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Injury prevention: keeping the dancer dancing.

If you are a professional dancer or wish to be one, it is important to be aware of the reality of injury. It is equally important to realize that injuries can often be prevented. If you have never been sidelined by injury, a balanced musculature and awareness of your body can keep you healthy. If you have recovered from injury, the following suggestions may help you avoid a recurrence.

Among the most common injuries in dancers are those caused by overuse. Repetition of movement for extended periods of time places undue stress on the feet, legs, hips, and backs of dancers. Ballet dancers are frequently sidelined by peroneal tendinitis (strained tendons on the outside of the lower leg), an overuse injury, while modern dancers commonly suffer from patellar tendinitis (jumper's knee). An effective way to prevent overuse injuries is to complement your daily dance classes with exercises that strengthen and stretch muscles not developed by your dancing activity.

Excellent exercise programs are offered by fitness centers in most communities or at the local college. These programs should be able to evaluate your weaknesses, help you design an exercise program to correct muscle imbalances, and monitor your progress. A common muscular imbalance in dancers occurs in the legs. Quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) are often stronger than hamstring muscles (back of the thigh), and they should be almost equal in strength. The fitness center staff can show you how to strengthen the hamstrings and to stretch the quadriceps muscles.

Low-impact aerobic activities are also available at these centers; some are specifically tailored for the dancer. These classes minimize the jumping activity and often include specific work for the center body (abdominal muscles). Daily sit-ups will strengthen your abdominal muscles. To protect your back, perform sit-up exercises with knees bent or legs extended upward (see photograph C).

Pilates-based exercises are also excellent for strengthening and stretching. In addition to conditioning, these exercises assist in correcting postural alignment. Exercises are performed on a flat, tablelike carriage called a Reformer; the table of the Reformer slides, and resistance is provided by springs. Many of the exercises are performed while lying flat on the Reformer, which gives support to the back during exercises that call on a full range of movement. Exercises on the Reformer are also performed kneeling, seated, and standing. Other Pilates-based exercises are performed on a mat; almost all muscle groups are used in both programs.

Postural alignment is evaluated by an instructor as the dancer performs the exercises. It is imperative to be trained by a qualified instructor to gain maximum results. To find out about Pilates-based exercise programs in your area, ask your teacher or your local college dance department.


Warm up before class, rehearsal, and performance even if you have already taken a class that day. Remember that the body has to be prepared for each activity. [See "Warming Up to Dance," January 1994, page 92.]

Cool down after each class, rehearsal, and performance. This is an important part of dance that has not been practiced sufficiently. [See "Cool-Down," August 1994, page 44.]

Be aware of your moving postural alignment. Many dancers who have acceptable postural placement at the barre or in the ritual exercises performed at the beginning of dance class lose their alignment once the exercises begin to move across the floor. This weakens the basic support of the body. Ask your teacher to help you with your alignment. A detailed discussion about alignment is offered in the book, Inside Ballet Technique, by Valerie Grieg.

Be as careful about your posture while walking and standing as you are when you are dancing. Avoid the "dancer's walk" in everyday gait. This walk is typified by turned-out feet, underslung (tucked under) hips, slumped shoulders, and a forward position of the head.

The way that you carry your dance bag(s) can promote or impede good alignment. Use a backpack if possible. If you carry more than one bag, evenly distribute them so that they balance each other (photograph A).

Schedule a specific time during the day to perform strengthening or stretching exercises. These kinds of movements need to be performed three or four times a week and are best performed when you can concentrate on the movement without interruption. Warm up slightly before the activities.

Certain exercises provide relief for areas of the body that have minor aches. For example, exercises using a stretch board can help eliminate pain in the front of the lower leg (shin). Many studios now have stretch boards available or you can use a book or other non-flexible material as is shown in the photograph. Standing on the board continuously for 10 to 20 minutes helps to relieve pain. This is especially useful after considerable jumping or leaping activity (photograph B).

Strengthen the abdominal muscles with daily abdominal curls. The curls should be performed slowly with no jerking. Try not to have your chin on your chest; keep your eyes on the ceiling. Be sure you curl to each side as well as to the front (photograph C).

Be prepared before an injury occurs. Find a qualified orthopedic specialist, chiropractor, podiatrist, physical therapist, or kinesiologist who has a background in dance and who understands the dancer's profession. A health professional who works exclusively with athletes usually does not have the specific knowledge to give complete care to the dancer.

Seek qualified medical advice at the first sign of injury. Too often, dancers avoid health professionals until unbearable pain or loss of function drives them to seek medical help.

Do not work through pain. Pain is the body's natural response to a problem. Pain informs the body to be aware of the problem. Take immediate steps to remedy pain with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) until medical advice is sought. A quick response to pain can often prevent later problems.

After injury, do not return to dance until rehabilitation is complete, even if the injury seems trivial. A complete recovery lessens the chances of reinjury.

Avoid nondance jobs that involve standing and walking for long hours, such as waiting tables.


Berardi, Gigi, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, 1991, Princeton Book Co., Pennington, N.J. ($24.95, paper).

Grieg, Valerie, Inside Ballet Technique: Separating Anatomical Fact From Fiction in the Ballet Class, 1994, Princeton Book Co., Pennington, N.J. ($14.95, paper).


Questions? Write to Dr. Linda Hamilton, Dance Magazine, 33 W. 60 St., New York, NY 10023. It's impossible to answer every letter you send because there are so many, but I do read each one. Thanks for writing! I'll do my best to provide you with useful information about your problems.

Q Should I call you Abby? I really need some advice. I'm a twenty-six-year-old male performer in musical theater. I've been lucky enough to get lead roles based on my voice and appearance, but producers usually want me to dance as well. I've tried moving, but my confidence is zero. Plus, I don't even know the names of the steps. What do you think?

Dazed and Confused

A I think it's time to get some tights. There are adult beginner classes in every type of dancing. If you're consistent, you should improve--even at the age of twenty-six!

Q All the ballerinas I see and read about in Dance Magazine are extremely skinny, almost waiflike. Is this what it takes to be a dancer? My mother says it's not natural, and that those dancers' bodies are stunted from being in ballet so long. Is this true?

Starving Sylph

A The truth is that few people have a "dancer's body," which is much thinner than normal. However, dancing won't stunt your growth--anorexia will! It will also ruin your health, bones, and career. As a result, most professional dancers are either naturally thin or else very careful with their food and exercise. The dancer who becomes anorexic will not be strong enough to perform for long.

Q I've heard rumors that certain exercises develop the wrong muscles for dancers. I use a StairMaster, rowing machine, stationary bike, treadmill, and weights. How else can I build endurance and lose fat?

Katie from Alaska

A Unless you're taking steroids (male hormones), which are dangerous and illegal, you won't bulk up from exercise. However, you can exhaust yourself if you're doing as much as you say. Twenty minutes a day is fine. Forty minutes is enough!

A different problem occurs from muscle imbalances. This can happen during aerobic exercise, as well as in dance. And both can lead to injuries. Fortunately, you can focus on any neglected muscle groups with strength training, which is exercising with weights or resistance. At the same time, you'll replace body fat with lean muscle and rev up your metabolic rate.

Q How can I get information about arts scholarships for college? I plan to major in dance, and a scholarship would be very helpful.

In Need

A The best way to get this information is through the Dance Magazine College Guide. You'll find out about tuition, financial aid, and available scholarships for many different dance programs. Generally, the faculty awards a performance scholarship based on a special audition. Contact each school for further details, and be prepared! To order the College Guide, write to Dance Magazine, 33 W. 60 St., 10th floor, New York, NY 10023. The cost is $15.95 plus $2.50 postage and handling.

Q I've heard about a fairly new career field known as dance therapy. Could you tell me more about it?


A Dance therapy is one of several different approaches that use the arts to treat people with emotional and physical problems. However, it's equally possible to specialize in music, drama, or art therapy. To qualify as a therapist, you must have training in a specific art form (such as dance) and in psychology. This usually involves earning a master's degree after four years of college. Most therapists find work in a hospital or clinic, where salaries range between $20,000 and $40,000. (It's rare to have a private practice.) This form of treatment is not reimbursed by most health insurance. For more information, call the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) at (410) 997-4040.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Dance Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Plastino, Janice Gudde
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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