Raising the barre: how science is saving ballet dancers
Could new science and high-tech training protect dancers from the injuries that end so many of their careers far too early?
At the Royal Opera House in London, home of the Royal Ballet, art is fusing with science to revolutionise the way dancers prepare. In the glass-panelled healthcare suite, ballerinas are standing on high-tech force platforms which analyse their leg power, and gripping barbells fitted with linear encoders to track their lifting velocity. This is how modern dancers fortify their joints and boost the dazzling height of their grands jetés. With their hair in buns and pink pointe shoes poking out of their gym bags, the ballerinas shift weights with such power that staff have installed padding to spare the nerves of the costume department below.
Principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Alexander Campbell glide past. More arrive in white tutus, fresh from rehearsals for Swan Lake; a graceful, giggling wave of youthful energy, chatting about barbecues and Instagram. Some complete bespoke cardio drills, calibrated using oxygen-uptake tests, to get fit for quick-tempo allegro routines. Others strengthen their soleus calf muscles, which on-site electromyography (EMG) analysis suggests can help stabilise their ankles. Every workout is uploaded to Smartabase, a data-analysis platform also used by the US military. Meanwhile, fatigued dancers apply Game Ready leg wraps, which harness Nasa space-suit technology to deliver tissue-repairing cold therapy, and learn how adding omega-3-rich anchovies to their salads can reduce muscle inflammation.