How do ballroom, ballet, and contemporary dancers differ in their physical characteristics and aerobic fitness?
To answer this question, Liiv et al. (2013) selected 286 male and female ballroom, ballet, and contemporary dancers in their early 20s. The ballet and contemporary dancers were selected from professional companies and the ballroom dancers were in the top 6% of international rankings.
- Ballroom dancers were taller than contemporary dancers, but there were no other height differences evident
- Female but not male ballroom and contemporary dancers had greater body mass (absolute and height adjusted) than ballet dancers
- Female ballet dancers had a lower body fat percentage than dancers in the other two styles, but there were no differences among the groups of male dancers.
- Compared to ballet dancers, male and female ballroom dancers and male contemporary dancers had greater aerobic capacity.
Conclusion and Commentary
Collectively, the data indicated that, on average, ballroom dancers are taller than contemporary dancers, that female ballet dancers have less body mass and body fat than ballroom and contemporary dancers, that body mass for males tends to be consistent across the three styles, and that ballroom and contemporary dancers display greater aerobic power than ballet dancers.
These results provide interesting empirical support for the idea that the typical ballet body type is smaller (height, weight, and body fat) than in other dance styles, but only for female dancers. The explanation for this finding was not examined and would be an interesting topic for future research.
Are dancers with specific body types drawn to a particular discipline or do the training and selection processes have more to do with the body types typically seen in these dance styles? Partnering in ballet often involves lifts that occur less frequently in contemporary dance and not at all in international ballroom. This difference in partnering may be a partial explanation for the presence of smaller physiques among female ballet dancers. Perhaps this also contributes to the physique aesthetic associated with the style.
The finding that ballroom dancers generally had greater aerobic capacity than other dancers is also unsurprising given that, in contrast to the other styles, its principal focus is competition (i.e., DanceSport) rather than performance.
Although all styles of dance emphasize performance quality and athleticism, it’s possible that ballroom training practices have a greater emphasis on athleticism. This may be due to the competitive environment in ballroom dance, in which couples are compared to other couples on the same dance floor, and higher rankings are often given to more athletic couples.
Regarding the greater aerobic capacity of female ballroom dancers, the nature of partnering must be considered. In international ballroom, body contact occurs throughout the dance, which requires female dancers to match their partners’ strides. It’s likely this characteristic of the dance has a meaningful contribution to the development of female dancers’ fitness.
A final note: Given that strength training interventions have been shown to have a desirable influence on aesthetic competence, it will be interesting to see how these dancers’ body types and levels of fitness change in the future. I look forward to emerging research in this area. Your thoughts?
Source: Liiv, H., Wyon, M. A., Jürimäe, T., Saar, M., Mäestu, J., & Jürimäe, J. (2013). Anthropometry, Somatotypes, and Aerobic Power in Ballet, Contemporary Dance, and DanceSport. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 28, 207-211.
Note: The researchers also examined somatotype differences. Interested readers should refer to the original article for details.