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Department Of Dance

Educating a Holistic Dancer: BYU Dance’s Emphasis on Cross-Training in Ballet

BYU Dance Faculty’s Research Provides Students with Opportunities to Become Pilates Certified

BYU’s Department of Dance is one of few collegiate dance programs that have a dance medicine facility on site. This benefits dance majors and members of the campus’s dance performance companies because it allows them to receive medical attention as needed. The Dance Medicine and Wellness Facility staff treat dancers for injuries and provide both rehabilitation and body maintenance tools. The athletic trainers and ballet faculty have taken their work a step further by piloting a cross-training research project and integrating a more holistic cross-training regiment into Theatre Ballet (TB) company’s classes.

BYU Dance Medicine Facility, Richards Building

For this project, Dance Medicine and Wellness Facility director Brenda Critchfield worked closely with TB directors Shayla Bott and Ashley Parov. They used Functional Movement Screening to assess the dancers’ overall strength and track how their strength changed when Pilates was incorporated into classwork. They monitored the dancers’ injuries and provided specific exercises that addressed their points of weakness for practice at home.

Bott said, “This research started as we realized how much stronger and more injury-resistant the dancers became when they focused on optimal function of the musculoskeletal system integrated with fascial work. We decided to integrate [cross training] directly into our ballet technique training regimen so that those who were injured could get help, and those who weren’t could avoid injury.”

Students on the ballet performing companies (TB and Theatre Ballet Studio Company) are now required to take a 50-minute Pilates mat class once a week during the Fall and Winter semesters. Additional Pilates reformer courses are offered but not required. These courses are taught by dance faculty who are certified to teach Pilates. Faculty also incorporated Pilates-based cross-training directly into the company’s daily ballet technique classes.

“The data that we gathered showed that our dancers became stronger, had more musculoskeletal balance and were less prone to injury as a result of the Pilates-infused ballet technique class,” said Bott. “The dancers noticed and commented on how much stronger they were feeling and many have gone on to pursue certification in Pilates or other cross-training modules as a result.”

Pilates Reformer machines in the Dance Medicine Facility

Two of those students are dance majors and TB members Kallie Hatch and Maile Johnson. In March 2023, they received funding to complete Intermountain Pilates Center’s Stott Pilates mat essentials course which is a pre-requisite for the official certification. This course consists of 40 hours of training and, according to Hatch, involved “a brief overview of anatomy, a breakdown of the Stott Pilates Basic Principles, Warm Ups, Essential and Intermediate Exercises, practice teaching, [and instruction on how to perform] postural analysis and program classes.”

Hatch and Johnson have both noticed an improvement in their dancing because of Pilates. Johnsons said, “Pilates has helped me strengthen the smaller, stabilizing muscles that I often don’t focus on when dancing. By training these stabilizing muscles, I have noticed improved core strength and overall stability in my dancing.” Hatch added, “Pilates has helped my dancing immensely. It has helped me learn how to move in a functional way so that my body can last as long as possible.”

Johnson and Hatch both feel that this certification and training will benefit their own dancing as well as their jobs as dance instructors. Hatch said, “Going through the certification will not only make me a better mover but a better teacher.” Johnson agrees, “I believe that because of the knowledge I have, I am better able to teach my ballet students to move in safer and healthier ways.”

This project and the funding for students’ Pilates training is a part of the dance department’s effort to provide educational opportunities in and outside of the classroom as well as train dancers to be prepared for careers as performers, choreographers and teachers. Both Hatch and Johnson currently teach at local dance studios and will be teaching Pilates and ballet courses at BYU this Fall.