British ballet should adopt psychological performance techniques used by the country's sporting elite to help find the new generation of Darcey Bussells.
Up-to-date training could help Britain to overcome the dearth of home-grown stars in its main companies where Russians, eastern Europeans, Spaniards and Cubans have taken many of the best jobs in recent years, insiders said.
An international conference in Switzerland of 32 ballet leaders from 12 countries was convened this week by British dance administrators because of concerns about training and inadequate collaboration between dance schools and the ballet companies.
One of the key presentations was a paper by Misha Botting, a sports psychologist, and Madeleine Grealy, a psychology lecturer, suggesting that, to develop and shine, ballet dancers needed the individual training programmes already common in sport. Some countries, including Australia, have already incorporated performance psychology into their training curriculum for young ballerinas.
But Mr Botting, a Russian dancer who performed with Scottish Ballet before studying with David Collins, now the performance director for UK athletics, said Britain was lagging in using the most up-to-date methods. Schools focused on technical, physical and artistic issues but neglected the mental training designed to develop the necessary resilience and determination to succeed.
Determination is particularly vital in the MTV-generation world accustomed to quick results because dancers need up to a decade of training before they have any chance of success. "In Britain, performance psychology is an untapped area, it's completely new," he said at the Royal Opera House, London, yesterday where findings from the conference were announced.
"If we're talking about developing talent it cannot be done with a mass approach through generic classes and generic feedback. Ballet is close to my heart and that's why I want to bring performance psychology to dancers. I reflect on my professional career and can see how a range of psychological skills would be beneficial [to dancers today]."
Sport England is planning talent-development schemes in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, and dance should learn from its example, he said.
He believes such thinking could help develop more British stars. With Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope stepping down from full-time dancing this year, the Royal Ballet will only have one British principal, or lead dancer, in Edward Watson.
The Royal Ballet has increasingly looked abroad for its principals, hiring the Cuban Carlos Acosta, Tamara Rojo from Spain, Zenaida Yanovsky from France and Alina Cojocaru from Romania.
Dance UK, the lobbying body for British dance, is in talks with Olympic organisers over whether it might be possible to share facilities such as the proposed medical science centre for athletes, which they regard as exactly the kind of resource dancers also require.
Assis Carreiro, the director of DanceEast who organised the conference, said ballet had much to learn from sports science. But she also admitted that ballet was producing too many dancers. "So many young people are graduating, there aren't enough jobs," she said. "There are a large percentage who don't make it and how do we look after them? We don't want them to go away feeling terrible."Reuse content