The notion of a high injury rate in dancers has been established within the dance medicine community. An injury can be devastating to a dancer, whether you are in a full-time dancer in a company, a freelance artist who is always hustling and on the run, a pre-professional student, or a vocational dancer. Injury prevention has been a top priority in dance science research.
Here are five ways based on scientific research to help dancers stay healthy and injury free (as much as possible):
- A proper warm-up.
It’s a no-brainer, and I’m sure everyone knows this one. However, not everybody does their warm-up correctly. The goal of the warm-up is to prepare your body for the activity that you are about to do both physically and mentally.
We want to increase our core temperature, the flow of the synovial fluid in the joints, and prepare the muscle for the movements that you will be doing. A good example would be doing some jumping jacks or running in place to get your heart rate up, then mobilizing joints from a small and control manner and gradually increase to larger movements. Last but not least is dynamic stretching, which you would move through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times.
While you are doing the warm-up, you should also mentally prepare yourself to focus on the upcoming dance activity, whether it is an audition, a class, or a performance. A distracted mind could also be a contributing factor to an injury.
So dancers: sitting in a split on a cold floor as the first thing you do and playing your phone doesn’t count a warm-up.
- Cool-down after dancing.
Very often after classes, rehearsals or performances, we pack our bags and rush off to the next place. I get it, you are tired or have places to be. However, a cool-down after dancing helps prevents lactic acid from building up in the muscle and you will be less likely to experience Delay Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) the next day. It is also the best time for you to do static stretching if increasing flexibility is one of your goals. Be sure to avoid prolonged stretching more than 20 minutes.
Start practicing cool-down if time allows and your body will thank you. To find out more info on stretching, check out, the resource paper “Stretching for Dancers” by International Dance Medicine and Science.
- Eat and Hydrate.
Dancers are artistic athletes. Dancing is a physically demanding activity and fueling a dancing body requires a delicate balance with dancers’ busy schedules. Also, for the younger dancers who are still growing, a healthy balanced diet is even more critical for them. The energy in a dancer’s diet should be composed of about 55%-60% carbohydrates, 12%-15% proteins, and 20%-30% fat.2
Hydration is also important. Water accounts for 60% of the total body weight, and dehydration could result in fatigue and injury. Have you heard about the pee test? A well-hydrated body will produce a moderate volume of urine that is pale in color and does not have a strong odor.2
To be a well-rounded dancer you should not only take different styles of classes but also do cross-training to keep your body strong and less prone to injury. Dance classes prepare you for dance techniques, performance quality, artistic expression, and more. However, it doesn’t provide everything for a dancer to be prepared for the physical requirements. Everyone’s body is unique.
Some people may be naturally flexible and require more strength training to perform the beautiful extension. Some people lack flexibility and need a personalized program for stretching. There are many options for cross-training; you could do weight lifting, Pilates, Gyrotonic, running and more, depending on your goal. Sometimes it is difficult to prioritize which goal to tackle first. I suggest visiting a physical therapist, who specialized in performing arts medicine, to do a screening for you, and the therapist will be able to help you customized a program for you.
Aside from dance classes, work, school work, performances, rehearsals, social life with friends and family, going to the gym to keep fit, and oh yeah, more rehearsals, who has time to rest?! A dancer’s schedule can get crazy real fast, however not having proper rest can cause adverse effects on the body. Fatigue is a result of overtraining and insufficient rest, and is one of the contributing factors to injury. When you are scheduling your day, don’t forget to schedule rest into your calendar. Your mind and body deserve some time to breathe and relax.
Connect with Yenwen:
- Critchfield, B. (2012, February 19). Stretching for Dancers. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.iadms.org/page/353
- Challis, J., Stevens, A., & Wilson, M. (2016, May). Nutrition Resource Paper. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.iadms.org/page/RPnutrition
- Simmel, L., & Michael, J. (2014). Dance medicine in practice anatomy, injury prevention, training. London: Routledge.
- Edel, Q., Rafferty, S., & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. Human Kinetics.