Dance science research is always looking for ways to help dancers become injured less.
“Why do dancers get injured?”
Science can help, but science doesn’t dance. We can try to make predictions, but predictions are often imprecise.
Predictions don’t prevent, they predict (without precision)
Think of dance is a fragile art, (which one wouldn’t initially see because the artists themselves appear so strong), because it is negatively asymmetrical, in its approach to training (and I don’t mean anatomical asymmetry).
Positive asymmetry: When what you have to gain is disproportionately larger than what you could lose. The gains are unknown and massive, while the failure and loss is small and known.
Negative asymmetry: When what could be lost is disproportionately larger than what could be gained. The potential losses are large and known, but with an equal (or even slightly lower) upside.
What we would rather see is an upside-downside asymmetry: More positive asymmetry. Small, manageable known-losses, and unlimited gain. We learn how to manage and avoid small losses through experience, not through theory and research (as much as I love theory and research!).
Dance and dancers are fragile.
At any moment, everything could be lost (huge, career threatening injuries).
The risks are large and known compared to the potential reward (larger likelihood of becoming injured than “making it big”.)
There is proportionate risk and reward, perhaps even veering to the side of more risk than reward (when you consider the small number of dancers who “make it”). A dancer can go from feeling invincible one day, to bed-ridden the next.
Help a dancer find a way to achieve positively asymmetric payoffs. Reduce the downside and uncertainty, and increase the upside.
But we do not need to coddle dancers. Treat them like precious flowers who need constant protection. Let them lift heavy things. Let them make mistakes. Let them experience small doses of stress and harm. They need to feel the extremes.
This asymmetry is present in the elements; the downside smaller, yet still present, contributing to the existence of the upside. Like fire needing wind to ignite it: No wind, no fire; too much wind, no fire.
Let dancers play with just the right amount of fire. Experience just the right doses of stress and harm to teach them to cope with the downside; to see there is a downside, and learn to reduce it, by playing with it, to allow for a disproportionately larger upside.
“Provide for the worst; the best can take care of itself” ~Yiddish proverb
What research shows us is that previous injury and lack of coping mechanisms are the highest contributors to future injury.
What research can’t show us, is how injury can teach us to cope, can show us the downside, and if we let it, teach us mechanisms to reduce our fragility in these situations: Small exposure to harm, with proper coping, can result in extreme reward.
You cannot learn to cope without small doses of harm to cope with.
Avoidance of risk cannot teach us anything but to dissociate. And fear that previous injury makes us fragile is unnecessary.
What if instead of asking “What causes injury”, we asked “What can we learn from injury?”.
What I’ve learned from injury is written in this blog, and I continue to learn from it everyday, where reading and theories have failed to show me answers.