By Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal
The very quotable quote, “Dancers are the athletes of God”, is often used in the dance community to describe the mix of athleticism and spirituality with which dancers dance. The quote is attributed to Albert Einstein and, although no one seems to be able to pinpoint when, where and in what context Einstein said it, the saying endures and aptly applies to dancers everywhere.
Dancers, however, sometimes do not view themselves as athletes, at least not in the traditional sense, that we view football, basketball or hockey players. However, the same types of overuse injuries that these sports athletes experience are very similar to what dancers experience all the time.
For this new column, Dance Medicine and Science, for Philadelphiadance.org, I felt it fitting to begin with the subject of dancers as athletes because, not only am I passionate about the subject, my research is structured around it. Dancer wellness, or making sure dancers get the care, treatment and training protocols they need, is what drives my interest in dance medicine and science. As an active member of IADMS (International Association of Dance Medicine and Science), I am committed to helping past, current and future generations of dancers to train better and dance longer through research and awareness.
Understanding dancers as athletes begins in the dance studio where dancers train. Whether the ritual dance class begins at the ballet barre, or standing or sitting in the center of the studio, the dancer-athlete subjects their body to countless hours of classes repeating over and over the basic movements that are the foundation of every dancers training. The repetition ultimately creates a strong artist and athlete who performs effortlessly on stage, leaving audiences stunned at the height of jumps, the incredible control of a single relevé or the seemingly inhuman degree of range of motion of a penché which moves effortlessly to a position that dancers call ‘six o’clock’, or a full 180 degree extension of the gesture leg.
This aesthetic, however, is achieved at a price. Dancers suffer from a number of chronic and acute injuries that, if not addressed, can delay progress, lead to compensatory injuries or even end careers. Some common dance injuries include plantar fasciitis, knee hyperextension, medial collateral ligament tear, anterior cruciate ligament tear, snapping hip, low back strain, herniated disc, shoulder impingement, or lateral or medial epicondylitis to name just a few.
Obtaining treatment for these injuries is often a hit-or-miss process for dancers. Larger, more well-funded dance companies can afford to employ an athletic trainer or physiotherapist who treats the dancers. However, dancers coming up through the ranks of smaller, equally outstanding companies, often cannot afford basic health care or, if they can, have a slim pick of medical professionals who truly understand dancers as athletes.
Dancers who go to their general practitioner or even sports medicine doctor are often told to ‘stop dancing’. Whereas athletes with similar injuries, have a host of treatments offered to them that will help keep them on the playing field or, at the very least, get them back there as soon as possible. These treatments can include but are not limited to a comprehensive athletic assessment, basic icing, taping, cross-training techniques to improve range of motion, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, nutritional counseling, contrast baths, and, more importantly, if not an impact injury, an assessment of the biomechanical problem that may have caused the injury in the first place so as to limit the possibility of reoccurrence. Dancers need this very same care and attention!
The good news is, however, that the awareness of the dancer athlete’s needs is growing! Through groups like IADMS and PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association), the unique medical needs of dancer-athletes are becoming a more understood subject in traditional medical circles.
This column will hopefully help dancers in the Philadelphia dance community by providing information, resources, online links, definitions and ultimately promotion of the concept of dancers as athletes, deserving of the very same treatment as sports figures we see every day on fields, courts and in stadiums.
Let’s begin with a few online resources listed below to help dancers on their dancer wellness journey!
Until next time, dance healthy and long, friends!
Co-Director of Dance
Faculty of Biokinetics, Education
and the Campolo College for Graduate and Professional Studies
Eastern University, St. David’s Pa.
Next article will include: The mechanics of a demi plié, recent advances in warm up protocols, why does my hip make that snapping sound?
IADMS (International Association of Dance Medicine and Science): www.iadms.org
PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association): www.artsmed.org
HARKNESS CENTER FOR DANCE INJURIES: Http://hjd.med.nyu.edu/harkness/patients/common-dance-injuries
The Rudolph Nureyev Foundation Medical Website: http://www.nureyev-medical.org/