Does Ballet Increase Your Risk of Scoliosis?
As a dancer, you probably know someone with scoliosis or, if you're like me, you might even have it yourself.
What you may not know is that certain lifestyle factors can increase your likelihood of developing the condition, and according to a recent study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, classical ballet training is one of them. When ballet is combined with a low body mass index, that risk increases even more.
"Scoliosis develops amongst females at precisely the time that girls begin seriously training in ballet," says Dr. Leon Scott, an assistant professor of Clinical Orthopedics & Rehabilitation for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a former team physician for Boston Ballet. "In my experience, how ballet students are taught to hold their spines in class is opposite of the spine's natural curves. Starting ballet at a younger age, increased frequency of ballet training and increased duration of ballet are associated with an increased risk for developing the abnormal curvature seen in scoliosis."
I was classically trained in ballet when I was I was young, and diagnosed with scoliosis when I was a teenager. I went on to dance with the Radio City Rockettes until the pain caused by my scoliosis became too much to bear, and am now a certified Pilates teacher who specializes in working with scoliotic clients. Dr. Scott and I came up with five tips to help decrease your risk:
1. Proactively monitor any changes in your body, especially if you're between 10 to 18 years old. Is one shoulder higher than the other? Does one side of your ribcage protrude forward? Does one hip stick out more to the side than the other? These misalignments could indicate scoliosis, so make an appointment with your doctor ASAP if you notice them. Ballet teachers: Make note of consistent body misalignments that students have trouble correcting.
2. Ask for a scoliosis screening during your annual medical exams.
3. Build up the core strength to support the spinal positions needed for ballet. Exercises with props, such as an overball or a foam roller, work well because they force you to find a neutral balance point for your spine and pelvis.
4. Watch your body mass index (BMI). Dancers with a low BMI, particularly pre-teens and teenagers, can inadvertently delay their first menstruation. This makes the body more susceptible to scoliosis, which is a hormonal and neurological condition.
5. If a family member has scoliosis, be diligent about looking for changes in your body. Scoliosis can often be passed down genetically.
And if you are diagnosed with scoliosis, don't panic! It doesn't have to mean the end of your dancing career. There are many ways to successfully manage scoliosis that don't involve surgery.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.