Dance Science is an area of research and study that is aimed to investigate the structured data and observational aspects of dance training and performance whilst combining a range of scientific disciplines into a working practice for dancers, choreographers and dance teachers.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and dance is the internationally known leader of dance science who were the first to start offering an MSc (Master in Science) in Dance Science since 2001 and an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Dance Science since 2016.
Dance medicine and science as a field of study was developed in the 1970s and 80s coming from the field of sports medicine. In the early 1980s, the American Dance Festival (ADF) started which included some dance medicine courses in their course work for dancers.
In 1990, the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) was formed by an international group of dance medicine practitioners, dance educators, dance scientists, and dancers. Membership of IADMS began with 48 members in 1991, and has now grown to have over 900 members in 35 countries since 2016.
Why is Dance Science important?
Dance science is important as it is a way to learn about more positive and healthy ways to train and use effective teaching methods for teachers. Also it is a way to help dancers reduce the chance of injury and mental health during times of training that they find challenging.
Dance Science provides a platform to explore health benefits that are given to young people and older adults when they participate in dance, such as those with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, which are conditions where parts of the brain become progressively damaged for a period of many years and you get delusions, hallucinations and memory problems.
Discovery’s in Dance Science
The neurological effects, how the body and brain are affected, of dance have only been studied in the past few years. A 2008 study suggested that synchronising music and movement, that occurs when you are dancing, consists to be a said “Pleasure double play”, and in other words creates a pleasurable feeling.
It also showed that music stimulates the brain which releases a chemical called dopamine that makes you feel pleasurable whilst dance activates the brains sensory and motor circuits.
The Physics of Dance
Dance can be described as a performance that involves the mind, body, soul and physics. Not many dancers ever really consider the physics side of dancing considering all the movements and techniques involved that are main principles of physics such as rotational inertia, gravity, motion, velocity, momentum, balance and torque.
Rotational Inertia is how difficult it is to change the speed at which the object is rotating. Rotational inertia is applied when a dancer turns or spins. When a dancer holds their hands close to the body the rotational inertia decreases because the mass of the body is centred therefore increasing the speed of the spin. If the dancers hands are away from the body the mass will be spread out, decreasing the speed of the spin. This is because the rotational inertia has increased.
The force of gravity is applied to dancers when they leap or jump. To jump off the ground the dancer must create an upward force of thrust that is greater than the downward force of gravity. As a dancer prepares to leap or jump it helps them to take a step prior to it so that their muscles act as springs, pushing them up.
When a dance jumps it is important for them to either keep their head up or slightly tilt it back. This is because the head is the heaviest part of our bodies. If a dancer keeps their head down whilst leaping or jumping the will not get enough height in order to get their legs in the air and parallel to the floor.
To stay in balance the dancer must keep their centre of gravity directly above the area of contact with the floor. When standing straight on two feet the area of contact is quite large making it easier to balance. If standing on one foot it is more difficult to balance because the area of contact is decreased shifting the dancer’s centre of gravity.
Torque is a force that is the rotational equivalent of linear force. The difference is that linear force is about when an object moves at a constant speed in a straight line. Torque is the same as going at a constant speed but instead of going in a straight line the speed remains constant even when the object turns or changes direction.
This is applied in dance to make a dancer able to perform many turns at a time. Torque can come from the friction produced by pushing against the floor, i.e. the harder or softer you push of the floor the faster or slower you will be able to turn.
When going faster a dancer will be able to fit more turns in before coming down as there is more momentum. In a fouette, when one leg extends and then retracts in each turn affects the rotational inertia of the turn. When the leg is extended the speed of the turn decreases as it increases when the leg bends in.
The Biology of Dance
In dance it is not just important that you are flexible but it also makes it easier to do different moves when you are able to lift your legs up high and to attempt certain techniques or moves that can only be done by those with a certain amount of flexibility. There is a large use of flexibility in major muscles creating broad ranges of motion. Many dance classes start with a simple warm up and stretching routine, preparing the muscles for movement.
In ballet, dancers aim to gain a good turnout with their leg turned out to the front, side and back. For a turn out it requires the ballet dancer to turn out their hips, letting the entire leg also turn out whilst keeping the torso facing front. Using a turnout provides stability for slow and controlled movements, helping to make momentum for impressive turns.
In tap dancing a range of muscles are used such as bicep and other arm muscles, calf and thigh muscles and back and bottom muscles. Tap dancing is also a way to enhance your lower body muscles by making good use of the thighs and quads. Tap reduces the risk of getting high blood pressure and so it is suggested that tap dancing can offer a way of lowering high blood pressure.
Tap dance combinations are also a way to build strength in the legs, feet and flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles. Cognitive abilities, sustained attention, self-consciousness of response, speed of processing information, mental flexibility and control, and simultaneous attention on multiple things, are enhanced as tap dancers must develop mental and muscles memory to become efficient at tapping.
Tap dancing engages a sense of rhythm and timing along with teachers helping students to focus on the awareness of the music whilst using tap steps and combinations.