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Advice for dancers.

I'VE BEEN DANCING ON AND OFF FOR YEARS, MOST RECENTLY AS A JAZZ DANCE TEACHER. YET EVER SINCE I CAN REMEMBER, I'VE ALWAYS HAD A PROBLEM WITH MY HAMSTRINGS TIGHTENING UP AFTER CLASS. I AM SO INCREDIBLY SORE BY THE NEXT DAY THAT I CAN BARELY STRETCH, LET ALONE DANCE. HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS?--ANGEL TOTH, COLUMBUS, OH The trick is to get a correct diagnosis, especially if you keep struggling with the same problem. While some dancers are simply less flexible, tight hamstrings can also be a sign of an underlying back problem. A prior stress fracture can cause a vertebra in the spine to slip (the medical term for this problem is spondylolisthesis), tightening your hamstrings in the process. It would be a good idea, if you have a history of back pain, to see an orthopedist. A more likely scenario, however, is that you're just plain tight. Fortunately, a regular stretching program from a physical therapist can do wonders, along with taking Pilates two or three times a week and yoga, particularly positions that involve forward bending. But, please, see a therapist first, since a yoga class before you've stretched your hamstrings can hurt your back. A dance school or an orthopedist should be able to refer you to a physical therapist for an initial consultation. Many health plans require a doctor's prescription for ongoing P.T.

IS IT NORMAL TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING RE-INJURED IF I RETURN TO PERFORMING? THREE MONTHS AGO I SPRAINED MY ANKLE AFTER LANDING INCORRECTLY FROM A JUMP. I'M SCARED THAT IF I DANCE ANYTHING TOO DEMANDING, MY ANKLE COULD ROLL OVER AGAIN. AM I BEING PARANOID?--LAUREN, TORONTO, CANADA Absolutely not! Coming back from a serious injury is tough. A major injury puts you out of commission for a minimum of foul weeks. Ankle injuries are especially problematic. In addition to being the most common injury in dance (as well as sports), they require extensive rehab to regain sufficient strength, speed, and coordination to prevent another sprain. Many dancers learn this the hard way after suffering multiple ankle problems. You have your eyes wide open. Make sure you have adequately rehabilitated yourself--find a physical therapist to assess you. Some dance companies, such as New York City Ballet, routinely employ pre-season screenings to spot problems like weak ankles so they can be corrected. The medical team also suggests specific exercises to guard against additional injuries, along with an individualized training program at the gym. Speak to your director about easing back into your former roles. You'll also need to listen to your body and pace yourself if you feel tired or weak. Confidence will come as you slowly learn to trust your body again.

NOW THAT I'VE RETIRED FROM BALLET, I OFTEN LOOK BACK AT MY CAREER AND WONDER IF DANCE OR ANY OTHER PERFORMING ART BECOMES ESCAPISM FROM THE REALITY OF ONE'S LIFE. CERTAINLY, DANCING WAS ALL-CONSUMING WHEN I WAS A PERFORMER. IS THIS HEALTHY, OR DOES ONE PAY A PRICE?--D.L., NEW YORK, NY It's true that artists immerse themselves in their work--often at the expense of other interests and pursuits. Yet, I don't believe that this is because we have an overwhelming need to escape reality. Instead, according to Dr. Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983), each of us has eight different kinds of natural abilities to varying degrees. These predispositions affect how we express ourselves and interact with our environment. Not surprisingly, dancers excel in the kinesthetic realm. The budding dancer is drawn to movement from an early age. It feels like dancing is a part of who we are as people. The challenge is to find something equally fulfilling after our dancing careers are over.

While dancers are multitalented, leaving this profession often unleashes a mix of raw and sometimes contradictory emotions, especially if you've been pushed out due to factors outside your control, such as age, injury, or the economy. Mourning this loss takes time. Organizations such as Career Transition for Dancers offer eligible dancers services including grants, seminars, career counseling, support groups, and a national toll-free hotline (800.581.2833). Dancers can check out their web site (www.careertransition.org) or visit their offices in New York City (212.764.0172) and Los Angeles (323.549.6660). Another first-rate resource is The Five O'Clock Club, which provides career counseling at an affordable price (212.286.4500; 800.538.6645; www.fiveoclockclub.com). Also, see the "Career Transitions" supplement in our September issue. Many performers tell me that nothing will ever replace their love of dancing. Yet you can still keep dance a part of your life by taking class or focusing your new career in the field, as I did.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., at 2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023. Order her book for $13.90 at www.Dance Distributors.com (800.33.DANCE).

Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a lecturer, a psychologist in private practice, and the author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She has been offering advice to DANCE MAGAZINE leaders since 1992.
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Author:Hamilton, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:863
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