Healthy Dancer Canada 2014 Conference Review

Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately, but if you happen to receive emails from me then you already know that I’M IN THAILAND, and not putting a priority on writing blog posts. But after a week of travelling I feel a bit in writing withdrawal, so I want to take a few moments to review the Healthy Dancer Canada annual conference that I spoke at last Sunday in beautiful Vancouver.

For those of you who inquired whether I could get a video/audio recording of my presentation, I regret to inform you that although I did get part of it recorded (camera ran out of film), the audio quality is terrible, just west of useless. If I figure out how, I will attempt to present it online, webinar style or something, though my knowledge of how to do so is limited. And that’s putting it nicely…

So anyway, this post is brought to you from Bangkok, Thailand, where the weather is hot, the streets are smelly, and the ever-present Tuk Tuk drivers will rip you off and take you to buy clothes at the Armani factory, when all you really wanted was to go see the Grand Palace… Ohhh, Bangkok.

So back to the conference. What a great day of talking mad dancer wellness with people who truly care about the future and health of dancers. Because many of you probably weren’t able to make it to Vancouver, please enjoy this brief recap of what you missed:

Do We Wear Dance as a Noun or a Verb? Mental Health Implications of Dancers’ Creative Identies- Chantale Lussier

This was one of my favourite presentations of the day, and was a synopsis of Chantale’s PHD research (for which she also won the HDC research award. GO Chantale).

Chantale, of Elysian Insight– a mental performance consulting company based in Ottawa- spoke about the potential danger of getting too attached to the “I am a dancer” identity. We all love to flaunt the fact that we’re dancers. We walk with our feet pointed out, take every opportunity to show off our flexibility, and wear our buns with pride. This was both a psychological and philosophical discussion of what it means to call yourself a dancer, and why that should matter to you.

Some important points Chantale brought up presentation:

  • “If I don’t dance on Sundays, am I still a dancer that day?”,
  • “If I become injured and can’t dance, who am I?”
  • The difference between saying “I am a dancer” and the French way, “Je danse” (I dance). What does it mean to describe yourself using a noun versus a verb, and which is healthier in the long run?
  • The fluid nature of identity and the need for dancers to embrace this for optimal wellness and longevity

Interview With Ballet BC Artist in Residence Dario Dinuzzi- A Dancer’s Perspective on Health and Wellness

It was a nice change to hear things from a dancer’s perspective, which was something we didn’t get at last year’s conference. It’s great and all to hear what the health pros have to say, but it’s arguably more meaningful to hear recanted the first hand experiences in a dancer’s own words. By listening carefully to what dancers are saying, we are better able to help  improve their quality of life and help them do what they do best.

Dario told us about his experiences dealing with injuries, building relationships with choreographers, and what to do when they ask you to perform physical stunts that you know deep down to be unsafe.

I took a video of a portion of his interview, and again, the volume is unfortunately low so if you can open it in another player like VLC to boost the sound maybe you’ll get more out of it. Dario is a really entertaining guy to hear talk, which I’m sure is partly due to his Italian heritage.


The Missing Link in the Foundations of Dance Training: Movement Workshop- Mariah-Jane Thies

This was  a fascinating presentation. I had never heard of Brain Gym prior to Mariah-Janes Thies’ movement workshop. The concepts she presented are one’s that I definitely dig learning more about, and I can see how they would benefit dancers of all levels, especially young ones or dancers who have reached plateaus and need help at the brain level to push through it.

Mariah-Jane spoke about the importance of using a neuro-developmental model to enhance the brain’s function, to make movements more reflexive, rather than have to use a high-threshold, high stress, bracing technique to achieve them. A huge part, she explained, is the ability of the right and left brains to communicate, or bridge, effectively.

An interesting dance-specific idea she brought up was that foot sickling is something that brain gym can help with, as she believes this inability to control rolling over the outside of the foot is a result of the left and right brains not bridging, which can be traced back to a human developmental phase and then corrected through Brain Gym techniques. As a dancer who has trouble with sickling, I want to know more. Very interesting stuff, indeed.

Scoliosis In Ballet- Susie Higgins, Erika Mayall, Astrid Sherman

Guess what: If you have scoliosis and you dance, you don’t need to feel like you’re at a disadvantage. Susie, Erika and Astrid work with dancers with scoliosis and help them to learn how to work with their bodies and dance to the best of their abilities.

These three ladies run what sounds like the most integrated ballet school I have ever heard of. It combines high quality ballet instruction with physical therapy and cross training, with outstanding communication and compassion.

The biggest take-aways from this presentations that you should know:

  • Quite a few professional ballet dancers have scoliosis (something I didn’t know)
  • Scoliosis IS manageable with exercise intervention, and it is important for dancers to understand how to take ownership of their homework exercises and understand their bodies to avoid plateau-ing and becoming injured.
  • Curvature of the lumbar spine is often more manageable for dancers that in the thoracic spine.
  • It’s important for the dance teacher to understand ways to tweak technique, such as arabesque line, to allow the dancer to work WITH their curve and not fight against it. You lines don’t need to look the same as everyone else’s, and this should be embraced.

Integrating Long-Term Athletic Development into Dance- ME

While I really don’t feel like getting into the details of my presentation (because remember, I’m hoping to post the slideshow somehow), I will offer an oversimplified synopsis:

  1.  Dancers are athletes (a point upon which the entire basis of my presentation rests).
  2.  Dancers should have some form of long term athletic development model to give them a system that helps them achieve success and longevity. Like nearly every other athlete does.
  3.  We should pay attention to the developmental stages children and adolescents progress through and not push dancers into competition too soon, before they’re ready.
  4. We should realize that dance is an early specializing activity (or sport, if you’d rather) and, because of this and the highly complex nature of dance, we must emphasize movement literacy, screening, and maintenance to support it.
  5. To create and implement an LTAD for dancers, we need to be able to communicate effectively- teachers, dancers, parents, dance educators, health care providers- because together we have so much more to offer than working alone (much like the three lovely ladies from the scoliosis presentation demonstrate).

Addressing Dancers’ Glute Medius Weakness and Fear of Hip Internal Rotation with In Class Exercise- Marla Eist

Funny story. Marla Eist teaches dance at Simon Fraser University, and actually taught one of my dance teachers while she was once a student at SFU back in the day. Crazy small world sometimes.

But anywho, Marla’s presentation  addressed some exercises dance teachers can use in class to help their students to own the use of parallel (requiring them to use internal rotation at the hip- yes, blasphemous, I know), and optimize glute med function for improved hip stability, injury prevention, and all that fun sexy stuff.

The exercises she showed were great because they mimicked some common dance moves, but in a way that will help balance muscle development, and help dancers realize that working in parallel is actually a good thing sometimes.Maybe it’s as simple as making sure to include parallel glissades as well as turned out… For any dance teachers who want to learn more about this, you might want to contact Marla directly.

And that’s a wrap, I think. Overall, it was an excellent day spent learning with people much smarter than me. As said once by Julien Smith, “Aim to be the dumbest person in the room every once in a while”, and while I didn’t necessarily feel dumb, nothing inspires one to learn more and become better quite like being surrounded by folks much smarter than you.

If you have any questions about my presentation, the conference, or if you just want to say hello, also please feel free to email me anytime. Cheers from Thailand.