Monthly Archives: April 2015

The “F” Word

Scale

I am writing this issue about a topic we have all struggled with. How do we talk about size? My title refers to the three letter “F” word, “Fat.” This is a challenging topic because most of us (or perhaps all of us) feel unsure about our size at times. If we are unsure about our own bodies, how do we even begin talking about this issue with someone else?

When I think about bodies, I think about health. A healthy body is a balanced body. We need to take in enough fuel and nutrition to get through the day, but not so much that we begin to feel tired and slow. Likewise, we need enough exercise and activity to keep our bodies strong, but not so much that our bodies start getting injured and breaking down.

Nutrition is about balance and performance. Your body needs fuel to make it through the day, and particularly through dance classes and dance rehearsals. Most dancers need to refuel multiple times through the day to keep up with the demands of dancing. The amount of fuel your body needs changes as your dancing schedule fluctuates. For example, you may need to add more healthy snacks during a show week or over an intense summer camp. If your body does not have adequate fuel, it cannot keep up with your dancing.

Likewise, keeping up with your fitness is important in order to keep up in dance class. This is the “F” word I prefer when talking about bodies. Like most things in life, fitness is about balance, which is different for every dancer. Most dancers need to do some sort of cross training, but it is also important not to overdo. Rest and recovery are an important part of any activity. If your fitness is not balanced with recovery, you may be at for risk overuse injuries.

Sometimes dance can be seen as focusing on the external lines or images of our art. While dance is beautiful, it is the internal beauty that matters, not only the external picture. We connect most deeply with dancers who dance from their hearts, not just their muscles. Your body is your tool to express your soul. So you have to tune and tone your body, but, in the end, it is your soul that will ignite the audience.

Choose your words! Words can be very hurtful, whether they are on social media, or said behind someone’s back. Often times, we don’t even think about our words and a simple comment can be taken the wrong way. Most people feel unsure about their size at some point (or many points!), no matter what size they are. Dance teachers and parents should also be careful about their words and avoid comments about dieting, or “feeling fat.”

Finally, ask for help. If you are being teased about your size or weight, let that person know your feelings are hurt. Then, talk to someone you trust about your concerns. If you are concerned about an eating disorder in yourself, or someone else, The Alliance for Eating Disorders is a great resource and is a good place to start.

 

by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.

 

Why Does Technique Matter?

Dance Technique

Sometimes technique can seem a little boring, or maybe even pointless. Why spend more than half a class at barre or warm up before getting to the “interesting” combinations? Why do some studios require ballet technique classes in order to participate in competition, jazz, or other “unrelated” teams/companies? What is the number one way to prevent dance injuries? The answer to all these questions lies in the basics of dance technique and its importance to all dancers.

Technique does not refer to having a “perfect” or 180 – degree turn out. It does not mean that each bâtiment à la seconde grazes your ear. While good technique may lead to these attributes, it is not the goal of good technique. Having good technique involves learning and working with your body’s unique capabilities to maximize your full potential as a dancer.

Turnout is one of the primary areas where technique plays a large role. Each dancer has a certain amount of turnout, and learning to use that turnout appropriately is the key to both longevity and quality of movement. There are many professional dancers who never achieve 180-degrees of turnout, or anywhere near that level, yet lead highly successful dance careers. The most important aspect is working hard to maximize each dancer’s turnout out, but without “cranking” or forcing their turnout beyond their body’s unique anatomical abilities. Most teachers use a “knees over toes” (knees over the 1st and 2nd toe) rule of thumb to ensure their dancers are not over working their turnout. Forcing turnout leads to dance injuries in the foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back, which, in turn, have the potential to shorten a dance career.

Another area of technique is core control. This is not always the term used in dance class, but you’ve heard it in different ways. Dancers are told to “pull up” or “not sink” into their hips. These terms refer to controlling the core, or the area encompassing your hip, stomach, and back muscles. Many dance teachers refer to this as your “center” – and for good reason! This area is the center of your body, your turning focus, and your balancing point. Without strength and control of your core, or center, your dance movements will lose a mature and grounded quality. Additionally, it will be more difficult to perform higher level choreography that requires increased strength. Of course, lack of core strength can also lead to dance injuries and create a longer recovery time from an injury.

Breathing may not inherently seem like an aspect of technique, but working with your breath in dance brings your technique together. Many health practitioners include the breathing muscles with the core. This is because the primary muscles that control your breath are located in your stomach and chest. Once you have pulled up, turned out, stomach and chest in, shoulders down, arms out, head turned, somehow you are now supposed to dance! Breath control can help release some of this tension and allow the muscles to move through the space, rather than gripping or forcing the movement. Dance is a balance between strength and elegance, control and release, power and grace. Learning, controlling, releasing, and using your breath helps bridge these dynamics in your movement.

Dancers who use proper technique will find themselves not only advancing in classes, companies, and roles, but will also decrease their risk of dance injury. As many dancers train with new teachers and studios for summer intensives, it is crucial to remember your technique basics and expand your training horizons. But above all, technique is about giving you the building blocks to enjoy your art form, so work hard and have fun!

 

by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.

The Price of Pointe

The Price of Pointe

I am writing this article at the request of one of my “dance moms.” She mentioned that she did not have a clear idea of everything involved with her daughter starting pointe. Like many dance parents, she learned how to navigate this step in her daughter’s dancing through other parents, teachers, dance stores, and blogs. While all these resources are essential to the dance community, she asked if I could write an article from my experience, while including her insight from a parent perspective. My dance parents are some of the most generous people with sharing their insights, tips, and struggles, so it is with a special thanks to them that I write this article.

[As an aside, I have written this article using “she” to refer to the dancer en pointe with continuing the gender trend that women and girls are frequently placed en pointe, whereas this is not as common for male dancers. However, male dancers do participate in pointe work, as it builds balance and strength, and this article is equally applicable to their pointe process.]

Know before you go

Before you make your shoe fitting appointment, make sure the teacher and/or studio has cleared your daughter to advance en pointe. Each studio/teacher has different requirements for advancement, so just because a dancer was en pointe at one studio, does not necessarily mean she will be placed en pointe at another studio. Additionally, there may be many steps, such as a doctor’s evaluation, prior to your studio allowing her to progress to pointe.

Also, studios have different ideas about specific pointe shoes. Some teachers prefer certain brands, shank hardness, etc. Other teachers have no preference as long as the shoe fits well. Make sure you have asked ahead of time, as some stores will not allow you to return the shoe if the teacher does not approve.

If the shoe fits…

A pointe shoe fitting takes about an hour. This may be longer or shorter depending on the dancer’s foot shape, experience, and strength. A pointe shoe fitting is often made by appointment only, so call the dance store and plan ahead accordingly. Pointe shoes should be re-fitted a minimum of every 6 months while the dancer is still growing and every 2 years after growth has completed.

A pair of pointe shoes typically costs around $60-$100 per pair, not including the ribbons, toe pads, etc. New shoes need to be purchased whenever the old pair has worn out (known as “dead” as in, “Dad, I need new shoes because these are dead!”). The timing on new shoes is entirely dependent on how much she is dancing, the strength of her foot, and how well she cares for her shoes (see below). If she is just starting en pointe, the shoes may last several months since her foot is not as strong yet and she is likely not en pointe for much time. However, as she advances, new pointe shoes will need to be purchased more often. Some professional dancers will require a new pair of shoes for each performance. I cannot stress how important it is to avoid dancing on a dead pair of pointe shoes. Injuries, such as stress fractures, are more common while dancing in an unsupportive shoe, and can take a long time for recovery.

Shoe Care

Now that you have the shoe, how do you care for it? Dancers should be responsible for sewing their own ribbons. It should be the dancer’s expectation that if she is mature enough to be placed en pointe, that she is also ready for the responsibility of sewing her own ribbons. Most dancers sew ribbons on in a square with an “X” through the square to avoid the ribbons fraying, but there are many ways to sew ribbons on. Many dancers either place an anti-fraying material on the end of the ribbon or burn the ends (obviously, with parent supervision) to prevent fraying.

After dancing, it is normal for the feet to sweat and the shoe to become sweaty as well. It is important to allow the shoe to dry completely before wearing again. This will help the shoe last longer and remain strong to support the foot. In the Florida humidity, drying can take longer. Therefore, dancers may have two pairs of the same shoe and alternate pairs between days.

Similarly, pointe shoes should not be left in the Florida heat for any length of time. The Florida heat can wear them out more quickly and cause them to be less supportive, so pay attention to the dance bag being left in the car.

Final Thoughts

Pointe work can be rewarding and fun, but it’s not for every dancer. The price of pointe can be high, and it is important to remember that a dancer can advance her career, including as a professional, without ever going en pointe. Follow your dreams, in whatever shoes (or lack thereof!) you need to get there.

 

by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.

Keeping Up while Sitting Out

Keeping Up While Sitting Out

I often write about injury prevention because my goal is to keep dancers dancing. However, injuries happen and sometimes even the best-prepared dancers get injured. Dancers are trained to dance, not to sit on the sidelines. So when a dancer gets injured, it is natural to feel a little lost. While I hope you’re never in this situation, here are some tips of how to keep up if you have to sit out.

Physically

Even though you are not dancing, now is the best time to address some weakness that may have put you at risk for injury. Assess your other body areas – core (abdominals, back muscles, hip muscles), legs, upper body, and ankles. Is everything as strong as it possibly can be? This is also a time to focus on your whole body strength. Some dance teachers will let you do your cross training or physical therapy exercises on the side during class, but you have to ask each teacher.

Mentally

Having an injury and being out of dance can take its toll on your mood. It is normal to feel left out, sad, or down when you have an injury. Many dancers worry they will be left behind with class or technique. They worry they may not get large roles, or may not be moved up a level. These worries are generally just that – worries. Most dancers get back to dancing at their same level, or higher, after an injury. Staying positive can be hard, but it is key. Keeping a good attitude helps healing and can help you return earlier and stronger. Focus on this time as a rebuilding period where you are becoming stronger and taking the time to improve your technique. Then, you will be back stronger than before.

Staying involved

For many dancers, their lives are at the studio. Being out of dancing does not necessarily mean being out of the studio. Each dancer is different, but many dancers need time in the studio to keep up with the choreography, technique, and friends. Every studio and teacher has different rules; so make sure to ask permission before trying out any suggestions. Some dancers video or film rehearsals so they can learn the choreography later. There are teachers who include sideline dancers in assistive teaching, but not every class works well with this method. If you are not able to attend your studio, take the time to read about dance history or watch historical dances or dancers.

Observation

Journaling or answering questions about a class can help you improve your own technique in new ways. It may not be appropriate to share the answers, but the most important part of the exercise is improving your dance and artistry. Here are some suggestions:

  • Write 3 corrections you would make if you were the teacher. How would those apply to you and your dancing?
  • Write 3 positives the dancers should continue doing well. What are things you are doing well for your dancing and your health from the sidelines?
  • Choose one dancer and watch her/him. What do you see? Make sure you are looking critically for both positives and areas for improvement.
  • Who in this class inspires you? Why?
  • Listen to the music playing. How does this influence the dancers? Comment about musicality.
  • What do you see in this class that you are planning to apply to yourself in future classes?

 

Even if you are not sitting out of class for an injury, these are tips that can improve your dancing and your artistry. Dance happy, dance healthy!

 

by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.

Dance Injury Prevention

Dance Injury Prevention

As a dance medicine specialist, I have treated many dance injuries in Seattle, New York City, and Florida. I have recently moved to Boynton Beach to treat dancers in South Florida and to be one of the company physicians for Miami City Ballet. Preventing serious dance injuries is important to keeping your body ready to meet the demands of your art. Some injuries happen quickly, but most dance injuries have been happening over a longer period of time and are overuse injuries. Therefore, preventing these injuries cannot happen overnight. It is about taking care of your body so it will take care of you in return.

What goes in the body. Nutrition is important in injury prevention. Dancers spend long hours at the studio. Eating calories wherever we can doesn’t always add up. Your energy balance is crucial in keeping healthy and injury free. You burn a lot of calories in your dance training and you need to replace those with good nutrition. Getting out of balance can result in injury to your bones and muscles, not to mention making it harder and taking longer to come back from an injury. Also, not having enough calories can negatively impact your dancing and artistry. Some quick, healthy foods to throw in your dance bag are nuts, dried fruit, and vegetable sticks.

Cross training. Even though you spend many hours a day in dance class; you can still have weakness in some muscles. You need to train like you perform for dance specific physical conditioning. However, core strengthening is also very important to protecting your body from injury and for improving your dancing. Try planks, bridges, and even some push-ups for your cross training. Some teachers add conditioning exercises between barre and center. Many dancers add these exercises to their warm up. Also, dance class does not necessarily build aerobic fitness, cardiovascular health, or endurance. In order to improve their performances, dancers often add swimming or elliptical work outs to build their endurance.

The “R” word. “Rest” can sound like a dirty word to dancers. However, your body needs time to recuperate from the demands of an intensive dance schedule. Sometimes the body is just not ready to keep up with the demands of an intensive dance schedule. Saying “no” to some activities might be necessary to keep you healthy and dancing longer. Dropping a class or reexamining the schedule can help prevent fatigue, burnout, and injury. While these choices may be difficult, it can keep you dancing healthier for longer, which is the ultimate goal. Dancing is supposed to be fun!

Warm up. Get your blood and body moving. Sometimes this means walking around in the studio or doing some gentle jumps or leg swings. Start slowly and gently and give yourself appropriate time for warm up before class, rehearsal, performances, and auditions. Some dancers need stretching in their warm up, but others need more strengthening. If you are naturally very flexible, you may not need extra stretching in your warm up. Once you are a little warmer, active stretching, like battements and lunges, can be helpful. Additionally, make sure to warm up your plié (starting in demi-plié), and feet (rolling through the feet and progressing towards gentle small jumps).

Technique. Proper technique is essential to prevent dance injuries. Of course, using proper technique also helps advance your dancing. Sometimes dancers feel they are in a class that is too easy for them and they want to be promoted. If this happens, focus on perfecting your technique. Dancers can learn from any teacher in any class, so make the most of whichever class you are in. If you do have a dance injury, reexamining your technique and focusing on improving it can also bring you back stronger from your injury. Dance is about discovering how your body fits with movement. Your body is unique and is not like anyone else’s, so focus on your own body and your strengths instead of comparing your dancing (especially turnout or extension) to someone else.

Injuries happen. Dance is demanding and even if you do everything possible, you may still get injured. If that happens, be sure to take care of the injury. There are some aches and pains that you can keep dancing through, but a real injury needs to be discussed with a health provider who understands dance or sports injuries. A good rule of thumb is any injury where you cannot participate in dance class, or you have to modify a lot of class, should probably be seen by a health care provider. This doesn’t always mean you have to stop dancing, but you do need to make a rehabilitation plan with your dance medicine specialist. An untreated injury can become a chronic problem and can prevent you from dancing to your full potential and even lead to further injury. Make sure you are giving your body the best opportunity to keep you dancing for your entire life. Dance healthy, dance happy!

 

by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.