New test to give dancers strength
Teacher Penelope Blanco watches WA dancers Dane Holland and Yi Li Law. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

It is a discipline that typically comes with hours of training, calorie counting and an aversion to the gym, so it is little surprise ballet dancers are more prone to stress fractures and osteoporosis than the average person.

Now a Perth researcher investigating bone density in young dancers has come up with findings she hopes will encourage them to better look after their bodies.

Edith Cowan University's Penelope Blanco, a former professional dancer-turned-teacher, studied the relationship between a dancer's isometric strength - strength measured without body movement - and their bone density and found the former could be a predictor of the latter.

The practical application of her research is that dancers could use a simple strength test, such as a leg lift, to measure their bone density instead of a series of expensive and time-consuming body composition scans.

Ms Blanco also hopes her research will encourage dancers into the gym and overcome the fear, common among dancers, that gym work will make them bulky.

"There's a big taboo on getting dancers to the gym, in getting them to do any kind of exercise that is not dance, so therefore dancers have very high injury rates," she said.

"They go through lots of rehearsals, lots of performances and their muscles are not prepared for that kind of load.

"They think that by going to the gym they're going to lose their aesthetics. Another problem the dancers have to deal with, especially the girls, is they have to stay a certain kind of thin and slim body type.

"So with strong training plus the decrease in calories they don't have strong bones to begin with."

The West Australian

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