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Choosing the right mind-body therapy. (Health And Fitness For Life).

IF YOU'RE A DANCER, CHANCES ARE you're training more than your body these days. The mind-body connection is the basis for many conditioning and therapeutic techniques, and there's something for everyone--but the choices can be confusing. They range from active therapies, where the dancer is led in a movement form (Pilates, Body-Mind Centering, Alexander Technique, or Zena Rommett Floor-Barre Technique) to the passive forms, where a bodyworker treats a dancer by using physical touch (Myofascial Release, The Trager Approach, and Cranio-Sacral Therapy).

As a dance physical therapist and Pilates trainer, I'm often asked which therapy approach is best. While a "magic bullet," all-purpose therapy doesn't exist, some guidelines can help you to choose which one is best for you today.

Your physical needs will vary throughout your dance career. Rarely have I met a dancer who never had a career crisis, so plan ahead: Learn about therapeutic techniques and find bodyworkers you trust before that eleventh-hour emergency hits.

Increasingly, academies and dance studios are exposing young students to body therapies earlier in their dancing lives. Some have annual physical therapy screenings for dancers. Your dance studio might be a good place to get recommendations for the right class or bodyworker for you.

But first, take some time to think about what you want from the therapy. Is it flexibility? Or is your body type the loose-ligamented "noodle" that needs muscle toning? At what stage are you in your career? If you're starting out, you may want slower, dance-direct training. More experienced dancers may want to vary their physical experience in order to prevent overuse injuries such as tendinitis. Do you need guidance working through or recovering from an injury?

Once you've defined your goal, think about the practicalities. Do you need individual attention, or can you experiment and be a part of a class? Generally, starting in a class is best. That way you can see the movement style of the therapy form and the teaching style of the instructor. Does the instructor observe carefully and give individual corrections? Do the participants move with control and are they able to follow the instructor's directions? Will the instructors let you be a dancer, modifying the technique to suit your needs, or would they prefer a full commitment to their movement form? Also, be sure to ask permission to observe before joining in.

How full is your dance schedule? The more hours you dance, the more you may need "other hands" to help you out. For instance, passive therapies such as Myofascial Release and Trager can relieve an overworked summer-intensive student or Nutcracker dancer.

KNOWING WHICH THERAPIES IMITATE your dance form can help you in your focus. Pilates and Floor-Barre tend to concentrate on direct toning and conditioning for dancers. However, consider where you are in your dance training.

Former San Francisco Ballet dancer and Pilates trainer Sara Sessions says it is very important that injured elite ballet dancers choose body-therapy movements that do not strictly imitate dance movements. In this way, they can open up their movement vocabulary to form a new movement strategy and break the cycle of chronic injury. She also advocates an environment where advanced dancers feel safe to fail as they experiment with new ways to move. Former San Francisco Ballet soloist Kathleen Mitchell, now an SFB School instructor, favors the cross-training of Swiss-ball and swimming. In this way, other motor patterns and muscle groups can give a balancing effect and ward off injuries.

One benefit applies to all the mind and body therapies, whether active or passive: A stillness, quietness, or rhythmicity helps create a flow, a centering effect, and a sense of calm. This helps dancers by countering the effects of the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, or even the overstimulation caused by a long academic year or performance season.

Mind-body therapy experience can enhance your internal focus, optimizing your physical expression and healing potential. Movement guidance and the hands of others can help you not only work through a physical problem but also lead you down a path of self-discovery. The body follows where the mind leads.

Suzanne Martin maintains a private practice in physical therapy and Pilates, is the lead physical therapist for Smuin Ballets/SF, and conducts nutrition seminars at the San Francisco Ballet School.
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Author:Martin, Suzanne
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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