📊 Periodization in Dance Training

Apr 1 / Dr. Chelsea Moehlenbrock
Hi, friends! This is The Dance Scientist, here to introduce my 4th guest blog writer on The Dance Science blog. Enjoy! Dancers are athletes taken to another level. Dance requires not only strength, power, coordination, and agility, but also creativity, grace, and expressiveness.

Dancers are artistic athletes. Some professional dance companies have over 150 performances per year, while a professional American football player averages 53 games over an entire career. Many dancers spend more hours in classes and rehearsals than athletes do in practice. 
However, unlike other athletes, many dancers do not use strength and conditioning enough to prepare their bodies to handle performance demands. Why is this? Dance classes are not enough.to build the strength and endurance needed for the demands of dance performances.1,2 Strength and conditioning is crucial for improving overall strength and tolerance for dance demands.3 Many dancers’ knowledge of such training is limited as it is not taught in a typical dance class. Dance teachers may not necessarily have in-depth knowledge of all the variables in strength and conditioning. If you have not explored resistance training, where do you start? There are many resources but right now, I’d like to explore an approach athletes use frequently which could benefit the dance world: periodization. What is periodization? It’s a way to plan cross training, classes, and rehearsals so that dancers are at their peak at performance. How often have you found yourself exhausted during production week? And hoping an old injury does not flare up? You need to be energized and ready to take the stage at your best.

That’s where periodization comes into play.This graph shows an example training schedule of a small professional company. The highest peaks of the blue line are performance weeks. The lowest points on the blue line are rest weeks. The yellow line represents the hours per week the dancer does strength and conditioning. Note that the dips in the yellow line correspond to the performance weeks; cross training hours decrease during those weeks. Since time between performances varies, the rest and preparation periods also vary. Example: You barely have enough stamina to get through the snow scene in Nutcracker without difficulty. Trying to improve endurance during the rehearsal season doing endless run-throughs of the dance will put you at risk for injury. If you improve your endurance with cross training during a slow time of the season then you only need to maintain those improvements during the peak season. You will start at a higher fitness level when rehearsals begin.

Then you aren’t trying to play catch up and risking getting injured. It is then easier to adapt to the demands of Nutcracker, you have more focus for the artistry, and discover more enjoyment in it.Implementing periodization: If you are in a professional company or a pre-professional program, there are variables you cannot control since the concept of periodization is not widely used…yet. However, let’s focus on the things you as a dancer can do. Phase 1 - Preparation: Returning to dance after time off. At this point, you want to ease your body back into things and not put full effort into all parts of class. Do not go from no studio time one week to full effort 20+ hours the next week. That’s a recipe for injury. You may even hold off from doing jumps during the first week or two, particularly if you’re prone to Achilles injuries or patellar tendon injuries. As a physical therapist, I see an increase in injuries within the first two weeks of students returning to the studio as they forget that their tissues (particularly tendons) aren’t ready for this sudden increase in activity. Phase 2 - Building: The time leading up to a performance. During this time, dancers should focus on a balance between rehearsals and cross training. If rehearsals and classes are light in intensity, then the cross training sessions can be high in intensity and vice versa.

Strength and conditioning will help dancers maintain their bodies’ resilience to repetitive movements during classes and rehearsals. This phase is also when a dancer can focus their cross training to complement the demands of their upcoming performance, such as agility or power, which are easier to target when you are starting at a higher baseline of fitness.Phase 3 - Performance: Performance weeks, longer rehearsals in cold theaters with a lot of start and stop followed by full effort run-throughs. During this time, there is a dramatic decrease in the volume (number of sessions per week) of strength and conditioning and more of a focus on self-care for their bodies and minds. Less is more. In the book Periodization: A Framework for Dance Training, the authors discuss a complete curriculum change in their dance program. They had their final dress rehearsal on the Wednesday before a Saturday show. On Thursday and Friday, the dancers marked through rehearsals and reviewed videos of the final dress rehearsal. The dancers reported being much more rested and actually performed better on the day of the show.4 This suggests that perhaps our pattern of ramping up rehearsals right before a performance is not always necessary and may even be counterproductive.Phase 4 - Rest: Rest is as critical as all the hard work that goes into a performance. Dancers’ bodies need to recuperate. Absolute rest might not be possible or always necessary, but it is important to at least take it easy for a few days to a week after the performance phase and let the body recharge.

Gentle activities, such as walking or yoga, are beneficial so that the body is still moving, but with much less physiological demand.A training program that incorporates periodization takes planning and structure; it must also be fluid since the demands of rehearsals (number/intensity of rehearsals) varies. As the authors of Periodization: A Framework for Dance Training explain: “the art of planning becomes the planning of an art” once periodization is implemented into a dance training program.4 This blog is not an in-depth look into periodization, but introduces the concept so you can find simple ways to implement it yourself and perhaps do more research. There is much knowledge from sports science research to be applied to the dance world. I love that with periodization, dancers are “more ready to prepare for their next stage entrance instead of dealing with the implications of their last stage exit” during a performance.4 Periodization is “a systematic approach to support and enhance creativity and artistic performance”.4 We just have to learn to harness its benefits in order to train more limitless dancers.

References

Rodrigues-Krause, J., Krause, M., & Reischak-Oliveira, Á. (2015). Cardiorespiratory Considerations in Dance: From Classes to Performances. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 19(3), 91–102. doi:10.12678/1089-313x.19.3.91Wyon, M. (2005). Cardiorespiratory training for dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 9(1): 7_12.Kozai, Andrea & Wells, Tobin & Schade, Margaret & Smith, Denise & Fehling, Patricia. (2007). Effects of Plyometric Training Versus Traditional Weight Training on Strength, Power, and Aesthetic Jumping Ability in Female Collegiate Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. 11Wyon M, Allard G. Periodization: A Framework for Dance Training. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc; 2022.

Meet the Guest
Writer 

Dr. Chelsea Moehlenbrock

Dr. Chelsea Moehlenbrock is passionate about helping dancers understand their bodies and teaching them how to enhance their dancing by incorporating strength and conditioning into their training. Chelsea started dancing from a very young age and continues to dance today, so she knows firsthand the physical, mental, and emotional demands of being a dancer. She is a South Carolina native, but has lived all over the country and now resides in Grand Junction, Colorado. She started Kinetic Wellness, PLLC in 2022 to serve dancers in a more individualized manner outside of the traditional healthcare setting.

She currently provides both in-person and virtual services for dancers across the country. When she’s not working or dancing, you can find her exploring the beautiful outdoors of Colorado, rock climbing, playing the baritone ukulele, and planning her next adventure! 
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Learn more about her & Her Services:

  • IG: @kinetic.wellness.pt
  • FB: https://www.facebook.com/kineticwellnesspWebsite: https://www.kinetic-wellness.com/
  • Email: [email protected]
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