Ballet training could learn a thing or two from football and rugby


Imagine negotiating the challenges that come with puberty while training to become a ballet dancer. You must try to stay coordinated, lean, and graceful, despite the changes you are going through – and deal with the constant self-assessment of your transforming body reflected in mirrors, dressed in leotards and tights. Not to mention the inevitable physical and psychological obstacles, including periods of injury caused by growth-related imbalances, and self-awareness triggered by highly visible maturity before or after your peers.

You quickly recognize the characteristics that are desirable and conducive to professionalization, as my own training experience has taught me. You have a keen awareness, from an early age, of the desired aesthetics, and that those who most easily conform to physical, social and psychological ideals are the dancers who tend to progress.

Young dancers can undergo full-time professional training from the age of 11, up to six days a week. Dancers in vocational training are grouped by age, but the age at which they reach puberty obviously varies. As a result, differences in the timing of maturity have important implications for the health, identification and development of talent, and those who mature later tend to be privileged in the current system.

Studies to date consistently show a trend towards later periods among ballet students – between 13.1 and 13.9 years old, compared to 12.4 in the general population. And studies also show that earlier maturation is characteristic of those who have not completed vocational training.

If not managed properly, the onset of puberty puts young dancers at increased risk for eating disorders, body image issues, physical injuries and can dramatically reduce the likelihood of completing the dance. coaching. But our new research suggests that some of these problems could be solved if ballet training followed rugby’s lead and introduced bio-banding. This technique consists of grouping athletes according to physical size or, in this case, biological maturity.

The “look” of ballet

One of the reasons for the preference for late mature girls is that these girls tend to have a slimmer, more linear physique, lower body fat, and relatively longer legs compared to their torso – all desirable characteristics. among ballet dancers. The psychological characteristics of individuals maturing later are also relatively advantageous, with earlier maturation being more strongly associated with negative body image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. So, when it comes to selection into dance programs and the chances of completing them, people who mature later have several apparent advantages.

The bias of formal selection processes in favor of the physique of late maturing individuals and the self-selection of late maturing individuals in ballet are well documented. The researchers suggested that delayed maturation is an indirect “product” of intensive dance training, with intensive dance training leading to weight control and subsequent delayed maturation. But intensive training itself has been shown to have no negative effect on the growth and maturation of dancers.

While this prejudice against early-matured girls may seem like an integral part of ballet, our latest study suggests that it shouldn’t be. The structure of current training and selection practices could be changed so that those who mature earlier are less likely to be assessed outside of training.

Dance teachers interviewed in our study had different beliefs about the pros and cons of early and late maturation. Some agreed with previous findings, arguing that subsequent ripening gives a more pleasing “look”. But others saw earlier maturation as a potential benefit in terms of getting much of the “growth” before serious training began.

The teachers also pointed out that late maturation in and of itself was not necessarily a benefit, as these people experience the fastest phases of growth (and all the injuries associated with that growth) by the time training and testing takes place. ‘intensify. This suggests that while there is clearly a trend, and in many ways an advantage, towards later individuals in ballet, there are also potential merits to earlier maturation that do not tend to be explored.


Current formal selection strategies for ballet involve an assessment that coincides with the physical changes of puberty. For those who mature earlier, this may result in a non-training assessment due to less “conducive” physical developments. While for those who mature later, the physical tests and increases in training load occur at a time when they are experiencing the fastest growth changes. It can be argued that neither of the two circumstances is conducive to the healthy physical and psychological development of young dancers.

The researchers recommended monitoring the intensity and volume of the workout to avoid overuse injuries during periods of rapid growth. But so far, no clear solution has been presented to address the significant differences between individuals of the same age group.

But the bio-banding process, recently used in football and rugby, can address some of the challenges faced by the teenage dancer. Grouped in terms of biological maturity, the puberty issues experienced by dancers could be better addressed.

While it is equally important to consider a dancer’s technical and psychological development, the process of bio-banding has the potential to benefit both early and late-maturing girls – allowing them to be assessed and developed. undergo increases in training loads at the most developed time. appropriate. The need to account for individual differences in growth and maturation may be equally important in boys, especially when it comes to reducing the risk of growth-related injuries.

Applying some of these principles to dance training, tailoring programs to the stage of the dancer’s development, can provide a way to optimize training, minimize the risk of injury, and enable schools to identify and to keep the most talented dancers in the system. And in the end, it would benefit both early and late maturing girls.

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