The Problem With Dancers Today

We have problems

No, not “dancer-problems”, like those mentioned in this moderately humerous video. But rather, the problem WITH dancers.

There are a number of them. And the one thing they all have in common is that they are
self-imposed, avoidable, and have a direct correlation to the staggeringly high rate of injuries associated with the profession. The problems I speak of aren’t just physiological, but also psychological in nature- Both feeding off of each other in a vicious, cyclical fashion. A perpetual-motion machine of sorts, accelerating down a seemingly endless highway, not an obstacle in sight. Endless that is, until the inevitable brick wall. What happens if you ignore the brick wall?

But I recall fondly what my favourite philosophy professor once said, “The best analogy for the thing in question, is the thing itself.” And so I digress.

I am nearly done the initial interview process of my program, and it is really fascinating. I want to thank all my dancers for letting me delve into their psyche. Among one of the most interesting questions for me to ask was why they dance. What kept them motivated, and what in particular they like about it? It is important to note how some of them couldn’t pin point specifically what they liked about it. By the way, every dancer I interviewed reported some kind of repetitive injury, in varying degrees to either their back, knees, ankles, hips or rotator cuff. Or all of the above. It was fascinating to hear why they kept at it, despite constantly sustaining these injuries.

To the general masses of people, and many athletes even, injuries and pain tend to stop them from continuing to do the activities which hurt them, time and time again. At the very least, they alter what they are doing so that it hurts less. This lead to problem #1 with dancers:

They don’t listen to their bodies.

Call it suffering for your art, or whatever you want, but if you don’t listen to the messages your body is sending you, there will come a time, when you won’t have a functional body to create your art with. These messages are actually really easy to interpret: Pain means stop, no pain means go (or rather, proceed with caution). Pain is generally your body telling you to slow down, and stop, because what you’re doing to it feels really bad. If you do not stop, your body will stop you, eventually, and it won’t be pleasant. You will be out of commission for longer than if you had initially listened to your body, and be stuck on the sidelines, watching your peers (which can actually be an excellent learning experience if you let it). Being stuck on the sidelines is damaging for the ego. As Stephanie Hanrahan points out,

“When injured, dancers are expected to watch classes. Although a few found they could learn something while in the role of spectator, no one enjoys the role. Many would rather dance on an injury instead of observe. Additionally there is the underlying stress of others improving and looking good when the individual cannot participate because of illness or injury.”

It is clearly more intelligent to avoid injury in the first place, by not doing stupid things, but many of us must learn the hard way. Such is life, I suppose.

There is obviously a difference between good pain, and bad pain. If you have to stop and consider whether it is a good pain or not, it probably isn’t. I read something interesting on Rusty Moore’s fitness blog, Fitness Black Book. His article was titled: “Are you in shape or do you just have a high pain tolerance?” Having a high pain tolerance certainly can help one to push through a tough performance, class or training session, but if you don’t have a great level of fitness (which we’ve previously established that most dancers don’t) and still push through the pain, the benefits are likely to be limited, or even non-existent verging on harmful.

Their use of imagery is inefficient

Rather than have to consciously apply a visualization to a movement every time you do it, wouldn’t it be nice to just have that feeling automatically, every time? My philosophy for training dancers is not to give suggestions for what kind of imagery you could use during classes, but rather to instill that feeling in the dancer at a very basic lecvel, which they will then bring into class during more complex work.

The first phase of my training program is inspired by Dr. Stuart McGill’s method of training athletes while sparing their backs and other joints. His first phase is named,“grooving motion and motor patterns”, and this is where physiological adaptations are made which not only provide you with the appropriate imagery, but gets it stuck in your system. This trains your muscles to fire automatically, as needed: You won’t have to visualize youself as “ a tree, growing out of the earth” to get on your leg, or “water flowing off of your arms”, to find the proper arm position. This just wasn’t my style, and for many dancers, it doesn’t work.

Instead, a better method is the anatomical education of what specific muscles need to work, and what muscles don’t. Then, train the appropriate muscles to become hyper-responsive. Many people, even dancers, don’t know what it feel like to use the right muscles, and the best way to teach this is through the use of imagery.

It has been found that it is most effective to apply different types of imagery for any given exercise. In a study published in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, it was  determined that using kinesthetic imagery (imagining a feeling) was more useful to improve turn-out during a plie exercise, but using visual imagery, (picturing your body from an external point of view), was more helpful for jumping.  They concluded that,

the success of motor imagery in improving performance may be task-specific. Dancers may benefit from matching imagery modality to technical tasks in order to improve alignment and thereby avoid chronic injury”.

In fact, many dancers I interviewed told me they did indeed use a mixture of internal and external imagery.

Once one has this proper “feeling”, the muscles can then be made stronger. If the muscles you need to be “on your leg” (aka, the hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals, working in harmony) are strong and hyper-reactive, then they will react, and strongly, when you need them. Makes sense, no? The less you have to think about what your body is doing, the more room there will be for you to blossom artistically by focusing on what really matters- Your emotional expression. Think less, feel more. Isn’t that what art is about?

Another study conducted by the Auckland University Sports and Medicine department found that using kinesthetic imagery was more effective for motor control that visual imagery, or rather: Focusing on what it felt like to use your body was more effective in activating the right muscles than was visualizing what it should look like. My interpretation of this is that because though many of us know what certain positions should look like, we often don’t have a clear and distinct image of what our own bodies will look like doing that very thing. I believe many dance teachers would agree that it is more effective to find your own unique “feel” for a movement. This way we not only activate the appropriate muscles with more strength, but we also don’t get that awkward “trying to dance like someone we’re not” look. An intangible, but very difficult to hide, quality of movement.

Appropriately applied kinesthetic imagery allows the dancer to simply dance as the best versions of themselves without comparison or judgement. Once the appropriate imagery in ingrained in the dancer, then I believe that visual imagery can be used as a supplement, such as in jumps.  To jump higher, is a visualization that is universal, which is likely why the study found visual imagery helped the dancers during jumping exercises.

But enough about imagery, I could say more, so perhaps a whole post should be devoted to the subject instead. On to dancer problem #3:

They have weak arms

When I told my physiotherapist that I could do chin ups, he said “And you call yourself a dancer? You should be ashamed”. Obviously he was joking, but it just points to the fact that people don’t associate dancers with having arm strength. But why shouldn’t they have strong arms?

The thing is, dance, by definition, allows for an unlimited range of movements. Often times, in modern choreography, dancers need to propel themselves with the use of their arms, or lift each other. Gender lines are crossing, and it is not uncommon for a female dancer to lift a male dancer. In actual fact, dancers need strong arms, because the possibilities in choreography are endless!

Maybe today, the current piece you’re working on does not require you to lift anyone, but next week, your choreographer might ask you to balance on one arm, to perform a dive-roll and land by absorbing the shock of impact with your arms,  Maybe you’ll have to lift another dancer over your head. What happens if you aren’t ready for these challenges? You get injured.

A recent study by the Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing Laboratory, and the Performing Arts Medicine Program, at George Mason University, showed that dancers could benefit from strengthening their arms to reduce risk of injury due to the potential high upper-body demands of modern dance choreography:

“…Our preliminary work suggests that modern dance alone may not produce upper-body muscle endurance gains. Hence, it is suggested that modern dancers should engage in strength and conditioning training programs to enhance upper-body endurance.”

No kidding.

They may be susceptible to having weaker bones

Because dancers are often inside, dancing in the studio, and not outside, frolicking in the sunshine (sigh), they may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency when compared to other athletes with similar work-loads. Lack of vitamin D could potentially increase one’s susceptibility to illness. Vitamin D has been shown to boost the immune system, and taking too much time off to rest because of illness, may cause your technical progression to stall. Not to mention, if you come to class sick, you’re at a higher likelihood of injuring yourself in your weakened state.

One also needs vitamin D to properly absorb the calcium necessary for strong bones. Now, because we’ve already established that dancers are relatively unfit in general, they may not have bones as strong as they should when compared with the high volume work-load they take on. Supplementing with vitamin D and adding strength-training to their routine ensures they won’t break any (or at least not too many) bones prematurely.

In a recent study done by the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State, it was shown that more than half of highly-trained young male ballet dancers presented with low levels of vitamin D in winter. However further investigations were stated as necessary to determine if this could negatively impact bone growth and place them at higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries.

Vitamin D also has been shown to promote a general “good feeling”- Which all dancers could use a little more of every now and again.

They don’t warm up.

Need I list the benefits, or rather, the necessity, of performing a proper warm-up? I get tired of repeating myself, but, not warming up properly, or neglecting it completely, is a huge contributor to the elevated dancer-injury rate.

Here is the warm-up I did on the day I sustained my acute hamstring strain:

1)      Rubbed some Tiger Balm on hamstring.

2)      Stretched hamstring for about 30 seconds.

3)      Sat in center splits for a couple minutes.

Ready for class!!

Can you see the problem there? I have since reformed my ways. Stretching does not a proper warm-up, make! Instead, do some jumping jacks, or do your own mini-barre. Then maybe some self myofascial release to any particularly painful areas with a hard rubber ball, or a foam roller (just get a lacrosse ball from Canadian Tire for four bucks).  Do some dynamic stretches that move you through a sub-maximal range of motion. Roll around on the floor a bit. Hold plank, for a minute or two. Do some push ups. SITTING IN YOUR SPLITS IS NOT A WARM-UP! Do not weaken the muscles you will be needing in class by lengthening them right before you need to use them. But you all knew that, right?

They have postural issues that they are generally unaware of

I was always under the impression that, because I was a dancer, naturally I must have excellent posture. That is, until it was pointed out to me just how bad it really was.

My shoulders used to round forward excessively, my head was about an inch forward of where it should be, putting excess pressure on my spine (they say that even having your head forward an inch of where it should be, is like adding the weight of an extra head). My pelvis was tilted forward, and I walked with my toes pointing out. All these things combined with a heavy volume of work puts a great deal of stress on places that aren’t designed to handle it. It is no wonder I had chronic back pain for years, which later cumulated to three consecutive back injuries, chronic knee pain, ankle pain, biceps femoris tendonitis, leading to a second degree hamstring strain, followed by ischial bursitis in my left hip. I could probably list more. I’m pretty sure I strained my groin a few times, but it’s hard to keep track. The point is, they all could have been avoided had I corrected my muscular imbalances, fixed my “normal person” posture, and thus improving my “dancer posture”.

It was shown, in a recent study comparing the postural stability of injured dancers and non-dancers, that although the injured dancers received ballet training, their postural stability may still be inferior to that of the non-dancers.

They take pride in walking with turn out and being hyper-mobile

Not only does walking with your toes pointing out put excess stress on your knees, hips and ankles, but it looks really weird. I spend a lot of time people-watching (if you don’t, you should try it, especially in Toronto. It’s really interesting), and one thing I’ve observed is this: The only people who walk with excessive turn-out are dancers, and people who aren’t all together in the head. Seriously.

Could I be alluding something to the mental state of dancers? Perhaps… But mostly, I just want for you to not have knee, hip, lower back and ankle pain.

In a study done by the Wales Centre for Podiatric Studies, a link was found between the number of injuries, and the degree of turn-out with which the dancer tended to walk:

“A significant relationship was noted between the Foot Posture Index and angle of turnout, and between the number of reported injuries and change in foot posture in the angle of turnout”.

Dancers are also oddly proud of having hyper-mobile joints. Strange how we’re so proud of the things that cause us so much harm. I’m starting to believe dancers really do have something inherently wrong with their ontology…

Hyper-mobility does not make you dance better. It only makes you better at getting into high risk positions, from which you don’t have the strength to return. 

When your joints are more mobile than they are strong, and I’m talking about the HUGE discrepancy most dancers have, it puts the ligaments and tendons at high risk of injury. Dancers often sit on the sidelines stretching, but too few actually take the time to strengthen. My theory is because it takes more actual “work” to strengthen a muscle than it does for the already-flexible dancer to flop into a split. People just don’t like to do the things that are good for them, that is, until they realize how good it can feel when they do. Which is why I didn’t eat vegetables until I was 19. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But again, I digress.

But Why?

I joke about dancers being stupid, but really, we aren’t. Dancers have to be extremely intelligent to do what they do. So is the madness really about making sacrifices for the sake of art? 

I think the problem is, that dance, from the beginning, was all about control. In the courts, where dance became highly popular among royalty, they had to maintain a certain control and poise. I can imagine King Louis probably had a lot of problems himself, and he pretty well invented ballet as we know it today. Interesting foreshadowing…

As dance progressed and pointe shoes were invented, dancers had to display their control and poise, despite wearing ridiculously designed shoes (for some reason deemed aesthetically pleasing) and while withstanding enormous pain. It has since been ingrained in our souls, that we as dancers mustn’t show pain, but rather hide it. Dance is painful, therefore pain is beautiful, so pain and dance must go together. We mustn’t ask for help. If something is too hard, we don’t say no, we do it and if we get hurt, so be it, we’ll keep dancing because we are in control. Are we though?

It goes back to the question of “why do you dance?” Why haven’t you quit despite the criticism, the injuries, the feelings of inadequacy, the hard, hard work, for hours a day.

This is what my dancers told me: They said they dance because they want to express themselves. They love to move. Nothing can stop them from doing it because the feeling of expression through movement is unrivaled.

So why then, if you love to move, do you do things that will ensure you won’t have a functional body to move with about 20 years from now? And if you love to express yourself physically, why do you damage the very vehicle for your expression?

And do you know what the answer was to that question? Recognition. Praise. Feeling accomplished. Having your hard work acknowledged. Dancers are highly critical, and though they are good at putting on a show of confidence, all they really want, or rather need, is someone to tell them they’re good enough. I’m starting to be really convinced that if dancers are willing to put their bodies through hell and back, just to be acknowledged, there must be something very wrong with us all in the head.

I firmly believe that the arts are the only thing that can simultaneously keep you young, yet mature you beyond your years. The arts take immense intelligence, but require foolish risk.

What you should take from this article, is not that I am criticizing dancers for wanting to be good at what they do, but I am criticizing the lengths they take, and their questionable methods to get the praise they want so badly. I’ve been there, but I’ve since discovered that it is better to be kind to your body.

Stay strong, dancers.

 

P.S. To read Rusty’s blog post on fitness vs. pain tolerance:

http://fitnessblackbook.com/interval-training/are-you-in-good-shape-or-do-you-just-have-a-high-pain-tolerance/
References:

Ambegaonkar, J., Caswell, S., Winchester, J., Caswell, A., & Andre, M. (2012). Upper-body muscular endurance in female university-level modern dancers: a pilot study. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 3-7.

Cimelli, S., & Curran , S. (2012). Influence of turnout on foot posture and its relationship to overuse musculoskeletal injury in professional contemporary dancers: a preliminary investigation. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 25-33.

Ducher, G., Kukuljan, S., Hill, B., Garnham, A., Nowson, C., Kimlin , M., & Cook, J. (2011). Vitamin d status and musculoskeletal health in adolescent male ballet dancers a pilot study. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 99-107.

Giron, E., McIsaac, T., & Nilsen, D. (2012). Effects of kinesthetic versus visual imagery practice on two technical dance movements: a pilot study. Journal of Dance Medecine and Science, 36-38.

Hanrahan, Stephanie J. (1996) Dancers’ perceptions of psychological skills 9-10, 19-27

Lin, C., Lee, I., Liao, J., Wu, H., & Su, F. (2011). Comparison of postural stability between injured and uninjured ballet dancers. American Journal of Sports Medecine, 1324-31.

Stinear, C., Byblow, W., & Steyvers, M. (2006). Kinesthetic, but not visual, motor imagery modulates corticomotor excitability. Experimental Brain Research, 157-164.

 

Dance Fitness: No, I’m Not Talking About “Zumba”

Dance Fitness: No, I’m Not Talking About “Zumba”

 

The topic for today is dance fitness, whatever that is…

“Although a topic of continual debate, more recent research has since indicated that a fitter dancer is a better dancer”

 

Maybe Zumba is fun-times, but I doubt that the dancing and “toning” (yes, Zumba claims to tone muscles…) involved in one of said classes are sufficient conditioning for the level of fitness a dancer requires.

What is a “fit” dancer? Aren’t all dancers “fit”? I mean, we move our arms and legs and jump around a lot, so that makes us pretty fit, right?

Though we are artists, dancers require athleticism and extreme technical proficiency. So why should we even question whether a dancer is “fit” or not? The sad fact is that many dancers are relatively unfit when compared to the extreme demands imposed upon their bodies.

“Studies have shown that performing dance in itself elicits only limited stimuli for positive fitness adaptations; professional dancers often demonstrate fitness values similar to those obtained from healthy sedentary individuals of comparable age.” (Rafferty, 2010)

I repeat, in case any of you didn’t catch that last sentence: Professional dancers often demonstrate fitness values similar to those obtained from healthy sedentary individuals of comparable age”.

Damn.

Kind of mind boggling, when you think about it. Dancers can pull off seemingly unnatural feats of strength, flexibility and endurance, and yet they can be considered to have poor fitness levels? Geeeez…

On top of, or perhaps contributing to, this sorry state of fitness, is the prevalence of other fitness-dampening habits, common  among dancers, such as smoking, disordered eating, insufficient rest, inadequate sleep, and not warming up properly. This leads to a whole slew of negative connotations: An extremely high injury rate being one of them. In fact, according to Wyon, “The result is an injury rate that is not replicated in the most strenuous of full contact sports.”

Combine crap fitness with constant fatigue and overwork, repetitive movements, new or difficult choreography, and a demanding rehearsal schedule… It’s no wonder dancers have difficulty retaining their fitness- They’re constantly recovering from injuries.

Before I get too ahead of myself, what does “fitness” actually mean?

Let’s start by defining fitness. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fitness has been defined as…

1. The state or condition of being fit; suitability or appropriateness. 2. Good health or physical condition, especially as the result of exercise and proper nutrition.

Let’s treat the dancer as  a “regular” athlete, who undeniably requires optimal functionality in EVERY aspect listed below, as stated by the International Association of Dance Medical Science (IADMS):

  • Aerobic fitness – associated with moderate, longer-term levels of activity.
  • Anaerobic fitness – associated with high intensity, maximal, short bursts of activity.
  • Muscle endurance – the ability of a muscle to produce continuous movement.
  • Strength – the ability of a muscle to produce a maximal force on one occasion.
  • Power – the explosive (speed-related) aspect of strength.
  • Flexibilitythe range of motion at a joint in association with the pliability of a muscle.
  • Neuromuscular coordination – associated with balance, agility, coordination and skill.
  • Body composition – the make-up of body weight by percentage of muscle and fat
  • Rest – a period of no activity, to allow for recovery and regeneration.

Makes sense that a dancer needs these things, right?

A big one is rest, which is often not thought of as a component of fitness. Unfortunately without sufficient rest, the body will not able to adapt positively to the physiological stresses placed upon it, leading to chronic injury.

How often do you push through periods of high intensity rehearsals and classes, for up to 5 or more hours a day, for weeks at a time, without ever considering if you’re resting enough?

Have you ever had a dance related knee, ankle, or low back injury?

Do you give yourself permission to rest if you are injured? Or do you push through it, with questionably high doses of tylenol.

If you answered “yes” to all 3 of the above, then something needs to change.

“While technique classes focus on neuro-muscular coordination, the length of a traditional class may not be adequate to meet all of the dancer’s conditioning needs. The amount of space available, the numbers of students, and the time required for teaching and correcting also have an impact on work rate… Therefore, conditioning work over and above daily technique class has been recommended. (Rafferty, 2010)

Think of the last modern dance performance you went to see (if you’re into that). Likely, you were blown away by the sheer physicality and strength of the dancers. Doest this kind of strength come from simply attending technique classes 3 or 4 times per week? You most certainly cannot.

Technique and teaching styles are undergoing metamorphosis, and modern choreography is pushing the dancer into new realms of physical articulation and stamina. It is now an expectation, or at least a recommendation, in the professional arena that dancers be fit enough to cope with the increased physiological demands.” (Rafferty, 2010)

I recall fondly what one of my ballet instructors at Ryerson said, time and time again: “This is the 21st century; dance like 21st century dancers!” What is a 21st century dancer? Strong, powerful, quick, agile, flexible… So why are so many dancers afraid of picking up a weight in fear it will destroy their flexibility, their “dancer look”, and somehow work against them in a variety of ways?

“The role of strength training in dance has frequently been misunderstood. There are still concerns in the dance world that increased muscle strength will negatively affect flexibility and aesthetic appearance. However, research has demonstrated that supplemental strength training can lead to better dancing and reduced occurrences of dance injuries, without interfering with key artistic and aesthetic requirements”. (Irvine, Redding & Rafferty, 2011)

Through my own experience with strength training, the above rings true, 100%. When I finally saw the light, I couldn’t believe how long I had been living in darkness. In every other sport, it is common sense that simply training more won’t cut it: The athlete needs to be conditioned in specific ways that will assist his performance. Why would the same not be true with dance?

Stimulating the growth of a bit of extra muscle on a dancer will not impact his/her performance.  Strength training doesn’t mean body-building.

Imagine the peace of mind that comes with not having to control every movement, to not have to work so hard to stay on balance, to have your alignment become automatic. When you don’t have to think so much about what your alignment’s like, and trying to control every movement, you can focus more on the artistry, and really start to grow as true dancer, rather than just go through the movements of dancing.

To ignore the physiological needs in the training of today’s dancers is to deny development of the art form. (Rafferty, 2010)

Research suggests that first improving your functionality as a “real” person, and later incorporating dance specific training, is the best option, as most modern dancers are plagued with a slew of muscular imbalances from the stresses of 21st century living- sleeping in awkward positions, carrying ridiculously large over-the-shoulder bags (men too, now), wearing high heels (yes, men too…), sitting in cars and at the computer for hours with poor posture, the list goes on, and on. Any of these postural dysfunctions you have in what I call “real life”, you WILL carry into your dance classes, to no positive return.

With my dancers at DTP, this is exactly the approach I take: get them moving exceptionally as real people first, and the improvements in dance technique will come shortly after.

In fact, because of a dancer’s superior neuromuscular connection and proprioceptive skills (or “body awareness”, in layman’s terms), they are the perfect candidates to perform strength training! They already have an excellent ability to recruit a large quantity of muscle fibers at once, which allows them to build strength fast. This perhaps explains why dancers, who are supposedly “unfit”, can perform difficult technical feats: Their minds are disciplined enough, that if their muscles physically aren’t strong enough, they can simply recruit more muscles fibres to get the job done. Obviously this isn’t optimal, and heightens the risk of injury, which is why training dancers for muscular strength, endurance and power helps them so much.

The mind is, when you consider the former, the dancer’s most important “muscle”. However, when you think of how the dancer’s psychological health is portrayed in the media, you get the impression they’re all insane or neurotic. Psychological health is just as important as physical fitness, and the two have shown to be intimately linked. Studies have shown that when aiming to improve a dancer’s fitness, it helps to employ motivational strategies, like goal setting, monitoring their mood, and perceived confidence level.

There is simply not time in a conventional technique class to address the emotional component of a dancer’s fitness. The lack of individual attention, and focus primarily on problems, rather than goals and solutions, often leaves them with feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth, low motivation to work their hardest in class, and directly affects their physical performance over time, leading to, once again, injury! Can you blame us for being neurotic?

When in performance mode, dancers, unlike most athletes, don’t get the luxury of taking “rest days”, which the former have scheduled into their training programs.  A lack of periodization in dance training is what can perhaps be attributed to the astronomically high rate of dance injuries compared to other elite level athletes. Periodization has the main objective of helping the athlete to reach a high level of performance and “athletic shape” at a given time, and so their training programs are organized in a sequential, progressively challenging manner, allowing them to “peak” just prior to competition or performance, involving a tapering process, just a few days to a week prior to competition day. It is therefore important to provide suggestions for ideal dance preparation using principles of periodization based on current evidence and clinical experience.

A number of studies have found that athletes who trained using periodized models attained levels of performance superior to those who did not.” (Wyon, 2010)

Not only did they perform better, but they had less instance of injury, as their schedule was balanced, increasing in intensity progressively, prevented them from over-training and allowing them to reach their highest level of performance when they needed it most.

So if elite level athletes can benefit from periodized training, and we’ve already established that dancers are athletes who perform at a very high level technically, despite poor levels of fitness, then why is dance training not typically organized in this fashion? Wyon suggests the periodization needs to be integrated into dance training, both at the professional and vocational level:

The advantages that periodization has brought to sports can be easily transferred to dance, with potentially the same benefits to the dancer as a person and to the performance itself.” (Wyon, 2010)

As this article is getting fairly lengthy, I will try to wrap this up by re-ask the initial question: Is the fitter dancer also the better dancer?  Not only is research limited in this realm, but dance is such a subjective art form, that there is no quantifiable way of determining what “better” means. Better doesn’t always mean, more turns, or higher jumps, as there is a certain “je ne sais quoi”, that a dancer can have that just can’t described with numbers.

Think of it this way: A dancer who is able to jump higher, balance longer, and create illusions such as floating does have the advantage of a greater range of tools with which to produce the desired movement quality and choreographic designs. Can a painter do his best work with a broken hand? Doubtful (though who knows what’s good and what’s not in terms of “modern” art). And so can a dancer fail to do her best artistic work with a body functioning at merely sub-par levels.

Dance is a marriage of physicality and artistry, to ignore one or the other is a crime to the art form. An efficient and able body supports greater freedom for artistic expression.

“…Fitness training can support the goals of the dance artist, including movement efficiency, injury prevention, performance excellence, and longevity in the field.” (Irvine, Redding & Rafferty, 2011)

You don’t need to retire at 30!  If you already have, well, there’s not much I can do for you at this point except point out the various things you could have done differently, and strongly recommend that in your next life,  you include some dance specific functional cross-training.

 

References:

Irvine, S., Redding, E., & Rafferty, S. (2011). Dance fitness. In International Association for Dance Medicine and Science

Rafferty, S. (2010). Considerations for Integrating Fitness Into Dance Training. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science

Wyon, M. (2010). Preparing to perform periodization and dance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science