Why dancers are having their trigger points released with a needle
We are all looking for a little magic when it comes to injury prevention and recovery. So it’s no surprise that dancers, always on top of new health trends, have recently started getting into dry needling. The treatment promises instant relief to some of dance’s most nagging injuries by releasing trigger points in the muscles with a needle. But it also has medical professionals buzzing with controversy. When your physical therapist pulls out a needle, should you question whether it’s safe for you?
Dry needling uses filiform needles—the same kind as traditional acupuncture. But although the tool is the same, the approach is different. Based in ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture seeks to balance the flow of energy along pathways in the body called meridians. Dry needling, on the other hand, arose out of Western medicine in the 1940s: Dr. Janet Travell, a specialist in pain referral patterns, identified trigger points in the body that would relieve pain by releasing tension in the associated muscles. Initially she injected the trigger points with fluids such as saline. The term “dry needling” originated when she discovered that the technique had the same effect without the injection.
How It Helps
The practitioner inserts the needle using a technique that elicits a “twitch response,” an involuntary reaction in the muscle that enables it to release tension. The immediate elongation of the muscle fibers allows the muscle to relax. “When the needle taps the tight tissue, it creates a micro-trauma which brings a lot of blood to the area,” says Bianca Beldini, a licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist at Sundala Center for Wellness in New York City. “Immediately when you take the needles out, the patient’s range of motion improves and their pain decreases.” Acupuncture techniques vary, and this twitch response is not something that acupuncturists would normally go for, unless they use the trigger-point dry needling technique.
Many dancers find that the muscle release dry needling provides has dramatic results. “I have needled dancers the same day as an injury and they are able to return to rehearsal after treatment,” says Erika Johnson, director of dance medicine at Marathon Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine in Massachusetts. “This is obviously case dependent, but it’s exciting to see this trend.” While it can’t help every injury, Johnson has used dry needling on muscle strains and spasms, tendonitis, sprained ankles and many of dance’s other most common injuries.
For New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, who has been treated by Beldini since she first joined the company in 2003, the approach combining dry needling technique with more traditional acupuncture has helped her heal faster and feel better. “If I have a strained calf, she is able to fix it within two sessions probably,” Mearns says. She admits that she was nervous about the needles at first. “But the needles are so tiny and the release that I get from them is deeper than any other therapy.”
The first time a dancer experiences this type of needling, Beldini often encourages them not to dance for the next 24 hours. This gives them a chance to find out how long they will experience soreness. “The twitch response can release a fair amount of lactic acid, so the dancer is typically quite sore after,” explains Beldini. A good practitioner will be able to perform the technique gently and minimize this soreness as they get to know your body better. Mearns can be needled by Beldini and dance pain-free the next day. In fact, during performance seasons she sees Beldini every Monday even if she’s not injured because the treatment has become so therapeutic. “It’s a process,” says Mearns, “but once you get to that place where you can really handle that deep release in your muscles, your body will be completely different.”
Why the Controversy?
Few dispute the effectiveness of dry needling. But controversy circles around who is qualified to do it. Many acupuncturists argue weekend courses aren’t enough to qualify physical therapists to needle people. “Acupuncturists aren’t just throwing a needle into one muscle to get a twitch response, but we’re needling into a bunch of different things,” says acupuncturist/physical therapist Bianca Beldini. In fact, several states have ruled that dry needling is outside the scope of practice for a physical therapist because it involves puncturing the skin.
Yet some in the physical therapy community feel they are qualified, since they are myofascial and biomechanical specialists. “Physical therapists have been treating trigger points and myofascial restrictions with their hands for decades, and the filiform needle is simply an extension of this,” argues dance medicine specialist Erika Johnson. In fact, Johnson feels that becoming a practitioner of dry needling has helped her develop a greater appreciation for when acupuncture is a better treatment, and regularly refers dancers to acupuncturists.
In a perfect world, every dry needling specialist would have training in both practices, but this is a rare combination because both specialties require extensive training. Make sure that anyone treating you with a needle has been trained to use it and has experience with physically active clients like athletes and dancers.
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
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Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
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When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
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As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
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The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
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One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
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Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
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Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.