Dance Science for Every Dancer
by Julie Ferrell-Olson
The principles of dance science can apply to dancers at any age and level, and these principles lay the foundation of Apolla Shocks’ company mission. Once a month, I will dive into evidence-based research and explain it for every dancer and teacher, with the aim of increasing the health and well-being of the whole dancer. My goal within these posts is to integrate dance science into the studio, increase career longevity for teachers and students—no matter their end goals in dance—improve performance, and support the entire dancer’s health without compromising the artistry.
Although deeply rooted in tradition, dance as an art form is constantly evolving in response to societal demands and expectations. Within the last century dancers emerged as athletes with increased physical and mental demands, including staggeringly high injury-incidence rates across multiple genres-- including but not limited to contemporary, hip-hop, musical theater, and Irish dance.
The field of dance science grew in response to these demands and challenges. Although similar to exercise science and research on other athletes, dance science aims to specifically address what is seen within the culture and artistry of dance so that dancers may increase their career longevity and performance level. Dance science encompasses a broad range of subjects from physiology to psychology to somatic practices, and the field is made up of researchers and medical experts.
Despite nearly 30 years of concentrated effort, there is a disconnect between what dance scientists find to be the most beneficial to dancers and what is seen in the studio. Because there is little connection between the science and art of dance, teachers maintain the same conditions in the studio as what they trained in. By maintaining this tradition, dance culture differs from sports that follow an on- and off-season schedule. Often, dancers maintain a relatively high rehearsal intensity year-round, never allowing a full recovery to be built into the schedule. Additionally, dancers suffer from the added strain of meeting aesthetic requirements through movement and physical appearance. By applying dance science into the studio, we can maintain the artistic integrity of dance while protecting dancers as athletes so that they may dance longer and dance stronger.
Julie Ferrell-Olson holds a BFA in dance from the University of Kansas and a MSc in dance science from Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, UK. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Julie’s been fortunate to work across the United States and perform works by Melissa Thodos, William Gill, Autumn Eckman, Pat Graney, and James Moreno. Julie is currently based in the Detroit, MI area working as a researcher and freelance artist.