Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

Art: Renoir.

When I was a child, I went through a period of wanting to be a ballet dancer. It was a thrill to have a small role in the Elysian Fields of Gluck’s Orpheus alongside grown-up ballerinas and opera singers. But as ballet lessons waned, other interests took their place.

Later, as a worrywort adult, when a dancer I knew kept getting injuries, I began to think of ballet as a dangerous sport. Today’s post celebrates a revolution in addressing ballet injuries.

From Nick Miller at the Age: “Is injury common among ballet dancers? Yes. But perhaps not for the reasons you might think. A study in Britain in 2014 found that professional dancers were far more likely to suffer injuries than rugby players: 80 per cent of dancers incur at least one injury a year that affects their ability to perform, compared to 20 per cent for rugby or football players.

“Muscles and joints were the most common sites for injury, according to the British Fit to Dance 2014 survey. Other studies found that over-use was the most common cause of injuries for female dancers while men were more susceptible to sudden, traumatic injuries. And they found that younger dancers were more likely to be injured than older ones. …

“[Matthew Wyon, professor of dance science at the University of Wolverhampton and one of dance science’s leading experts] believes it’s because of the way dancers train.

“ ‘None of their training causes them to get either stronger or fitter until right up close to a performance. Ballet dancers are technically unbelievable. They’ve got an economy of movement we never see in sport. But it means the dance no longer puts a stress on the body. They don’t have that physical adaptation. So, in fact, the better your dancer is, the less fit they are. Because dance doesn’t stress them any more.’

“On the face of it, the lifts and jumps that dancers perform seem to require extraordinary strength. But, behind the scenes, a lot is accomplished by perfect balance; by aligning bones and locking joints so that, rather than relying on muscles to hold your partner aloft, the weight transfers through your frame to the floor. …

“Evidence of their reliance on technique can also be found in dancers’ almost freakish ability to ignore fatigue when it matters.

“In one experiment, Wyon’s team made a dancer exercise until they were ‘absolutely dead on their feet’ and then perform a double pirouette on to arabesque (which is where they stand en pointe with one leg in the air behind). ‘And they could pull it off, even when they were having trouble doing the fatiguing dance in between. As soon as they were being watched, or having the data collected, they could pull it out. This is just a phenomenon and we’re trying to explain it – and it could be how they’re trained.’

“Technique, it seems, honed over hours of practice each day and since an early age, hides a multitude of flaws. Wyon has seen a male dancer ‘built like a stick insect’ who could lift any of the women in the company – purely through ability. ‘His technique was so good for doing it, beautifully. Once. But if you asked him to do it three times, he couldn’t. … They’re always training and dancing at close to their maximum.’ …

“The Australian Ballet is one of a group of pioneering dance companies around the world that have beefed up their in-house medical expertise and are leading the way in the search for better treatment, rehabilitation and – most importantly – injury prevention.

“Dr Sue Mayes is the director of artistic health at the ballet, where she’s worked since 1997 – at first in the littlest room in the building as the company’s first full-time touring physio, now leading a high-tech medical and physiotherapy operation. …

“ ‘We’re [always] going to see if we can do it non-surgically,’ says Mayes, ‘because a dancer loves that swan neck, that hyper-extended shape. If you lose even five degrees of that, it’s going to be obvious to the eye and harder to function with. So, we avoid surgery at any cost – we’ve done very few operations in the last 10 years.’

“For a year, [Benedicte Bemme, an injured dancer] had to run through a simple, repetitive exercise routine involving the movement method Pilates, little jumps, or jogging up and down a stairwell, designed to restore strength and function to her foot.

“It may sound simple, but in ballet it is a revolution. Rather than rushing dancers to hospital, they are experimenting with techniques to painstakingly rebuild the dancer from the inside out. Research published by Mayes and her team looks at each joint and each injury, and assesses what particular types, frequency and power of exercise are best to get a dancer back to the stage.”

Read more at the Age, here.

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Here’s something fun from the bird kingdom: a mating dance that looks like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and a researcher who posits an aesthetic sensibility in animals.

WNYC radio in New York has the story.

Richard Prum is an ornithologist at Yale University … Some of Prum’s latest work is on the philosophy of aesthetics. It stems from his earliest research, as a young scientist, studying small South American birds called manakins. Manakins are known for outlandish mating displays. The males perform an elaborate dance, including moves that look a lot like moonwalking.

“To Prum’s eye, the diversity and complexity of these dances could only be explained as an appeal to the birds’ aesthetic preferences — in other words, it’s art. ‘My hypothesis is that ornament in manakins evolves merely because it’s beautiful,’ Prum says.

“This idea clashes with the view of most evolutionary biologists, who see displays like these as signs of evolutionary fitness. They think the male manakin’s dance signals to females that he is healthy and will sire strong offspring. …

“Prum says that Charles Darwin was on his side. ‘That was Darwin’s original idea about mate choice — it’s about the aesthetic faculty’ …

“Doesn’t this idea about animals having aesthetic preferences anthropomorphize them? ‘I think that we don’t anthropomorphize birds enough!’ Prum says. ‘We’re afraid of talking about their subjective experiences, because we can’t measure it. But in fact, what they experience is desire, the subjective experience of beauty, of being attracted to something.’ ” More here.

Video: NatGeoWild

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If I ever get tired of tai chi, I’m going to hunt down a ballet class like the one described at Newsday by Donna Kutt Nahas.

“Older adults,” she writes, “are taking their places along the ballet barre and living out their childhood fantasies. Once the province of the young, ballet is drawing late-life ballerinas and, to a lesser extent, male ballet dancers, who are returning to the art after a decades-long absence. Some, with no previous experiences, are attempting pliés and pirouettes for the first time.

“There is no statistical data on how many in the over-50 set are skipping yoga or the gym for ballet, but experts say the physically strenuous and mentally challenging pastime can improve vitality and provide a social outlet for older adults.

” ‘Ballet is low-impact, aerobic, weight-bearing, great core training and great for joint mobility, because you work the muscle in numerous positions,’ says Chris Freytag, an emeritus member of the board of directors of the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise. ‘And it’s great for brain fitness, because you have to connect your brain to doing a number of steps or sequences.’ “More at Newsday, behind the firewall.

On second thought, I think tai chi is more my speed. I took a lot of ballet as a child and even as a young adult. But I think I better just watch the ballerinas do it. And before long, it’s likely that one of the grandchildren will be taking it up.

Photos in the longer article: John Williams, Steve Pfost and Jeremy Bales
People are taking up ballet in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.

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Photo: Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer
Zumba instructor Kelly Perkins, center, leads a group dance-walking  through Shaker Heights on Friday. The local version of the craze was organized by Shaker resident Jennifer Lehner.

Mary Ann is one of Cleveland’s biggest boosters. This week she’s been posting on Facebook about a dance-walk outing she joined Friday.

Janet Cho at the Cleveland Plain Dealer interviewed dance-walk organizer Jennifer Lehner.

“The idea came out of a backyard barbecue,” Cho writes. Lehner “was chatting with her friend Karen Katz, wife of Fire Food & Drink’s Doug Katz, about the fun YouTube video where WNBC television reporter Ben Aaron convinces New Yorkers to strut their stuff with him down the city streets.

” ‘We should do that!’ Katz said.

” ‘About one hour later I went home and bought the dancewalkfitness.com domain, set up the website and the Facebook page,’ she said. ‘You know, that’s just how I roll.’ …

“Lehner envisions tying the dance-walks in with her monthly Flash Cashers events, since the group might end up having lunch at a local restaurant after the workout.

“Flash-Cashers summons consumers to descend upon a local Shaker Heights-area business to spend at least $20 each during the cash mob event, giving the merchant a welcome one-night boost and increasing awareness among residents who may never have stepped foot in the store before.” Read more at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, here.

And here is Ben Aaron, who started the whole thing.

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The day after Thanksgiving is a day that many people’s thoughts turn from an unusually wonderful and gigantic meal to fitness.

In an increasing number of locales, people who have never worked out before are now working out with their dogs. Because dogs need fitness, too.

Bill Littlefield’s sports show on WBUR radio, which covers both traditional and offbeat sports, sends Only A Game‘s Karen Given to Hinsddale, Illinois, to interview K9 Fit Club president and founder Tricia Montgomery.

Says Montgomery, “K9 Fit Club is a place where pooches and peeps get together and have a healthy and happy lifestyle. We do exercises, we do workouts, we bond, we socialize and most of all we have fun.

“K9 Fit Club was originally developed in 2008 but we didn’t open the doors here until Aug 5, 2012. We started in Hinsdale, Illinois in our first location and now we have corporate facilities, we also have locations starting all the way from Monterrey City, Mexico, all the way to New York, into Raleigh- Durham, North Carolina, up into Florida, St. Louis, all across the country. …

“Our programs were developed by veterinarians, by personal trainers, by dog trainers, and by doctors and psychologists, actually. So we’re not just a bunch of people running around with a bunch of dogs jumping up beside us. Our programs have really been developed for people who have never worked out a day in their lives to people who are very, very fit. …

“I love what I do, how cool is this? I get to come to work every day with my dog and I get to have the coolest job working with dogs and people and helping change their lives and feel better about themselves.” More.

Photo: K9 Fit Club

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Photo: nfait.wordpress.com

New research featured at WBUR radio’s “Only a Game” suggests that frequent physical activity in school boosts learning.

“Mid-morning on Tuesday at the South Lawrence 5th Grade Academy in Lawrence, Mass., a row of students prepares to learn science more efficiently…by stepping.

“At this kind of school within a school, the daily schedule for these fifth graders includes not one physical education class, but three. The students break during the day for physical activity, which, according to Kevin Qazilbash, the school’s principal, is not to say academics are being de-emphasized.” More.

“The curriculum at the South Lawrence 5th Grade Academy is based in part on the notion that exercise improves brain function and stimulates learning. According to Dr. Majid Fotuhi, the Chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, studies support the idea that exercise can improve learning efficiency for children. …

“ ‘It’s so exciting,’ Fotuhi told Bill on … Only A Game. ‘There are actual new cells that are born in the memory parts of your brain. Literally, new cells are born, this has been shown in animal studies. So exercise is the best thing for [the] brain, especially for the memory part of the brain.’ …

“Though no study prescribes a perfect amount of exercise, Fotuhi offers guidelines to parents and educators.

“ ‘My recommendation would be at least one hour a day for children who are 6-12 and for high school kids, two hours a day,’ Fotuhi said. ” More.

I myself find that walking around helps me think, and I remember my father doing that, too. He was a writer. There is something about moving around while puzzling out how to express a complicated thought that is more productive than sitting in front of a computer (or in his case, a typewriter).

Photo of Dr. Fotuhi, Johns Hopkins

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