Biomechanical perspectives on classical ballet technique and implications for teaching practice

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Copyright: Ward, Rachel Evelyn
Classical ballet is an art form well known for its very distinct and precise movement style. A review of relevant literature led to the identification of four fundamental biomechanical principles of classical ballet technique: alignment ; placement ; turnout ; and extension . The capacity to execute technique correctly is a fundamental prerequisite for a successful career as a professional classical ballet dancer. Given this, the averaged kinematic data from professional ballet dancers performing core ballet steps provides a practical biomechanical benchmark of correct technique. Three-dimensional (3D) full-body motion analysis of 14 ballet steps was used to compare the performance of professional classical ballet dancers (N=12) with that of non-professional ballet dancers (N=14), and to investigate the level of agreement between practical execution of the steps with the theoretical ideals. Professional dancers did demonstrate kinematic variables relating to turnout and extension in agreement with the theoretical principles, however some deviations between practice and theory were observed in the areas of alignment and placement . This result has implications for the teaching methods currently used in classical ballet instruction. Having established the practical kinematic principles of correct classical ballet technique, the accuracy of qualitative analysis of correct and incorrect ballet technique was investigated with respect to experience in classical ballet instruction. Teachers qualitative responses were compared to quantitative data obtained from 3D motion analysis. A positive relationship between years of teaching experience and accuracy of qualitative analysis was demonstrated, however even the most experienced teachers only achieved moderate accuracy. Improvement in accuracy with increasing experience appeared to be slow, and plateaued after 10 years. These observations are important in terms of developing curricula and teaching programs for dance teachers. Given the relatively low accuracy of qualitative analysis demonstrated by experienced teachers, a quantitative assessment tool was developed in which data from individual dancers were compared to the practical gold standard of technique, as demonstrated by professional ballet dancers. Analyses were conducted to determine the minimum number and appropriate combination of ballet steps for inclusion in the assessment tool that would most efficiently enable the evaluation of dancers against the four fundamental principles of classical ballet technique.
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Ward, Rachel Evelyn
Mullins, John
McIntosh, Andrew
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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