What You're Doing That's Making Dance Medicine Experts Cringe
Dancers today are smarter about their bodies than ever before. The field of dance medicine, led by organizations such as the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, founded in 1990, and Performing Arts Medicine Association, founded in 1989, has revolutionized our approach to dancer health. It's become commonplace for major companies and schools to offer cross-training, nutrition advice and access to health professionals as the entire dance community has become more focused on wellness and healthy best practices.
Still, the injury rate remains high. Dance remains a tradition based on a treasured aesthetic, not the limitations of the human body. Although we may have a better understanding of our kinesiology, the increasing technical expectations and today's focus on hypermobility put dancers at greater risk. After all, research can only do so much—it's up to dancers to follow experts' findings and advice. So what do dance medicine professionals see as the biggest mistakes dancers are still making?
Starting with Static Stretching
Photos by Nathan Sayer.
Before class, you still see dancers resting their legs on the barre, posing as if they were in a Degas painting. Yet dance health experts insist dancers should instead be doing dynamic stretches: large movements, like lunges, performed at a moderate rate to get the blood flowing. “We know from science that static stretching temporarily weakens muscles, impairs coordination, reduces balance and jump height," says Dr. Nancy Kadel, co-chair of the Dance/USA Task Force on Dancer Health. “Static stretching is not warming up. It's much better to walk, or do anything else to elevate the heart rate."
Misunderstanding the Core
The core is still not entirely understood in the dance community. When we say we need to strengthen “the core," that often translates to simply doing ab exercises. This can lead to key weaknesses in supporting the whole body in action. “Core control is much more than just abdominal strength," says Jan Dunn, a former president of IADMS and current dance wellness editor of 4dancers.org. “It refers to back stabilization, and involves the coordinated effort of several different muscles in the torso to stabilize the spine."
Insisting on an MRI
Getting an MRI doesn't always mean you'll recover sooner. Yet dancers often panic and seek one out, says Jennifer M. Gamboa, DPT, founder of Body Dynamics in Virginia. “The results show inflammation (no surprise), and don't change initial course of care." Since the majority of musculoskeletal injuries resolve without any need for imaging, she urges dancers not to panic. “Early imaging will not change healing," says Gamboa. “It is only necessary in obvious fractures or ruptures, or if conservative care does not produce expected healing."
Screwing your feet into an unnaturally tight fifth position wreaks havoc on everything from the bunions on up. But some of the stretches dancers do to try to increase their hip rotation can be equally dangerous. The worst offender is young dancers sitting in splits or over-splits for 10 minutes or longer. Another culprit is the frog stretch, where dancers lie on their bellies with their legs bent in a diamond shape behind them (sometimes with a friend forcing the feet down). “This puts stress on the knees, the hips and the lower back," says Kadel. She suggests active rather than passive stretching and exercises that increase the strength of your rotation. “It's much better to do the clam exercise, where you lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet in line with your spine while opening and closing your top knee. That way you work toward supporting the turnout that you have." (For more on accessing your full turnout potential, see Your Body, on page 44.)
Self-Treating with Ibuprofen
Your dance bag should not be a drugstore. While it's tempting to treat every ache and pain with a pill, it could backfire. “Inflammation is your body's way of dealing with injury and we don't always want to suppress it," says Kadel. “Studies tell us that taking ibuprofen when not necessary can impede soft tissue and bone healing." An anti-inflammatory habit could also cover up something more serious. “If you have three days of consecutive pain, see the doctor," says Kadel. “You may end up back onstage sooner."
Getting Medical Advice Online
When it comes to dispensing medical information, the internet has been a game changer, but with that windfall has come a great deal of misinformation. Beware of getting wellness advice from individuals without proper credentials, especially when they want to charge you for it. Who qualifies as a dance medicine expert? Look for degrees such as PhD, MS, PT or ATC in a related field, plus experience as a dancer or working with professional dancers, says Dunn. “If someone is promoting a strength-training program for dancers, do they have credentials in that field, such as a Pilates or American College of Sports Medicine certification?" she asks. The author should provide clear references and sources for their information, indicating that they are current with the latest dance medicine and science research.
Skipping Aerobic Work
Dancers need to do more than class to stay injury-free. The stop-start nature of most classes and rehearsals doesn't build the stamina necessary for performance. “Dancers need to do some form of aerobic exercise that keeps their heart rate elevated for 30 minutes at least three times a week," says Kadel. “You should be sweating but still be able to speak." Elliptical, cycling, swimming and running are all excellent choices. Not only can this reduce your risk of injury, Kadel says studies show that dancers who complete supplemental conditioning programs show improvement in aesthetic performance: “Stronger, fitter dancers use less effort, have better core control, fatigue later and thus are better able to dance full-out and take more risks onstage."
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
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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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.