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Few professional sports can compare with dance in terms of the demands placed on the body as well as the mind, according to a new study published in the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping.

Although runners may race at close to maximum physical capacity and football players severely stress their lower torsos and joints, "ballet dancers are as vulnerable as athletes because ballet is a very pressure-packed activity with a tremendous amount of competition," says Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychology professor and lead author of the study, which was published in October. "Ballet is physically grueling and the fact that other dancers are competing with [the dancers] adds to the physical stress," says Smith. "They often perform hurt, and are afraid someone will take their place. The level of precision required is comparable to that of an Olympic gymnast."

Dancers do not stop dancing with most injuries. Moreover, injuries commonly occur in the lower body, and basic, everyday activities such as walking do not allow for a period of rest. One of a dancer's biggest fears is being sidelined. Even though one week off may seem like forever to a dancer, that amount of rest may be all that is needed to recover from certain injuries (see the October issue of Dance Magazine, "Work Your Body," and Dr. Linda Hamilton's monthly column, "Advice for Dancers").

Smith, together with J.T. Ptacek, a psychology professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth Patterson, a retired ballet dancer, studied forty-six dancers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet company in Seattle, Washington. Using questionnaires, the researchers found an injury rate of 61 percent over an eight-month performance period, which is comparable to rates found in studies of athletes in hard-contact sports such as football and wrestling. Injuries were defined as "restricting participation for at least one day."

The researchers found that stress levels, as well as the effectiveness of social support networks, were predictors of injuries among dancers. In a paper published before this study, researchers found a correlation between high life stress and low social support; a study conducted by Dr. James Garrick in 1993, on injuries among dancers from the San Francisco Ballet, yielded similar findings, Smith says.

The work of Smith and his colleagues suggests that dancers follow any of a number of stress reduction and management programs, including the use of body therapies, which are an amalgam of movement education styles and philosophies that help dancers to identify areas of neuromuscular tenseness. Smith says the study also suggests that promoting positive relationships among dancers, ballet masters and directors just might help lower injury rates as well.

"We have a program that has been used on groups as diverse as businessmen, athletes and students," says Smith. "It teaches coping skills [on] how to ... reduce stress," and, thus, for dancers, the potential to minimize the number of days lost due to injury.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Berardi, Gigi
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001

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