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Are dancers as a group healthier than the general population? We have known for years--based on anecdotal evidence--that serious health concerns exist among dancers; but the few studies done with small samples are inadequate. So last winter our staff, drawing on years of first-hand experience, listening, and wondering, composed lists of questions and gave them to Linda Hamilton, a clinical psychologist who treats dancers and writes one of the most popular monthly columns in this magazine. She prepared two questionnaires: One appeared in our April issue that is a shorter version of another mailed to a random sampling of subscribers at the same time.

The results of this study are very important because, for the first time, a variety of topics relating to dancers' health have been surveyed in a large sample reflective of all dancers and consisting of more than 1,300 participants in the two surveys. Those surveyed are either current or former dancers. Ninety-four percent were female, 6 percent male.

The survey was conducted by Mark Clements Research, Inc., a company that has done major magazine surveys for years. Recently, some very early results crossed my desk. I am going to share a few of these with you here, as prepared for me by Dr. Hamilton. This is only a taste of what we are finding, and Dr. Hamilton will write in much greater detail in upcoming issues about the outcome of this extraordinary project, including vital topics not touched on here, such as injuries and diet. But what this preview shows is very positive, and we are eager to share some of these results with you.

Do you exercise other than dance? Seventy-nine percent of our dancers said "yes." Nationwide, however, about 30 percent of average adults are completely sedentary.

Do you drink alcohol? Of the respondents eighteen years and older, 69 percent said "yes" and consume about five drinks per week. The national average is 67.5 percent.

Do you consider yourself to be overweight? Thirty-six percent of our dancers considered themselves to be overweight. Yet dancers who were truly overweight, based on their body mass index, amounted to only 3.6 percent, versus 33.3 percent of the general population. Furthermore, 60 percent of our women and 6 percent of our men were underweight, according to normal standards.

Have you experienced an eating disorder? Seventeen percent of the women and 6 percent of the men said "yes." In the general population, the prevalence rate ranges from 0.5 to 1.0 percent for anorexia nervosa and 1.0 to 3.0 percent for bulimia nervosa, with only 5 to 10 percent of these among men. Have you experienced depression? Twenty-one percent of the women and 28 percent of the men said "yes." The lifetime risk for major depressive disorders in community samples varies from 10 to 15 percent for women and from 5 to 12 percent for men. It is safe to conclude that dancers are at greater risk than the general population in both areas above.

Are you sexually active? Sixty-nine percent of our dancers eighteen years and older said "yes," while the U. S. national statistics indicate that 82.3 percent of all men and women are sexually active. Therefore, 13 percent more people in the general population have sex than do dancers.

How satisfied are you with your body? Twenty-four percent of the women replied "very," 63 percent said "somewhat," and 14 percent said "not at all." Comparing this with a large sample of nondancers, body satisfaction is higher in the general population than among dancers.

AIDS? HIV is thought to affect about 0.6 percent of the general population, while according to our survey 7 percent of the dancers polled tested positive. Early results show that 37 percent of our sample knows personally somebody who has died of AIDS-related illness, while 23 percent have been tested for HIV. There is a much greater concern about and knowledge of AIDS among dancers than in the general population.

Do you smoke? The latest available national statistics show that 25 percent of the general population eighteen years and older smoke--showing a dramatic decrease from 1965 when 42.3 percent smoked. Seventeen percent of the dancers over eighteen smoked, 8 percent below the national average.

Do you use recreational drugs? Nationwide, lifetime experience with illicit drugs for all ages is 37.2 percent, while our dancer sample was 7 percent, or five times lower.

Although our results require additional analysis, there is obviously very good news to report about dancers. This is based on the lower incidence of smoking and use of recreational drugs; dancers' weight being lower than the general (overweight) population may be an advantage, according to recent lab studies that seem to show that lower caloric intake may result in a longer life. Alcohol in moderation may be a good thing too, and we have known for years the value to mental and physical health of regular exercise. However, these advantages should be considered along with the higher incidence of mood and eating problems and of HIV infection. Further exploration of these results is needed, with an eye toward developing programs for prevention and early intervention.

Despite the people who are trying to marginalize the arts and their positive influence on human health and development, we at last have some statistical support for the belief--which many of us have known intuitively for years--that the dance world is a great place to be. And with the help of this study, we can address more effectively dancers' health concerns, their training, and their pursuit of excellence.
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Title Annotation:Kickoff; survey on dancers' health
Author:Philp, Richard
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Previous Article:Judgment on Paris.
Next Article:Heartfelt advice.

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