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Scientists Join Riverdance To Investigate Extreme Demands Of Elite Dance

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Scientists have launched a pioneering study with the cast of Riverdance to examine the demands of elite-level live dancing.

The investigation, led by the University of Chichester, aims to understand the physiological exertion of professional dance to help enhance training and prolong the careers of performers. Researchers from the first-of-its-kind study are measuring the physical efforts of the famed Irish production’s full cast during its UK-wide tour, which is part of its 25-year anniversary.

Investigation lead Edel Quin, who established the dance science degrees at the University of Chichester, was herself a Riverdance performer in the 1990s.

She said: “It is vitally important that we understand the intense physiological demands of elite dance performance, not just for the cast of Riverdance but for the dance profession as a whole. By doing so, we can use research to help dancers perform better for longer and reduce injuries that may be caused by ineffective preparation or poor recovery strategies.

“This approach has become standard with professional athletes, but not with professional dancers, with one study reporting that 80 per cent of dancers get injured in any 12-month period, with fatigue and overwork cited as the main culprits.”

Researchers on the study are fitting heartrate monitors to the Riverdance cast to capture their cardiovascular responses across the two-hour live show, specifically focusing on performances at the beginning of the tour, at regular intervals, and during its finale.

The University of Chichester team will use the data to objectively measure the demands of the performance and observe changes in heart rate response across the tour.

Ms Quin added: “This is the first time that anyone has investigated physiological demands of a full dance cast during live performances in a commercial tour. Riverdance is renowned for the intense physical demands required of its dancers, so is ideally suited to our investigation. On a personal level, it is very special to be back working with company in this research capacity, having previously toured with company as a lead and troupe dancer 25 years ago.”

The findings will be used to build specific training programmes to develop the fitness of the performers and promote effective recovery strategies, in an effort to optimise performance and to prevent injuries before they occur instead of focusing on rehabilitation.

Academics hope to also provide unique insights into the demands of professional dance performance to inform the wider dance sector.

Riverdance executive producer and director Padraic Moyles said: “Our hope is that this research will help educate our performers in prolonging their careers, sustaining peak performance, and guide us – as a company – how we can improve the dancers professional experience.

“Riverdance are excited and proud to partner with University of Chichester as we endeavor to further our learning in relation to Irish dance. We look forward to learning more about this incredibly unique form of dance and we trust that what we learn will continue to help us grow as a company, as a team and as individuals.”

Riverdance first launched as a two-hour production in 1995 following remarkable success as the interval act of the previous year’s Eurovision song contest. It has since been watched by more than 25million people worldwide, making it one of the most successful productions in the world.

Lead dancer Amy-Mae Dolan said: “We at Riverdance have an unrelenting drive to continue to push boundaries and improve every single day as performers, dancers, athletes, leaders, and team players. To work on this collaborative project is a huge opportunity for us to grow our insight and knowledge on how our bodies react to our high-intensity performance and educate ourselves on how to recover quicker to keep growing and improving every single day.”

The University of Chichester study first began at the start of the Riverdance UK tour in March 2020, but was paused due to the pandemic. It reconvened in August this year, when the company returned to their 25th anniversary, and will continue until December.

Results of the investigation will be published in academic journals in 2022. 

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