It’s hard to picture a less obvious collaboration; the hard engineering of science and the seemingly effortless elegance of classical dance. However, dancers are at their heart athletes, capable of extraordinary feats of stamina and strength – and with resulting injuries too. Just as sports science has helped field and track athletes improve, so it is now helping dancers to improve their performance – and load cells are playing a vital role.
“Art fusing with science”
The Royal Ballet is one of the world’s greatest dance companies, known for its classical heritage and star dancers. In a fascinating article in The Guardian, an insight into the science behind the scenes reveals just how testing ballet can be.
Dancing is hard work; dancers start their day with a 75 minute ‘class’. i.e. a full-on dance workout, followed by up to six hours of rehearsal, plus up to four performances a week. So, dancers undergo oxygen-uptake tests, use on-site electromyography (EMG) analysis to strengthen all-important calf muscles, and tap into NASA space technology to help repair tissue with cold therapy.
Load cells and leaps
The main use of load cells in the Royal Ballet healthcare suite is in force platforms, used to analyse a dancer’s leg power. The leaps and jumps taken involve huge forces, with a male ballet dancer landing on the stage with Some male dancers land with 6,000N of force – eight times their body weight. Most dancers can also lift up to 2.5 times their own body weight using just their calf muscles. As the Royal Ballet’s Sports scientist Gregor Rosenkranz explains:
“Strength training… helps dancers attenuate those landing forces and avoid muscle injuries. But squats also influence jump height and balance, which helps create buy-in from the dancers. … If we make dancers jump higher and land more softly, they should perform better aesthetically, too.”
Load cells and movement analysis
At its heart, classical ballet is a series of set moves linked together. Ballet dancers learn the moves at an early age, and perfect them during their training. A study by researchers in Taipei, Taiwan examined one of these, moves, the Grand Battement, to
“Examine the tiny change in muscles during this skill, and to know what factor dominate this technique. (The) strength of bilateral paraspinatus muscles and gluteus muscles were calculated using load-cells.”
What’s a Grand Battement?
You may well ask! It’s this:
The results showed that the dominant leg has shorter response times than the non-dominant, enabling dancers to tailor their training accordingly.
Load cells: above and beyond
By the time the dancers reach the stage in a production, load cells have already played their part. Most sets for both the ballet and opera productions are built offsite at a dedicated workshop in Essex. The workshop is equipped with 3.25t capacity wireless load shackles fitted onto 12 overhead cranes, replicating the set-up at the opera house itself. This enables designers to test the sets in advance, ensuring they don’t overload the hoists in the historic venue in Covent Garden. It also enables designers to make adjustments during the construction period and before before delivery. Load cells also enable the workshop to ‘rehearse’ the scene changes in safety to know the operating loads before actually rigging the sets.
Making a song and dance about load cells
As you might have gathered, we’re passionate about load cells and their incredible versatility across a vast range of commercial, industrial and engineering applications, not to mention scientific research and the creative arts. If you’d like to discuss your load cell requirements for your next project, or just to check if load cells can make your project easier to measure, monitor or assess, call us. We’re always happy to help.