PhD journey at Elmhurst Ballet School
Part of this blog has been published at the IADMS site. Link at the bottom of the page.
Strength and conditioning isn't as prevalent in dance training as it is in sports and athletic teams. What challenges did you face when first implementing strength and conditioning classes within a vocational dance school?
I think the fact I wasn’t a dancer in my previous career could be placed at the top of the list as a challenge. Luckily all the dance teachers opened the studio doors wide open for me to go, observe and ask questions. I was also very privileged to have Judith Rowann as a mentor during this process. She is our rehabilitation ballet teacher, her knowledge and experience was and is very valuable to me. Like all the different sports I have worked with I had to understand ballet as a discipline. I spent a good few months simply trying to understand. I then decided to focus on the graduates as they were the ones who, in my eyes, would benefit the most from my assistance. They were going to go for auditions in the new year. Here’s an interesting story, the graduate girls asked to have a session with me. I felt it was an opportunity to get accepted by the group. I put a session together with bodyweight exercises. Having had quite a few years of experience with female adolescent athletes, I honestly thought I had it! Little did I know! After the session the girls could not go up the stairs for a week. It was a disaster but a wakeup call for me as I understood a bit more about the population I was dealing with. Side note, the girls didn’t really train with me the rest of the year. A combination of things, most importantly that they had little time available but I feel this session did not really help! So in a way I feel, that once again in life thinking you know is very far from actually knowing.
You have developed the 11+ Dance, an injury prevention intervention for dancers. How did the dance students and staff react to this when you initially implemented it in the school?
The 11+ Dance was not an idea that simply came to me ready-made. I didn’t wake up one morning with the complete package. It was a process of trial and error, and the errors were very valuable lessons, something that I have to praise Elmhurst Ballet School as an organisation for being open minded enough to, in a way, give me the room to make errors. My experience as a coach and a strength and conditioning coach helped a lot in the development and refinement of the idea. Here’s another anecdote, the intervention is based on FIFA 11+ and FIFA 11+ kids so I wanted to keep the 11+ in the name. The reason for this was that I wanted to make sure we expose our work in the sports science world. I cleared it with FIFA that it was ok to use the 11+ and I was trying to find a way to connect the name with Dance. It was Prof Matt Wyon who said a random comment “you work with children who are 11+ years old all the way to professionals”. That’s how the name came about.
Back to your question, I think that the dance teachers and the students were a bit sceptical about the 11+ Dance, and I would say understandably so; why should they trust me? I knew it was the right thing to do but why should someone who only just met me, a perceived rookiein the sector jump to the idea? So I would say that acceptance was a gradual process. It was achieved through open dialogue and compromise. Did we always agree? nope, but there was always a dialogue and there was always progress, starting from the senior leadership team, the dance teachers, and of course the students. I spent a lot of time discussing and explaining the why and how of research. I was making sure that the teachers and the students knew exactly what I was trying to achieve and why it was important. Education, therefore, was part of the buy-in process.
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