Classical Dance Development Based Biomechanical Analysis and Orthopedics 101

Stephen M. Apatow, Founder, Director of Research and Development, Sports Medicine & Science Institute and International Dancescience Development Program*

* Humanitarian Resource Institute, Humanitarian University Consortium Graduate Studies Center for Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Law.


Classical ballet training represents the most advanced technical movement mechanics training in the world. The mechanical alignment ideal in classical ballet training represents the most stable, functionally integrate relationship of the spine and extremities.  

An understanding of mechanical ideal is crucial for optimum control of the human frame in space, strength, leverage mechanics and economical movement. This foundation established in conjunction with sports specific movement mechanics is the key to successful Olympic development programs.

A correct understanding of the classical ballet mechanical ideal provides the physician, therapist, coach or student a reference point for alignment deviation as it cooresponds to the mechanism of joint stress and injury of the spine and extremities.

According to the Merck Manual of Medical Information for Sports Injuries: "More than 10 million sports injuries are treated each year in the United States."  The seriousness of this problem points to the need for education initiatives which target injury prevention.  

The Mechanical Ideal

Orthopedics Fundamentals 101 encompasses a basic understanding of classical ballet based postural alignment.  

In order to develop precision control of the human frame and center of gravity, the body must be correctly aligned and connected as one unit (bottom of the feet to the top of the head).

To do this, the weight must be placed over the center of the feet (A), with even distribution, connected to facilitate progression to demi-pointe and pointe.

 Incorrect weightbearing on the foot/ankle complex corresponds with numerous injuries including ankle sprains, achilles tendonitis and bone growth patterns (bunions) to accomodate abnormal stresses.

As the legs are bent, the knee caps (center of patella) should track directly over the center of the ankle and foot (A,B).  

If a plumbline drops to the inside of the foot complex, internal rotation of the knee joint is the cause of many developmental challenges that include the most common mechanisms of knee injury (internal rotation) and torsional stresses of the ankle/foot complex .

Hip rotation (C) is the determining factor for the functional turnout, based on correct alignment of the knee, ankle and foot complex. Working outside of the range of motion in the hip complex contributes to significant compensatory torsional shifts in the pelvis and spine which contributes to the mechanism of numerous neurological and lower extremity problems.

The upper and lower extremities are connected by the abdominal and erector muscles of the lower back. Lack of abdominal strength and connection of the erector muscles (controlled lordosis) combined with 
disconnected alignment of the upper extremity contributes to significant stresses in the spine.

The shoulder complex (D) is held back and down with concurrent contracture of the pectoral (chest) and latissimus (upper back) muscles (base of occiput over the head of the humerous that slightly behind the clavicular head). If the shoulder complex is positioned forward (hunched shoulders), cervical/thoracic integrity is comprimised and contributes to 
cervical spine injuries, anterior shoulder injuries (long head of the bicepts tendon) and compensatory shifts of the extremity (arm, wrist and hand complex: contributing to syndromes referred to as tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.). 

The correct alignment of the head and neck (E) is achieved when the base of the skull is aligned over the shoulder complex with contracture of the sterncleidomastoid muscles in the front of the neck. Anterior alignment of the head and hyper lordosis of the cervical spine has been found to contribute to the mechanism of joint stress and in extreme cases discal herniations.

A new international standard for classical ballet development

In an effort to optimize performance and maximize injury prevention, a new international standard is being established that focuses on integration of a classical ballet specific stretch series
, for a minimum of 30 minutes before every classical ballet technique class:

Selected Bibliography

Agrippina Vaganova, Basic Principles of Classical Ballet, Dover, 1969 
Alfred A Knopf, The Classic Ballet, New York, 1984 
Clinics In Sports Medicine, Injuries to Dancers ,Saunders 1983 
Beryl Dunn, Dance! Therapy for Dancers, London, 1994 
Donald F.Featherstone, Dancing Without Danger, 1970 
L.M. Vincent, The Dancers Book of Health, Andrews and McMeel, 1978 
White-Panjabi, Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine, J.B. Lippincott, 1978 
Rosse-Clawson, The Musculo-Skeletal System in Health and Disease, Harper & Row, 1970 
Stanley Hoppenfeld, Physical Examination of the Spine and Extremities, Appleton, 1976 

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