Neuro Athletics for Performing Arts
When Sofia, a professional Latin American dance champion contacted me to start Neuro Athletic Training to prepare for her appearance as a guest artist in a Broadway premiere with FJK Dance Company, a professional ballet company, she came with a long “wish list” on what she would like to achieve until then: a better posture, faster rotation, solid connection to the floor, improved balance, greater knee extension, and a many more …
(Picture 2: Sofia Bogdanova)
The requests with which the Athlete or Artist comes to approach a Neuro Athletic Trainer will mostly be output orientated. It will then be the job of the Neuro Athletic trainer to work on altering the input and the interpretation of this input within the brain to that account that the desired output can be obtained. Neuro Athletic Training, by itself, is a specific way of addressing movement and movement restraints by applying the rules that govern the nervous system in the most efficient and sustainable way. Including taking into account the big influence of the visual system and vestibular system on the quality of movement. So, how to apply the approach of Neuro Athletic Training to the dance practice of a professional dancer? Here is a small insight into the training of Sofia Bogdanova with Neuro Athletic Trainer Ulla Schmid-Fetzer.
Where to start: threat reduction
The initial assessments and discussing her artistic and medical history with Sofia showed that one of the first places we had to start working on was an old and not well-rehabilitated injury on her right foot; as this constituted a high threat to her system. Rehabilitation training was therefore the first step to threat reduction. A threat is lack of information (or mismatching information) that leads to unpredictability for the brain and therefore always results in pain and/or performance restrictions (decreased strength, flexibility, coordination). Threat might also occur when the brain lacks the ability to process input in a meaningful way. Neuro Athletics looks at everything from a Neuro Perspective. Therefore “Rehabilitation” is the process to correct all injury-based movement patterns by re-educating the nervous system and re-integrating the restored mobility into movement patterns. The brain and nervous system need to “heal” (therefore see: SPORTSCHAU article).
At the receptor level, we started out doing soft tissue work with her scar, adding additional stimulus via vibration (improving sensory input) and very specific mobility work (joint mobility exercises leading to an increased mechanoreceptor stimulus). The afferent pathways (responsible for bringing the data input from the receptors to the brain) and the efferent pathways (from the brain to the motor units) were activated via active nerve mobilization (common peroneal nerve, tibial nerve, sural nerve). Last but not least those brain areas involved in processing the input needed to be integrated in the training process to create the desired neuroplastic change; first and foremost here: the right Cerebellum (especially the lateral part) and the right parietal lobe.
(Picture 3: Neuro Athletic Trainer Ulla Schmid-Fetzer including scar work in foot mobility excercises)
Temporal and spatial stacking (adding the stimuli at the same time or shortly after each other) was a key element in creating lasting change in the training process. As a Professional Dancer Sofia has acquired a huge amount of high-quality rotations. In her case we could use this well-working pathway to stack with her joint mobility work. Visualization of rotation to the right, directly before the proprioceptive stimulus activated the lateral portion of her right cerebellum which is also responsible for error correction in movements of the distal joints (hands and feet). Since the Cerebellum also plays a huge role in setting the global muscle tone around joints this was highly needed in her case to decrease unnecessary muscle tension and thereby increase the active range of motion.
Improving Dance Technique with Neuro Athletic Training
As you will remember, better posture and faster rotations were two of the major concerns on Sofia’s wish list. Those are all-time, ever-to-be-improved components for any kind of dancer as they are foundational in a dancer’s performance. We worked on those quite intensely in separate sessions, both, in a general way to improve technique, as well as doing choreography-specific work for the performance routine. Good posture and excellent turns are basic qualities every dancers needs to own. Both require healthy visual and vestibular systems, including good data input and interpretation. These are very interesting topics which will be discussed in more detail in a separate text. So: stay tuned!
(Picture 4: Sofia Bogdanova doing vision work with NAT trainer Ulla Schmid-Fetzer)
Threat inoculation – Adaptation of Latin American Dance Style to a Stage Performance
So far we have addressed mainly the topics of Sofia’s wish list. When a Latin Dancer joins two professional ballet dancers for a stage performance it requires adapting one dance style to a completely different environment. Being a Latin American Lady Dancer Sofia was used to perform either in a couple, (a two people setting) or training alone. To transfer her typical movement patterns in a group setting required a deliberate process of integrating new stimulus to a very fixed and well-trained movement vocabulary. Rumba and cha-cha walks, for example, basic movements that any latin dancer practices for years in a straight-ahead-fashion needed now to be curved sharply in order to fit into the choreography. Walking around a curve stimulates the semicircular canals which in consequence alters the vestibular input to the brain. In consistency with the SAID principle, a new movement plan had to be developed by the brain. The head positions required for the performance also differed widely to those she had been trained to do, therefore new neural chunks needed to be created and made to stick to be ready to use for the performance. This is one of the places where the Neuro Athletic Training approach is a real time safer, as it breaks down the precise requirements of the specific situation to the nervous system and helps to foster the learning and training process to achieve optimal, desired output.
Neuro Athletics for Performing Arts in action
High quality movement is the foundation for a high-level performance of any kind and is essential to all Performing Arts. The aim of Neuro Athletic Training is to produce this outstanding movement quality by addressing the artist’s nervous system and brain to create effortless movement and striking performances. So, for Sofia, her wish list has been translated into an intense training program to counter the movement restrictions from her foot injury, including re-education of the nervous system and brain; very specific and individualized technique training based on integrating the visual and vestibular systems to achieve desired postural change and improve rotational speed. In addition the adaptation process of bringing Latin American Dancing on stage was enhanced by targeting the underlying neurological structures as to create optimal progress in training and rehearsal. A very rewarding investment of time and effort and an asset to any performing artist that is required to move well.
(Picture 5: Sofia and Ulla after the last rehearsal. Ready to go broadway!)
Sofia Bogdanova about Neuro Athletic Training for Performing Arts
“During my time working with Ulla and her teaching me how to use NAT in order to improve my dancing skills, I realized that everything you have in mind is achievable, even after having some long-term issues. You just have to trust the path you have chosen and let yourself rediscover your body by using your brain properly, which NAT stands for. All the exercises we did helped me so much and improved my dancing in an incredible way. I am very grateful to Ulla for introducing to me this fabulous technique and I will definitely continue with NAT further on.” (Sofia Bogdanova)
Special thanks goes to:
- Picture 1 titel: Courtsey of FJK Dance. Photographer : Jaqlin Medlock.
- Picture 2: Courtsey of Sofia Bogdanova
- Picture 3: Courtsey of Ulla Schmid-Fetzer
- Picture 4: Courtsey of Ulla Schmid-Fetzer
- Picture 5: Courtsey of Sofia Bogdanova
- Picture 6: Courtsey of Sofia Bogdanova