Transitioning Back Into the Studio: Periodization for Dance with Julie Ferrell-Olson

COVID-19 Periodization for Dance

Transitioning Back Into the Studio: Periodization for Dance

by Julie Ferrell-Olson

Summary: This month we’re taking a brief look at the training theory of periodization, and what it might look like within a studio setting.

These past few months have forced dancers to be innovative and resourceful, perhaps changing the way we approach training forever. With studios slowly opening back up, we can’t return to ‘business as usual’; masks are the new normal (and yes, Apolla has one for dance!), and I’m sure we will see our share of virus-themed choreography for the next couple of years. As we are already changing how we function as a business, maybe we also need to consider changing how we train as artistic athletes.

For a minute, let’s pretend we’re gearing up for a typical, non-pandemic “dance year” at a studio. In the fall, students jump straight into full-out classes, hours of rehearsal, and auditions. The intensity and expectations are extremely high for every single class, every single day. Maybe the studio will take the long weekend holidays off, but sometimes they use that time away from school for additional rehearsals. Performance time comes around, and rehearsals increase in addition to time in the theater and the actual performances. The workload does nothing but increases around the time we’re supposed to be able to perform at our maximum, leading to fatigue and injury. A  studio might take a week or two off for winter holidays, and then jump right back into where the training left off with no prep-work. When we hit competition season, the same thing happens, increased rehearsals, increased demand, increased performance time, increased injuries. Then we’re into recital season, and then students are off to summer intensives where the expectations and the workload remain the same, if not higher.

Dancers have an extremely high rate of injury compared to other non-contact sports, often cited as being from fatigue and overuse. Additionally, despite all the work and hours dancers put into the art form, there is evidence that dancers are not physiologically prepared for performance.

As a way to combat fatigue and overtraining, athletes adopt a periodized training schedule.

Periodization is a theory that takes a systematic approach to training by scheduling in time for growth, adaptation, and rest so that an athlete can perform at their maximum potential when they most need to. Preparation for performance is broken down into day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month scheduling.

For example, instead of having several high-intensity classes back-to-back, more intense classes may be interspersed among classes with a lower training load. Which classes are designated as “more intense” can change week-to-week, while the overall challenge may change over the months. Training should be designed to meet the demands of performance, incorporating cross-training (like resistance and endurance training) that becomes more specific to the needs of the performance over time.

Periodization is being incorporated at several conservatoires in the UK and Europe. While on a bigger scale than most studios, it’s still pretty cool to see in action—check out how they monitor training load at The Place.

Periodization can be broken down into phases:

Preparation Phase- The longest phase of periodization, spent in preparation and gradually. Increasing physical fitness and specificity to the activity.

Competition Phase- Or in dance, we might consider this the “Performance Phase”, when we hit peak fitness and are able to perform at our highest potential. This is when training load

In the studio might decrease to account for time and energy spent performing.

Transition Phase- Post-performance or competition recovery, including a decrease in training load but still doing enough to maintain fitness and ramp back up for the next cycle

Implementing periodization into a studio calendar can be as simple or complex as you’d like to make it. While it can be hard for teachers to monitor each student’s training load, there are general things they can implement:

  • Allowing time for adaptation at the beginning of the dance year and increasing functional strength.
  • Working with other teachers on switching around class intensities each week instead of going all-out, all the time.
  • Decreasing training load one to two weeks before competitions and performance so that dancers have time to recover by the time they hit the stage.
  • Allowing time off to be true time off.

Many dancers haven’t been in a studio in months. There will probably be an increase in injuries from dancing on less than ideal floors at home, and they will try to go all-out right away. Just like we’ve had to adapt to working from home, we have to adapt to moving back into the studio and adapt to moving in masks. The arts are decimated by pandemic restrictions, and we can’t return to the way things have always been done just for tradition’s sake. As we already have so many changes in our lives, now is the perfect time to shake up the dance world and maximize our potential by implementing scientific training principles so we can all keep dancing longer, stronger, and safer.

Additional Resources:




Bronner, Shaw, and Lily Wood. 2017. “Impact of Touring, Performance Schedule, and Definitions on 1-Year Injury Rates in a Modern Dance Company.” Journal of Sports Sciences 35 (21): 2093–2104.

O, Bompa, Tudor, and Buzzichelli Carlo. 2018. Periodization-6th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training. Human Kinetics.

Vassallo, Amy Jo, Bronwyn L. Trevor, Liana Mota, Evangelos Pappas, and Claire E. Hiller. 2019. “Injury Rates and Characteristics in Recreational, Elite Student and Professional Dancers: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Sports Sciences 37 (10): 1113–22.

Whyte, Gregory. 2006. The Physiology of Training: Advances in Sport and Exercise Science Series. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Wyon, Matthew. 2010. “Preparing to Perform Periodization and Dance.” Journal of Dance Medicine & Science 14 (2): 67–72.

Wyon, Matthew A., Grant Abt, Emma Redding, Andrew Head, and Craig N. C. Sharp. 2004. “Oxygen Uptake During Modern Dance Class, Rehearsal, and Performance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18 (3): 646–649.


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