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.