Scottish Ballet, founded in 1969, is Scotland’s national dance company and one of five national performing companies in Scotland. It is a registered charity, employing 37 professional dancers, a dedicated support staff, and a freelance orchestra of up to 70 musicians.
Within Scottish Ballet, training is entrenched in traditions that do not reflect other related performance domains (e.g., sport). Their dance artists have relatively brief careers because it is common for a career-threatening injury to occur as a result of incorrect technique execution. This comes at a cost to the organisation and its artists.
Scottish Ballet and the Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh connected as a result of a networking opportunity at an international dance science conference. Their collaborative project proposed that existing practices within Scottish Ballet would benefit from tailoring new ‘cutting edge’ evidence-based approaches, recently applied in other domains (i.e., golf and weightlifting), to enhance training outcomes.
As the company had previously received a Scottish Funding Council Standard Innovation Voucher for a project with the Glasgow School of Art, they were able to apply for an Advanced Innovation Voucher, administered by Interface, to fund this collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.
In contrast to traditional practices that copy an entrenched (but not always appropriate) way of teaching, this project was grounded in the view that each dancer possesses important characteristics (e.g., physical, psychological, social) that require bespoke teaching considerations. Understanding “what is required and why”, followed by consideration of “how to do it” reflects an “expertise-approach” that is currently not employed within Scottish Ballet. Work funded by the Advanced Innovation Voucher would introduce a model and its requisite thinking skills, using the expertise-approach, to enhance workplace practices.
Collaboratively translating the latest innovations within movement science/coaching research would provide Scottish Ballet with an interdisciplinary understanding and practical tool; enabling a sustainable future pathway for modifying well-learnt skills in a way that is safe, long-term permanent, timely and resistant to negative effects of performance anxiety. Specifically, the University of Edinburgh created a new framework for classical ballet from a recent but non-domain specific five-stage holistic framework to be used by teachers, choreographers and support practitioners: analysis, awareness, adjustment, automation, and a series of proactive steps to test and secure the change under high pressure conditions.
This project provided insight into new, innovative ways of approaching training and performance within the realm of elite ballet. It will advance physical and psychological practices proposed by sport research and provide a template to guide new and safe workplace behaviours in Scottish Ballet. The framework is important when needing to adapt performances based on choreographic nuances, changes to performance space/surfaces/equipment/costume and avoidance of injury caused by existing bad habits. The project further strengthened the realisation of supporting their elite performers in a holistic manner.
Following this project, it is the intention of Scottish Ballet to further embed this work with the support from the University of Edinburgh. Once implemented with high efficacy, they expect positive outcomes towards the longevity of their dancers’ careers, improved safety and, ultimately, performance standard.
Once this has been achieved within Scottish Ballet, the plan is to extend such a service to other professional ballet companies and their feeder schools within the UK, in partnership with the University of Edinburgh. Currently Scottish Ballet work in association with the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, all of whom would benefit from this innovation.
Whilst there have been no cost savings as a direct result of this project, and during COVID-19 circumstances, Scottish Ballet anticipates that future collaboration with the University will lead to these being achieved.
This project has served to expand and consolidate the University’s understanding of the professional ballet domain. They are now confident that there is alignment between the company’s and their pragmatic philosophy towards professional practice. The interactions between Scottish Ballet and the University of Edinburgh were highly professional and collaborative in nature and the University looks forward to working together in the future to bring these ideas into fruition.
If this framework were to be scaled up across other organisations, it could lead to savings for the NHS related to rehabilitation from injury.
For more in-depth information about the project, and a chance to hear directly from the partners, check out our webinar, Finding Funds and Expertise for Scottish Governing Bodies of Sport.