The different types of Energy in Dance? Explanations and Examples!


It’s impossible to move our bodies without exerting some kind of force. Energy is a force and in dance, you will find both physical and mental energy exertion is important in creating movement. The physical type of energy is what we are most familiar with because it can visually be seen and easily described in dance for example when someone jumps or leaps from a standing position. The mental type of energy is more difficult to see but professional dancers especially know how important it is. Mental energy helps dancers perform better on competition day, to focus or at any time they need to push themselves harder than before!

Energy in dance can be physical or mental. Physical energy in dance refers to the force, effort, and dynamic applied to movement. It is mainly found in the forms of kinetic, static, potential, and/or elastic energy. Mental energy refers to a dancer’s state of mind which can also affect the effort and dynamic applied to movement.

When discussing specifically the energy of movement you will find a plethora of information especially in the area of sports science about the mechanics of movement energy. But as dance is more than mere movement and why we call it an art rather than a sport, this article discusses not only physical energy but also the mental energy it takes to make the art of dance so beautiful and captivating.

So to begin with let’s look at what energy in dance is and the main types of energy found specifically in relation to movement.

WHAT IS ENERGY IN DANCE?

Energy is a broad term, but it can be used in dance to describe the physical and mental energy that gives rise to movement. Energy is what brings dance to life because to move and thus dance, you need energy. It’s the element that powers a dancer’s grace and fluidity, as well as providing the leverage needed to make leaps and jumps. A lack of physical strength, emotional distress, or mental power can adversely affect the energy output of a dancer and can change the overall aesthetic and performance of dance.

Another way of looking at energy in dance is the level of intensity with which a dancer attacks whatever choreography they are given. This energy flows from the dancers as a form of their commitment and confidence in not only their own skills but is also a testament to their ability to believe in the role they are playing or the choreography they are given to master.

Another quality of energy in dance is literally about the level of effort put into every step. Is the dancer going full out and giving it their all, are they just marking through the steps with the music, are they holding back perhaps because they are not feeling well or trying to not aggravate an injury or are they just being lazy?

Energy also refers to the spirit behind a performance or dance for example that moment when you feel invincible on stage or even in the studio! Or those moments when a dancer feels like they just can’t get anything right.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN TYPES OF ENERGY FOUND IN DANCE?

There are five main types of energy that we find in movement and they include kinetic, static, potential, elastic and mental energy.

WHAT IS KINETIC ENERGY IN DANCE?

In order for a person or thing to have any movement, they must have kinetic energy. It is the force that propels an object or person into motion. In dance, we use this type of energy to move our limbs to different areas in space and to get our bodies from one place to another. Kinetic energy is essential in dance as it not only moves us but also provides momentum.

Modern Dance Jump Man

I found the fact that you can actually use an algorithm to measure kinetic energy fascinating so I thought I would put something a little more scientific in here to help you understand the physics behind kinetic energy.

The physics of kinetic energy:

Kinetic Energy = ½ Mass x Velocity Squared

Mass – is another word for the weight of an object or the amount of force gravity exerts on objects.

Velocity – is how fast an object or person moves

The faster one’s velocity, the more kinetic energy they have. The more mass one has, the greater their kinetic energy. Since everything in our world is made of atoms which are tiny objects with mass and given the opportunity for velocity, every object on Earth has some amount of kinetic energy associated to it!

WHAT IS STATIC ENERGY IN DANCE?

Static energy is all about balance. It’s what makes a dancer seem so still to the audience and also helps dancers maintain their center of gravity in order to stay balanced on pointe shoes, high heels or even without any shoes at all!

Static energy is the balance of body parts and muscles. It is basically the ability to keep still and or isolate certain parts of the body and keep them static and unmoving. The dancer’s body uses static energy and opposing pulling and pushing forces to be able to do this. An example could be a ballerina keeping their legs optimally turned out and unmoving whilst completing a port de bra with their arms.

It’s important to differentiate between kinetic and static energies in dance because they utilize different forces and have completely opposite goals! Static energy is about using your muscles to maintain a pose, while kinetic energy is about using them to move and create or release this balance.

The more static and kinetic energies you use in dance, the more complicated your movement will be! Ballet requires a lot of static energy because it’s all about maintaining positions from which many other shapes emerge; jazz dancers are more likely to utilize both types of energy in their movement.

WHAT IS POTENTIAL ENERGY IN DANCE?

Potential energy is the element of energy that lies dormant or “in reserve” within the dancer and their body. It can be seen as being stored up like a battery, waiting for an opportunity to release its full power when called upon. There are different types of potential energy;

  • Gravitational – which we often take advantage of by jumping.
  • Elastic – when you bend and stretch like a spring or stretch.
  • Chemical – energy stored from the food we eat
  • Electrical – elements stored in our bodies like sodium and magnesium, have a specific electrical charge. Almost all of our cells can use these charged elements called ions to generate electricity and energy!
  • Latent Kinetic – such as the potential to use the knees as springs, or the calves and ankles to rise also known as potential elastic energy.

In dance potential energy is lying in wait in a dancer’s muscles and bodies. It is in their availability of stored fuel, muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and even in the flexibility of their bodies. They store their own forms of potential energy until triggered into action!

WHAT IS ELASTIC ENERGY IN DANCE?

Elastic energy in dance is actually a form of potential energy as listed above. But because of how much dancers rely on this form of stored energy many classify and write about it as a seperate form to potential energy.

Elasticity is the energy stored in bodies by bending and stretching then releasing muscles to send them back into place. There are countless types of elastic energies and it can be characterized by the stretch and shortening cycle similar to a spring: from the jumpers bend before they leap, to the dancers who extend their limbs through leaps or jumps. One can think of elasticity as potential action waiting for energy expenditure!

WHAT IS INERTIA AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT DANCE ENERGY?

Inertia is the force of movement on an object such as the body to continue its motion. If an object was affected by inertia and had no means to be stopped by other forces such as gravity, friction or kinetic energy it would continue on its path of trajectory without stopping. In other words, a body in motion wants to stay that way unless we use energy or react to forces such as gravity and friction to stop it. When a dancer leaps the force of their leap will carry them through the air, the gravity of course will pull them down but if the force at which they have thrown themselves into the air is too great for them to control, inertia will undeniably keep them traveling further or in a direction, they may never have intended.

Split Leap out of control

When it comes to dance, gravity is a huge factor of course, but so is inertia! When you leap into the air during jazz or ballet and land on the ball of your foot with bent knees (a la “the grand jetes”) inertia will continue to catapult you forward which might be great if you are wanting to continue with your leaps, but if you are wanting to stop or go in a different direction, or if you are out of alignment or have lost your spotting in turns, for example, inertia can become a dancer’s least favorite friend.

Inertia is even more important to consider when you are in contact with a partner. In ballet, for example, if one person’s foot makes a mistake and travels too far beyond the other dancer’s feet or the center point of their position, inertia will keep them continuing beyond where they should be and can cause the dancers to collide or for an important lift not to occur.

So although not a form of energy inertia as well as gravity affects the output of energy and specifically kinetic energy and therefore is an important element to consider when analyzing the energy in dance.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PHYSICAL ENERGY?

A dancer is always training to improve their physical energy. With each class, they build their strength and stamina but are there other things a dancer can do to improve their physical energy?

The following is a list of things you can try to build your physical stamina and energy:

  1. Eat nutritious food to fuel you body
  2. Take up strength training with weights.
  3. Do cardio fitness, whether it be running, swimming or Zumba, do something other than dance to cross-train and build your stamina.
  4. Stretch regularly
  5. Get enough sleep for your body to repair and refuel
  6. Do yoga or pilates as an alternative to strength training
  7. Get a massage to soothe sore and tense muscles
  8. Use a foam roller before class to warm up and get the blood moving through your limbs.
  9. Improve your mental strength and energy!

MENTAL ENERGY IN DANCE

In many scholarly books and articles about dance, energy is spoken mainly within the physical realm relating to movement- as a quality or dynamic of dance. But dance is more than mere movement and in this day and age where the whole dancer is of concern, energy in dance should also apply to mental energy or the mental powers available to a dancer on any given day. When we look at energy from a mental point of view as well as the physical, it opens up the conversation and definitions of not only what energy is in dance, but also how different physical, mental and emotional energy affects the performance of and audiences view of dance.

If a dancer is tired, they can feel sluggish or as though they are dancing through thick mud. If it’s been a long day, or a dancer is mentally stressed or worried especially about a dance-related subject this can make them feel heavy like lead with worry and it can affect their energy or lack of it when dancing, causing them to fall behind the beat or to constantly not nail that double pirouette. Instead of looking effortless, they make the choreography look difficult and it can be uncomfortable for audience members to watch as well.

On the other hand if a dancer is bringing clarity of thought, a good attitude and a growth mindset to their dancing their energy is noticeably more upbeat. Dancing looks like fun or like it is effortless and the viewer is more comfortable watching the dancer as well because they sense the energy coming from the dancer is positive, confident and determined.

VIBRATIONAL MENTAL ENERGY (YOUR VIBE)

The energy contained in dance can be thought of as rhythms, vibrations and pulses within the space around us. The simplest way to understand how these elements interact with each other is through thinking about how the ripples of water between two stones dropped closely together interact and affect each other. This same principle applies to dancers in a dance class or on stage. I went to a performance of a local dance company recently and I would call what I witnessed to be first night jitters – pirouettes were being fallen out of all over the place, a dancer slipped and fell on the stage, there was hesitation behind the smiles on the dancers – all except one, the principal dancer of the piece who was able to harness her own energy and block out everyone elses. I could tell she had years of performing experience and was what I would call a true professional.

Therefore another interesting aspect of mental energy is how the state of one persons mental output can affect the mental energy of the other dancers around them. Their energy can also be affected by the vibrational energy or vibes being released by other dancers around them as well. If other dancers are feeling stressed or tense, these feelings of uneasiness can be transferred to other dancers who then begin to emit a similar energy – like the saying goes – you could cut the tension in the air with a knife!

Before a show if the lead dancer is showing a weakened mental state, letting their nerves get to them or letting them show on stage, this tension seems to have a way of permeating the minds of other dancers nearby who then also start to become anxious or feel that something is not quite insynch or right during the performance. In some cases the audience may be none the wiser if the performance is one that has been burned into the muscle memory of the dancers who move on impulse, just leaving the dancers with the sense that it wasn’t their best. Where as at other times, mistakes or falls or other mishaps can alert an audience that something isn’t quite right thus transferring this feeling of stress, anxiousness and uncomforatbleness to them too!

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL ENERGY?

An important thing to note is that just like you can improve your physical energy you can also improve and train your mental energy. Using affirmations, breathing skills, meditations, visualizations and developing a growth and positive mindset, in general, can assist the dancer to notice when their mental energy is low and to be able to reframe and reset or rest if needed to improve their mental output.

The following is a list of things you can try to build your mental stamina and energy:

  1. Meditate
  2. Use Affirmations
  3. Rest
  4. Stretching
  5. Sleep
  6. Nutrition
  7. Dance or move your body for fun instead of training
  8. Walking in nature to stimulate the brain and body.
  9. Practice visualization for rehearsals, performances, etc. (mentally running through steps or practicing mental imagery)
  10. Yoga or Pilates
  11. Breathing exercises
  12. Do brain teasers to stimulate and use your brain
  13. read books
  14. Do art and craft to stimulate your brain

LEARN TO HARNESS YOUR DANCE ENERGY!!!

One way of looking at energy in dance is thinking about it as the physical and mental power available to a dancer on any given day. How they feel can affect their output of energy in significant ways. Professional dancers are able to control their energy, harness their own and others when needed, and even block negative energy and stay within their zone. This skill takes practice and experience and is one of the markers that separates the amateur from the professionals!

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