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Royal Ballet School physicals.

Entrance to the Lower School of the Royal Ballet School for children between the ages of eleven and sixteen is by audition. The Lower School site is White Lodge in Surrey, where most of the students are boarders. The curriculum, in addition to academic studies, includes technique, character dance, English folk, Scottish social and Highland dance, classical Greek, Dalcroze eurhythmics, and drama.

For graduates of White Lodge, students from other British schools, and many from abroad, entrance to the non-residential Upper School of RBS in London is also by audition. Curriculum, in addition to academic subjects, includes technique, charater dance, pas de deux, contemporary dance. Benesh notation, singing, drama, stage makeup, and choreography. Grants and fee assistance are available in both schools.

The Royal Ballet School's annual performances every summer conceal heartbreak behind the smiles because so few graduates can be taken into the Royal Ballet company--only three or four each year.

Minimum height requirements for ballet dancers in Europe are generally 5[feet]4[inches] for women, 5[feet]10[inches] or so for men. That can be a problem, since the Royal Ballet School does not restrict its enrollment according to height; its undersized graduates may have to convince companies to make exceptions because of their talent.

According to Rashna Homji, the school administrator: "We'll train anyone we believe has the right dancerly qualities, whatever their height."

Justin Howse, the orthopedic surgeon who advises the school, explains that a child's eventual height at maturity can be gauged by an Xray of the left wristbone or subdominant wrist. "The Xray gives the skeletal age," Howse says, "which may differ from the child's chronological age. Graphs have been produced of children at various stages of development so that you can work out the probable height of a child within half an inch. However, you can be off up to five inches in a small number of cases, so you can never be absolutely certain.

"In no way could an orthopedic surgeon decide who was likely to be a wonderful dancer," Howse says. "The teachers have already made their selections on the basis of ability to move, musicality, personality--all those considerations. They've weeded out those who can't cope physically. My job is to check for potential problems, whether a dancer might be prone to injury. Questions of aesthetics, such as size, weight, and length of limb, are up to the teachers."

Howse lists possible areas of concern, starting from the top of the body.

NECK AND SHOULDERS: The neck must be flexible and the shoulders mobile. Boys should be able to raise their arms absolutely vertically so that they do not curve the spine when lifting their partners above their heads.

SPINE: The spine should be capable of movement throughout its length, with no stiffness in the lumbar or lower back. Scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine) is not important unless the sideways curve is very pronounced. "Teachers have to watch out for it as adolescent students grow to ensure that the back muscles work equally."

PELVIS: A good external rotation of the leg in the hip socket (turnout) is essential to prevent damage to the knees and ankles or stress fractures in the shins and lumbar spine. Howse measures the degree of rotation by asking the dancer to lie on the back, hips and legs extended over the end of the examination table, and knees bent. He will accept forty-five degrees of external rotation (which would be greater if the hips were in a neutral position). He comments that Americans tend to test turnout with the dancer lying face down. This allows the stomach to drop down onto the examination table, enabling the pelvis to twist slightly as the leg is raised behind the body.

HAMSTRINGS: Hamstrings should be as loose as possible for girls; less so for boys, who need more tensile strength for jumping.

KNEES: Auditioning teachers (and artistic directors) tend to select dancers with swayback legs; an obtrusive knee joint spoils the line of an extended leg. Students with swayback legs have to learn to work with the suporting knee straight, not pushed back to the full extent, since this would allow the knee to lock without actively using the leg muscles.

ACHILLES TENDON: Calf muscles and the Achilles tendon must be flexible enough to permit full dorsiflexion of the foot.

FEET AND ANKLES: Feet and ankles should have sufficient flexibility for the line of the tibia (shinbone) to continue through the pointed foot. Hyperarched feet are a potential source of weakness, especially in pointe work.

TOES: Toes should be straight, not curled under. Big toes must be able to bend at a right angle, to avoid strain on demi-pointe. Howse comments that arthritis in the big toe joint, common in adolescence, is not brought on by dance training; it is, however, a potential cause of injury and would rule out a career in ballet.

Ideally, the metatarsals (toe joints) should be the same length, so that the entire ball of the foot takes the weight of the body. For girls, a second toe longer than the big toe need not be a drawback; a pointe shoe block can be adapted to distribute the weight evenly within the shoe
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Title Annotation:physical requirements for dancers
Author:Parry, Jann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Summer study.
Next Article:Pop goes the music.

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