Pilates and Dance: A Personal Journey and the Research
By: Lisa Mills-Hutton, B.Comm.(Hons.), BMR(PT)
For this post I am going to share my personal journey in the hope of encouraging other dancers and teachers. I started ballet class at 3 years old and my mom reports that I was in love with it after the first class. A few decades later I am still in love with ballet and dance in general.
Despite my intense love with ballet I have had a few love-hate moments. Ballet is challenging. We were not designed to stand with 180 degree turnout, kick our legs above our heads and stand in pointe shoes. Maybe that is why so many of us love it so much… we love a challenge.
In my story today, I am going to skip over several years of training and get to the point of my article. A real turning point happened when I was training for my advanced Royal Academy of Dance ballet exam. I was taking 5 classes a week and cross-training (mainly cardiovascular training and abdominal work) 3-4 times a week. Despite all the training I was reaching a plateau despite all my blood, sweat and tears. My ballet instructor (Ms. Bernadette Shum) suggested we decrease the ballet classes and try 1-2 Pilates classes. After 1 month of Pilates we saw huge improvements. My extensions improved, pirouettes improved, my arabesque line improved and all with a lot less blood, sweat and tears. To make a long story short I was able to train less and improve more! I am so thankful to Bernadette Shum and Monique Lavoie for introducing me to Pilates. Several years later I certified in Stott-Pilates as a mat instructor and I am still teaching 2-3 classes a week. I also use many of the exercises and principles of Pilates with my patients at the physiotherapy clinic.
What Does Some of the Research Say About Pilates and Dance?
There are dozens of research articles discussing the benefits of Pilates, this is how they may help a dancer.
- Pilates may contribute in achieving proper alignment. Proper alignment is so vital for efficient execution of movements, effective muscle recruitment, aesthetics, and assists in the ability to activate the deep stabilizers in the back and pelvis. Try standing in anterior pelvic tilt (sway back) and activate your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. Very difficult, if not uncomfortable?
- Numerous studies have been conducted to try to identify and improve pelvic alignment in dancers. Neutral alignment can be defined simply as balancing the pelvis on the heads of the femurs. This concept can be vague at best when teaching dancers with varying body types. Research shows that neutral alignment varies for every dancer and can even change on a daily basis. Pilates can help the dancer increase body awareness and their ability to find neutral alignment (Deckert, 2007).
- Movement is inefficient specifically when it is initiated by the peripheral muscles that lie near the surface of the body, as can be seen all too commonly in students at various levels and in all genres of dance. Movement is far more efficient when initiated by the deep stabilizing muscles specially the transverse abdominals, the iliopsoas, multifidus and pelvic floor. Pilates may be a form on training that slows down and allows the dancer to learn how to activate the deep stabilizers and allow movement of peripheral muscles. (Solomon, 2011, Philips, 2005)
- Pilates teaches coordinating breath with movement, specifically scapular, pelvic and rib cage stabilization during abdominal movements. How any times do we notice dancers holding their breath when executing movements? (Segal, Hein and Basford, 2004)
- Pilates promotes neuromuscular re-education in functional positions and planes, while focusing on stabilizing the spine. The benefits of Pilates include the development of strength, flexibility, proprioception, muscle balance and symmetry, balance, control and improved posture and body awareness. The increased strength of the core muscles allows for more efficient movement of the extremities and trunk. Hence, functional activities in dance that require balance and control are performed more efficiently and safer. (Bryan and Hawson, 2003)
- Pilates and dance stress excellence of movement. In both disciplines, there is an emphasis on the quality of each and every movement. In other words, there is an aesthetic in dance that coexists in Pilates exercise. Therefore, when you choose to do Pilates, the goal is not only about how much resistance you can lift (strength), or how many repetitions of a movement you can do (endurance), but also about how effortless and flowing you can make the movements look as you perform them. (Ward, Mary)
Lisa Mills-Hutton is a physiotherapist with over 25 years of dance training and over 12 years of dance teaching experience. She is passionate about dance and physiotherapy. She is thrilled to be combining her education, skills, and dance experience to provide treatment and rehabilitation for dancers. If you have any questions, interested in booking an appointment or a workshop at your studio, please call Donna Sarna Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation at (204)452-2608 or email Lisa directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernardo, L. and Nagle, E. (2006). Does Pilates Training Benefit Dancers? Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. Volume #10, 46-50.
Bryan M. and Hawson S. (2003). The Benefits of Pilates Exercises in Orthopedic Rehabilitation. Techniqus in Orthopaedics 18: 126-129.
Decker, Jennifer. Improving Pelvic Alignment. University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA, 2007.
Hodges, P. and Richardson, C. (1999). Transversus Abdominis and the Superficial Abdominal Muscles Controlled Independently in a Postural Task. Neuroscience Letters. Volume #265, 91-94.
Phillips, C. (2005). Stability in Dance Training. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. Volume #9, 24-28.
Segal, N.A., Hein, J. & Basford, J.R. (2004). The effects of Pilates training on flexibility and body composition: An observational study. Archives of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation, 85, 1977-1981.
Solomon, Ruth and Solomon, John. Functional Anatomy in Dance Training: An Efficient Warm Up Emphasizing the Role of the Psoas. University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA.
The IADMS Bulletin for Teachers • Volume 3, Number 2, 2011.
Ward, L. Mary. Pilates Reformer Stability Training to Improve Dancer Torso Alignment. The Method Pilates. http://themethodpilates.com/articles/pilates-reformer-stability-training-to-improve-dancer-torso-alignment/