The dancers of The Australian Ballet are fortunate to have the support of a dedicated medical team, one of whom is Body Conditioning Specialist Paula Baird Colt. Paula was a dancer with the company before moving into the area of dancers’ health, so she combines an extensive knowledge of classical ballet technique with an acute understanding of the body as it moves in space. We chat to Paula in the lead-up to the Bodywise workshops in Melbourne at the end of July.
You have a fancy title – what exactly does a Body Conditioning Specialist do?
The term specialist reflects the area I work with – which is dance and dancers. I use many movement exercises to assist our dancers to maintain and improve their bodies for optimal health and dancing form.
How does being a former dancer assist you day-to-day?
I use dance term and language, observe dance steps, technique and repertoire, and aim to support the dancers’ goals, so it helps with daily communication.
Having danced in the Company, I often reflect on the environment the dancers work in, the demands of repertoire and the lifestyle required to be a dancer in our national company today. It was a large part of my working life – 18 years – so it’s wonderful to be able to call on some of the skills gathered in that time to assist in finding movement solutions that support dancers’ health and respect their artistic goals.
Do you see all of the dancers each week or does it depend on injuries and individual dancers’ needs?
We have developed a culture of early reporting of musculoskeletal problems and the dancers are very proactive in their self care. Coming to seeing me for some exercises for a physical niggle is quite common. They can also be referred by the Physiotherapist and the Ballet Coach for a specific reason.
Each dancer requires a different amount of conditioning support. How much I see them is something that depends on their rehearsal schedule and available time, and of course their individual needs. Some dancers I see every day or week, others when they are injured, some for an intense group of sessions for a specific goal. The dancers have access to 25 hours of conditioning sessions each week and these sessions are rarely empty. I am part of an in-house team and am on site in a fully equipped conditioning space so this helps with regular access and communication.
What are the benefits of doing movement exercises and how do these differ from other types of exercises such as the Pilates method?
I work closely with our Physiotherapists, and many of the exercises that are prescribed to the dancers have evolved out of our team approach and the understanding of the dancers’ needs, and are aimed at preventing common dance injuries. The daily ballet class is the primary conditioning tool for dancers, so in my role you need to understand and work with it as a movement method. I also enjoy working back from dance steps, deconstructing them to find movement solutions for an individual dancer.
The Pilates Method has been used by dancers as a conditioning tool for a long time. Pilates is only one method of many available to dancers; it does however lend itself to modifications and variations and the principles of the method work well with dance.
What can participants in the Bodywise workshop expect to learn?
I encourage everyone to seek and discover their body’s wisdom. Spend time listening and being present in your body – it is a sensory experience.
A limited number of places are still available for the Bodywise workshops for dancers and movement teachers on Sunday 24 July at The Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre studios in Melbourne. Book today!