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Advice for dancers.

AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT FORDHAM UNIVERSITY, LINDA HAMILTON, PH.D., IS ALSO A LECTURER, A PSYCHOLOGIST, A FORMER DANCER WITH NEW YORK CITY BALLET, AND AUTHOR OF ADVICE FOR DANCERS (JOSSEY-BASS).

About two years ago I noticed a prominent bump on the inside of my right foot. It hurt when I did certain steps, so my mom took me to a specialist who said that I had an extra bone in my foot. He left me three options: wait and see if it fuses to my other bones, get cortisone shots, or have surgery. I am trying to got a lot of people's opinions, so please help me make my decision.

Carly From Council Bluffs, Iowa

It's great that you're taking such an active approach to your treatment. Injured dancers who are involved in their recovery generally feel less depressed when they're sidelined. It may help to get a second medical opinion from another doctor before you decide on an appropriate treatment plan. Meanwhile, I'll share what I've learned about your problem from experts in the field of dance medicine.

According to orthopedists, there are twenty-six bones in the foot. Up to 14 percent of the general population has an extra (or accessory) bone, the most common of which is the tarsal navicular (which is in the arch). This problem makes the foot appear flatter than it is in reality. It may also be painful, as you've discovered. Conservative treatment ranges from arch supports to a walking boot or cast worn for four to six weeks to promote fusion. Many cases will fuse spontaneously. I'm told that cortisone shots are rarely an option for young dancers; however, if you continue to experience pain, surgery can help. Still, it can take anywhere from three to six months to ease back into a normal routine. To handle the emotional stress associated with being injured, stay close to support services, such as physical therapy, and try to develop interests outside of dance.

I'm a former ballet dancer who prided myself on being in shape. Then I got pregnant and retired from dance. Ws been eight years since I did any kind of serious exercise. But last month I finally hired a trainer at my local gym. I can't tell you how fantastic I feel to be using my muscles again. I only wish that I had started sooner.

Maria From New York City

It's never too late to exercise! In fact, you can build muscle mass, speed up your metabolism, and relieve stress at any age just by working out several times a week. The hard part is getting back into a regular exercise program after a prolonged break. Exercising with another person will increase your motivation to stay in shape. Former dancers should also set reasonable weekly goals rather than going overboard on exercise and quitting when they become overwhelmed. To get maximum results, include both weight training and aerobic exercise in your routine. You might even consider dance class.

I try to keep up on nutrition by reading your column and various articles on dancers' food intake. My question is: How do you keep up your energy when dancing from morning till night?

Serious Dancer

I'm glad you asked! Adequate nutrition helps dancers' performance, boosts their metabolism, and decreases the urge to binge. How much food do dancers need? According to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS), a 19-year-old dancer who weighs 110 pounds needs approximately 1,900 calories a day to perform at her peak. This amount, which should be spread out over the day, includes three meals and an afternoon snack. To discover your caloric needs, convert your body weight to kilograms (divide pounds by 2.2) and multiply this amount by the appropriate number for your age group (11-14 years, 47 kcal per kg; 19-24 years, 38 kcal per kg; 25-50 years, 36 kcal per kg). These guidelines will vary to some degree depending on other factors, such as the intensity of your workout schedule.

I am a 31-year-old female who weighs 226 pounds, and I've been taking ballot for four months. The two jobs I work require a lot of standing. Because of this, I have tremendous aches and pains in my feet, knees, ankles, and lower back. There have been some mornings where I can hardly walk. I really do love to dance. What can I do to protect myself (other than lose weight) before any real damage occurs?

Dance Lover

I'm always in favor of dancers accepting their natural body types rather than trying to change their genetic set point for weight. The problem, in your case, is that excessive weight may lead to arthritis in the lower extremities, particularly if you're doing strenuous physical exercise, such as ballet. Should you lose weight? The answer depends on you and your doctor. Overweight dancers who do ballet are much more likely to suffer from overuse injuries that compromise their future health.

I remember reading in your column that dancers never feel that they're good enough. Is this why I'm always beating myself up? I love dance and want to feel good about what I do.

It's true that most dancers are perfectionists. If they weren't, why would they repeat the same steps over and over again? At the same time, it's important to recognize what you've accomplished during your training. I often ask dancers to keep a diary of what they've achieved at the end of the day. Instead of focusing on your deficits, note everything that you did right at the end of the day. The reality is that no one works harder than a dancer. Isn't it time for us to give ourselves some credit?

Send your questions to: Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., at 2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023 and read her answers exclusively in Dance Magazine.
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Author:Hamilton, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Words:977
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