The art and science of dance

I started dancing later than many, at the age of 11. But it soon became the only extracurricular activity I did. An insightful high school career teacher suggested I do it full-time, so I enrolled in an advanced dance foundation course, which allowed me to dance every day in addition to my college studies.

The college was in Lewisham in London, an area of ​​low socio-economic status. I met people from different backgrounds and attending that course opened me up in different ways. I started to understand the potential of dance to change people’s lives.

Dance attracts people from all backgrounds. Photo: Dancers from the VCA Dance Season 2020/Gregory Lorenzutti

I come from a working class and after graduating I became one of the first in my family to graduate† I studied at the Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance and found my love for contemporary dance there. I began to develop a practice that explored the physiological extensions and capabilities of dancers from both artistic and scientific perspectives.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re passionate about dance, you’re probably interested in the art and science of it. We can use science to improve dance training and performance, for example to prevent injuries or to prepare ourselves psychologically for performance. But we can also measure the health benefits of dance and generate scientific evidence to show how it can improve the well-being of other populations.

Dance science is about understanding dance from many angles: physiological, biomechanical, social and psychological. The discipline is really taking off now – the research base is growing and there are so many unanswered questions.

After a period of professional dancing and teaching around the world, another insightful mentor suggested I write a brand new master’s degree in dance science. She was brave enough to invest in me and my passions. I had completed a master’s degree in sports science, so I brought together sports scientists and dancers to help me write the new degree. We started with the masters, and now Trinity Laban offers a BSc, an MSc and MFA and a PhD in dance science.

Dance science can help elite dancers push boundaries, just as sports science does for athletes. Many leading dance companies have nearly eradicated all chronic, long-term injuries as a result of proper healthcare and injury support.

We have evidence to show that dancers are less injured and have longer careers. We know more about the ideal amount of daily exercise and the importance of adequate rest and recovery for optimizing performance. Companies such as The Australian Ballet are leading the way in this area by integrating science into training regimens. None of this has historically happened in dance.

The art and science of dance
Dance science is a growing discipline that spans from dancers’ physical fitness to how dance can promote well-being. Photo: Dance Science Lab test at Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance/Chris Nash

Despite this success, there is some resistance to dance science within the dance community. My colleagues and I have spent two decades trying to convince the skeptics in the dance world that it is about improving, improving and supporting dance; by not diluting or making the art form safe, we lose its value.

Coming to the VCA seemed like a natural match, both personally and professionally† The VCA not only has a proven track record in educating artists, but also a steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion. It’s not afraid to ask important questions and make lasting changes. Other institutions talk about it, but the VCA actively anchors diversity in a real – not symbolic – way.

I also had a strong feeling that the VCA was a place where I could be director and mother. The VCA and the University of Melbourne celebrate women leaders and I see this as an opportunity to be a role model for other women. We still have a long way to go in the arts, and especially in dance – many of my dance mates didn’t realize that having children and maintaining a career was an option. Seeing female role models is an important part of that change.

The VCA also has a great research grant. There are so many employees here who are practicing researchers. There are so many well-known in their field, and that really attracted me here. Much of my work has been interdisciplinary, for example I have worked with anthropologists, physicians and psychologists, as well as with a range of artists.

Being part of the University of Melbourne, with its amazing faculties and potential for collaboration, opens up so many new avenues for research. I am excited about my time here.

– As told to Catriona May

Banner: Dancers from the VCA Dance Season 2020/Gregory Lorenzutti

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