the organisation and individual employees will also be examined. Suggestions for policy and conflict intervention will be discussed. However, the primary focus of this project is on preventative measures.

Procedure and Confidentiality
To ensure absolute confidentiality, a double-blind questionnaire was implemented. The researchers did not know which employee had answered, nor which company they came from. In the larger companies names were selected alphabetically, therefore the percentage was accurate and fair. The questionnaires were distributed within the companies and individuals were asked to complete the form in their own time (preferably at home) and return them to the Manchester team in the pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes provided.

Benefits for Dance
The programme will help us to establish a number of factors related to the problems resulting from destructive conflict at work, including bullying. Such information is required in order to formulate successful pro-active responses, such as effective risk assessment strategies. Furthermore, by collecting information on the medium and large-scale dance companies, the results may be used as benchmarks against which future performance may be measured. The study is funded by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation and we expect the results to be announced in spring 2000. The findings will then be presented by Professor Cary Cooper or Helge Hoel at the Healthier Dancer Conference 2000.

The Female Athlete Triad in Dance
A newly formed team, chaired by Dr Nicola Keay, has been created and includes a researcher, three psychotherapists, a nutritionist and a dance teacher. They plan to look at the incidence of the female athlete triad in the female dance student population. Research data will be gathered during September and October 1999 from approximately 400 to 600 first year professional dance students. This will provide an indication into the actual incidence of amenorrhoea within this age group.

The female athlete triad refers to three interrelated conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhoea and osteoporosis. The group will:

  • Review the findings of the research

  • Address the nature of disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction and bone health

  • Produce information on how to identify those 'at risk' in dance

  • Research current treatment systems

  • Review prevention strategies.

Aims and Objectives
It is hoped that the group will be able to produce a series of leaflets for dancers, teachers and parents, in order to provide more information, guidance and prevention.

We undoubtedly face some exciting times ahead. However, without the essential cooperation and support of many dance schools, organisations and committee members, these projects will not come to fruition. As manager of the programme I very much look forward to hearing the outcomes and findings of these groups which will once again be presented at our Healthier Dancer Conference in October 2000.

Jessica Shenton, Healthier Dancer programme manager, Dance UK. Contact +44 (0)207 228 4994.

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001