Feature Story | 10-Aug-2023

Scientists work with Royal Ballet School to train dance stars of the future

University of Essex

Scientists are working with the prestigious Royal Ballet School to unlock further advances in performance science and train the dance stars of the future. 

Researchers from the University of Essex will study the school’s young elite dancers, aged 16-20, to help the world-leading centre prepare them for the globe’s most revered stages. 

The Royal Ballet School specialises in classical ballet which is known for its rigorous technique, flowing and precise movements, and dream-like performances – which require extreme physical fitness. 

It is hoped the study will discover how elite sports techniques like targeted weight training can be used to improve dancers’ strength to “reduce the risk of injuries while improving performance”. 

The research will complement the school’s cutting-edge healthcare team that works to understand and optimise dancer development and training. 

An innovative series of studies from Essex’s School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences is led by one of the ballet school’s strength and conditioning coaches, Jamie Harding, who is working with the University to complete his PhD. 

Mr Harding said: “Ballet is unique in that it is an aesthetic art and a high-performance sport – with exacting competing demands.  

“Dancers perform feats that are unimaginable to mere mortals and our research will make sure their bodies are up to the gruelling demands 

“The world of ballet training is changing and I’m excited to help develop sports science in this elite world.  

“Through this research, we’ll help The Royal Ballet School optimise training techniques to ensure their students can maximise their undeniable potential.” 

This study will focus on strength training and how it can support young dancers to rehearse and perform safely and effectively as they mature. 

Focussing on pre-professional athletes aged 16-20, researchers will conduct five studies which will finish in early 2025.   

Supervisor Dr Louis Howe said: “Elite dancers face similar physical challenges to those of elite athletes, and it's essential that they possess the physical preparedness necessary to withstand the associated stresses.  

“That's where strength and conditioning support can be helpful, as it can reduce the risk of injuries while improving performance.  

“Our research aims to find the best ways to optimize the techniques used by practitioners to achieve these goals. Ultimately, we hope our findings will help elite dancers improve their physical preparedness and reach their peak performance levels.” 

The research will build on the ballet school’s existing programme which collects data on dancers to understand the key stages in a student’s growth and development – both physical and psychological – as they balance academic work with an elite artistic education and a comprehensive supportive training programme.   

The Royal Ballet School’s Head of Healthcare, Karen Sheriff, said: “Research is hugely integral to us as a world-leading organisation.  

“It helps us to answer specific performance questions, develops our practice and enhances our scientific understanding of our young dancers so that we can identify the most effective ways to support them as athletes.  

“We choose to work with elite research partners to achieve this goal, and we are incredibly excited by our partnership with the University of Essex.” 

The Royal Ballet School is one of the world’s greatest centres of classical ballet training which, for nearly 100 years and countless generations has produced dancers and choreographers of international renown, such as Darcey Bussell, Jonathan Cope and Edward Watson.  

It offers a carefully structured dance course alongside an extensive academic, pastoral and healthcare programme, ensuring students are fully equipped to flourish in their future careers, both within and beyond the world of classical ballet. 

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