A world-famous centre for classical ballet training, The Royal Ballet School produces generations of performers and choreographers of outstanding quality. Becoming a ballet dancer takes extensive training and dedication (the School’s full-time course lasts eight years), and a fully fledged ballet career doesn’t come without its challenges.
This is why The Royal Ballet School offers the Healthy Dancer Programme, a pioneering approach to classical ballet training that places students’ health at the heart of this training. The School believes that by educating and empowering young dancers to take responsibility for their well-being, when students begin careers in the ballet world, they will have the essential knowledge and tools to thrive as strong, healthy, resilient performers.
Let’s explore The Royal Ballet School’s Healthy Dancer Programme and its thorough approach to student healthcare.
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The Healthy Dancer Programme supports dancers throughout their time at The Royal Ballet School, starting as soon as they enter White Lodge, at age 11, to their final year in Upper School, at age 19.
Students throughout The Royal Ballet School undergo termly profiling and screening exercises to compile research data. The School uses this data to develop conditioning programmes tailored to each young dancer’s training. Staff make daily records of students’ health, from training load and hydration to hours of sleep per night and anxiety levels. This data informs individual profiles that students can access through the School’s wellness app.
This research, drawn from the entire student body, is essential both to The Royal Ballet School’s artistic programme and to approaches to training across the larger dance community. Using Smartabase, a research database, allows The Royal Ballet School (but also The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet) access to this research and its valuable insights so they can support young dancers.
Further seeking to optimise support for students, the School partners with institutions like Queen Mary University of London and St Mary’s University, Twickenham, to push the boundaries of dance research in the sports sciences. The School also produces additional research for the Healthy Dancer Programme through its resident Sports Science PhD.
The Importance of Physical and Mental Well-Being
A team of 20 professionals manages the Healthy Dancer Programme and works closely with the School’s artistic team to offer a fully integrated approach to healthcare. The healthcare manager, physiotherapists, rehabilitation ballet instructors, performance nutritionists, sports physicians, Pilates instructors, school nurses, and strength and conditioning coaches monitor and tend to students’ physical health.
The School also recognises mental well-being as a crucial aspect of each student’s holistic health and, as such, the Healthy Dancer Programme’s team includes experts who pay special attention to dancers’ psychological health. A clinical psychologist, who acts as the mental health and safeguarding lead, oversees the School’s mental health provisions. Meanwhile, School counsellors work to protect students’ emotional well-being, with an emphasis on performance psychology.
While investing in the long-term physical, emotional, and mental health of each student, ongoing research and onsite healthcare support ensure the Healthy Dancer Programme contributes to the enhancement of performance.
Performance psychology refers to the study of psychological factors that influence performance. The School’s counsellors, who specialise in this area, provide invaluable support for young dancers, who face ballet careers that are increasingly demanding, intensified by factors such as spectator expectation and growing competition for roles.
The team’s ongoing research and medical insight inform the School’s System of Training, a style taught to all Royal Ballet School full-time and Associate students. Taking its guiding principles from the School’s founder, Dame Ninette de Valois, the System of Training has since evolved under successive Artistic Directors and the latest scientific research.
Another key aspect of the Healthy Dancer Programme is to provide students with the best possible nutrition advice. The School’s unprecedented nutrition-focused partnership with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) ensures that students maintain healthy diets that fuel their training and development as young dancers.
Alongside an EIS nutritionist, who works twice weekly with the School’s catering team and students, the partnership has allowed The Royal Ballet School greater access to the EIS network of nutritionists and wider working groups. This means that staff and students can explore nutrition and physical and mental health topics, such as menstrual dysfunction and disordered eating, in depth. These are issues that pervade aesthetic art forms and the wider sporting industry, and the School believes in addressing these topics to educate and protect students.
As an advanced healthcare programme, the Healthy Dancer Programme has an annual cost of just over £3,325 per student, approximately 10% of the yearly cost of a student’s education with The Royal Ballet School.
As these students pursue world-class vocational training and, one day, ballet careers, The Royal Ballet School hopes that the Healthy Dancer Programme will underpin students’ holistic training, allowing them to achieve their artistic potential without sacrificing their physical, mental, or emotional well-being.
The Royal Ballet School is a registered charity. While the School receives funding for the Healthy Dancer Programme from several generous individuals and trusts, it must continually raise considerable sums each year to offer full-time training to students. The School believes that no potential student should feel discouraged from applying to its training programme due to a lack of financial means and considers admissions based entirely on a candidate’s talent and artistic merit. Financial support is available to those who would otherwise find themselves unable to commit to full-time training.
About The Royal Ballet School and Its State-of-the-Art Facilities
Since its founding in 1926, The Royal Ballet School’s ongoing mission has been to nurture and train exceptional young dancers for futures with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and other pre-eminent dance companies across the world. The School combines a carefully structured eight-year dance course, a broad academic curriculum, and the Healthy Dancer Programme to ensure students thrive and grow as young dancers during their education.
Starting full-time training from the age of 11, students enjoy comprehensive training in classical ballet and other dance styles, including contemporary, character, and English folk dance, to broaden their understanding of the art form. Young dancers live and train in The Royal Ballet School’s state-of-the-art facilities, which are split across two main sites: White Lodge in Richmond Park, catering to students aged 11 to 16, and Upper School in Covent Garden, for students aged 16 to 19.
White Lodge recently saw a £22 million redevelopment that involved two new dance studios and the extension of a third, a new dining hall, accommodation for 126 students, and extensive refurbishment of the 300-year-old building. White Lodge now offers six studios in total, and students enjoy access to an indoor, heated swimming pool; football pitch; tennis and netball courts; and a common room packed with games and entertainment.
Meanwhile, a bridge connects Upper School to The Royal Ballet in Covent Garden. Upper School’s site offers six air-conditioned studios, a healthcare suite with a gym and a dedicated physiotherapy treatment space, a Pilates studio, a student common room, and an education suite with classrooms and an art studio.