The Science of Spinning
Dizziness can be a described as the result of a confusion between what the eyes see and the brain is told. If we spin
round and round then stop suddenly it can feel as if the room is still moving even though we can see quite clearly that everything
is standing still and that our feet are planted firmly on the floor. In classical dancing spinning can form the centre piece
of many famous ballets and being able to avoid or control dizziness is essential.
Dizziness alters our ability to balance. Balance is governed primarily by information received through our eyes and by
three fluid filled chambers, called semi-circular canals, in the inner ear. When we turn our head from side to side this fluid
stays relatively static compared with the movement of the head. Fine hairs projecting into the fluid and connected to special
nerve cells which pick up the movement of the fluid and send a message to the brain. The difference between the movement of
the fluid and the movement of the head is processed by the brain to calculate the speed and direction of the movement.
However when the body spins round continually the fluid in the inner ear picks up momentum and spins as well. Once this
momentum is built up, it is slow to stop. The fluid in the balance organs keeps spinning even after the head is static. So
the brain believes the body is still spinning even though the eyes are telling it the opposite. This contradiction between
inner ear balance organs and vision (you can see you have stopped but it feels as if you haven't) causes dizziness. The brain
gets two different messages and is trying to work out which one is telling the truth. In most people dizziness calms down
quite soon but for people with diseases in the inner ear, such as Meniere's Disease, a simple turn of the head can cause extreme
dizziness that leads to nausea and vomiting and the only respite is when they lie down.
Spotting - Marianela Nuñez
A dancer stops him or herself from getting dizzy by "spotting": focussing on one point for as long as possible
before turning the head round in the spin to catch up with the body and focus on the same spot. The head is therefore being
kept as still as possible for as long a time as possible while the body is continually moving. This enables the fluid in the
inner ear to remain relatively still and not build any momentum thus avoid the confusing signals when the body stops.
There are other qualities a dancer needs to enable them to turn. Marianela Nuñez and Jonathan Cope are principal dancers
with The Royal Ballet. In order to do the multiple pirouettes needed in Don Quixote the dancer must have strength as well
as balance, but in duets the partner can also help as Jonathan Cope explains: "If the girl can turn on her own, it's
very easy to partner her. But if she can't turn on her own then the secret is to get her straight and on her leg, and then
the boy can turn her. But Marianela can turn very well on her own so pretty much I'm not actually doing anything. I'm starting
the turn and she's just spinning in my hands.
With a girl that can't turn very well I'd have to push the turn round. And obviously the trouble with doing that is that
you can actually sometimes send a pirouette off, so it's pushing to keep it straight, exactly like spinning a top really.
But obviously a great turn is when it's completely on balance and it just keeps going, and going, and going, and going. But
everybody's different and I think with some girls it's more like I have to keep rotating her "
She demonstrates spotting!!!
A dancer's flexibility - the ability to achieve seemingly impossible positions, with legs high in the air or the back arched
like a bow - is one of the main components of a dancer's armoury.
The Science of Flexibility
While flexibility might appear to be about long and stretchy muscles, in fact, much of your flexibility is pre-determined
at birth - dependent on the shape of your joints. The architecture of the joint - its shape and the thickness of the cartilage
- account for 85% of your flexibility. This is something which is written in your genes and cannot be changed, no matter how
hard you train. 10% is achieved through safe and sensible stretching of the muscles and the final 5% is based on other factors
which we are less able to control, such as age, gender, levels of body fat, the temperature of the environment and stress.
As a rule, women are more flexible than men, particularly around the pelvic area which is wider in women to allow for
birth. If you are born with healthy and stable joints that allow an above average amount of flexibility you will have a much
better chance of becoming a successful classical dancer. For that reason dance schools operate strict selection processes
for young hopefuls to ensure that nature has given them the right level of flexibility in order to train. Training as a dancer
from an early age with low levels of flexibility could lead to injuries later in life and intensive stretching at a very early
age can have serious repercussions. Similarly if a would-be dancer has too much flexibility (known as hypermobility) then
he or she may also be at a disadvantage. For instance if the foot is too flexible, dancing on pointe would be dangerous and
people with hypermobility are more likely to suffer from dislocated joints.
Edward Watson - known for his flexibility
Edward was born in Bromley and started his training locally. He was a Junior Associate of the Royal Ballet School before
training at both the Lower School (White Lodge) and Upper School. He danced the pas de deux in Matthew Hart's Simple Symphony
and appeared in Ninette de Valois' Checkmate in the 1993 School's performance and Frederick Ashton's Monotones II and the
pas de six from Napoli Act III in the 1994 School's performance. He joined The Royal Ballet in December 1994 and was promoted
to First Artist at the end of the 1997/98 Season.
He dances in a wide variety of works in the Company's repertory, including roles in The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Don
Quixote and Giselle, Ashton's La Valse, Rhapsody, Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloë and The Dream, Kenneth MacMillan's Anastasia,
Romeo and Juliet, La Fin du Jour, Winter Dreams, The Judas Tree and Manon, Twyla Tharp's Mr Worldly Wise and George Balanchine's
Symphony in C (Third Movement).
He has created roles in six works by Ashley Page: Sleeping with Audrey (1996 Dance Bites tour), Two Part Invention (November
1996, Covent Garden), When We Stop Talking (1998 Dance Bites tour), Cheating, Lying, Stealing (Quartet; Barbican June 1998)
and most recently Sawdust and Tinsel (The Tumbler; Sadler's Wells November 1998) and Hidden Variables (December 1999, Covent
During the 2001/2002 Season he has made his debut in Stephen Baynes' Beyond Bach, William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill
of Exactitude and In the middle, somewhat elevated and Nacho Duato's Remanso.
Ed Ward does a duet!!!
Dancers are often asked to defy gravity and perform the magic of the jump. But though training and illusion can help, it is
genetics that can really make you fly.
The Science of Jumping
Jumping is one the skills that can mark out a great dancer: think of Tetsuya Kumakawa, Darcey Bussell, Carlos Acosta,
Sylvie Guillem, Alina Cojocaru and many more.
But while training gives grace, elegance and control, much of your jumping ability comes down to the way you're born.
Jumping requires a combination of the right kind of muscle, tendons, foot shape and the right ratio of body weight to strength.
Roughly 15% of the outcome of a jump comes from the ligaments in the arch of the foot which act as a spring - they flatten
out as the knee bends, and spring back into shape as the dancer takes off into the air. About 35% of the jump comes from the
tendons in the ankle and leg, particularly the achilles tendon, which store potential power as they are stretched to prepare
for the jump and release it explosively on take off. Tendons have more elastic potential than muscles, so the longer and thicker
the tendon, the higher the jump. Study the lower leg of any sprinter or high jumper: they all have long achilles tendon leading
up to a high, ball-like calf muscle. The rest of the power in a jump, around 55% is dependent on the muscle.
Muscle is made up of two types of fibre; fast twitch and slow twitch fibre. Fast muscle fibres contract fast and powerfully
and are excellent for high power actions, such as jumping or sprinting. Slow fibres have a better blood supply and are therefore
useful for stamina and endurance types of activities, such as long distance running. We are all born with a specific proportion
of slow to fast fibres, which cannot be influenced by training. The fastest sprinters and the highest jumpers all have a high
proportion of fast muscle fibres.
To jump high, the dancer tries to increase the distance the centre of gravity is travelling through before taking off.
So the dancer bends his or her knees to jump. This puts the muscles, tendons and ligaments under stretch, creating the potential
for a reflex action which becomes the jump. It's like pulling an elastic band to its extreme before you let it snap. When
you land from a jump, the extra force causes the tendons and muscles to stretch even further, which means that the next jump
can be even higher. This is why dancers usually do a small preparatory jump before a large one. Timing is essential and the
best jumps are created when the plie (the knee bend between jumps) is as short as possible. If the timing is out by a fraction
of second the result is not nearly as impressive.
Although the main elements of the perfect jump are dependent on genetic inheritance, dancers can still train to improve
their technique and jump higher. Weight training can strengthen muscles and increase their power and there are also exercises
designed to improve the speed of contraction. Body weight is also a deciding factor: strong yet light dancers make better
jumpers. But even if you cannot jump with the highest, such as Tetsuya Kumakawa - or Michael Jordan, classical dancers can
still look as if they up there with the best. Keeping the head up and stretching the arms during a leap makes a jump look
bigger. This is because the audience is drawn to watch the top of the body and not the feet.
Nilas Martin - Story of an injury
Nilas Martin is a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. He is known for his ability to jump but continued emphasis
on this part of his repertoire brought injury problems. When dancers or athletes land from a jump, forces up to 15 times the
body weight can be transmitted through the tendons and joints and this can, from time to time, lead to injury. In Nilas's
case, the constant jumping led to growths known as bone spurs to build up on the talus, one of the bones in the ankle joint
and on the tibia, or shin bone. These spurs were pinching together when Nilas landed from a jump. There are relatively few
nerves in bone but the lining of the bone surface, the periosteum, is very rich in nerve endings. As Nilas's bone spurs pinched
together, he experienced tremendous pain and his ankle was permanently swollen. The pain subsided when Nilas was resting but
returned as soon as he started dancing again. Even though the spurs looked small on the x-ray the symptoms became very debilitating
for him as a dancer.
Nilas tried conservative treatments, such as physiotherapy and rest, but although both helped in the short term, it was
clear that neither was a long term solution. Together, Nilas, his surgeon and his physiotherapist decided he would need an
operation to remove the "spurs".