It has been forever argued if dance is a sport or not, but there is no question that dancers are athletes. The dance community in Milwaukee definitely proves that! Professional dancers have to perform at a high level night after night, they dance in pointe shoes with their entire body weight through a small surface area, they learn lots of choreography in a short amount of time, and they make it look effortless.
Dancers need to be tough, strong, and resilient, but the truth behind that isn’t so pretty. According to an article in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 67-95% of professional dancers are injured on an annual basis. Sadly, this staggering statistic doesn’t just hold true for professional dancers. The research also shows that up to 77% of adolescent dancers will sustain an injury within a year. (1) You may be asking, why are these numbers so high? The answer to that isn’t so simple.
One reason that dancers may be more at risk is due to the movement patterns dancers utilize to create an aesthetically pleasing performance. The movement patterns used are repetitive and put the body into positions that can be atypical for the average human. Some examples of movements or positions dancers use include turn out (legs are externally rotated), knee hyperextension, relevé (being up on the toes), and cambré (back extension).
Dancers who may have deficits in strength, muscular control, endurance, and flexibility or range of motion are also more susceptible to injury. When one of these areas are affected in a dancer, it can lead to poor technique, quick fatigue, breakdown in form, poorer quality of movement, and compensations. When those specific weaknesses are combined with repetitive training, practice, and performance, there is a higher risk for injury.
What can be done to decrease this risk? Well, lets talk about the good news.
While the movements of dance cannot be changed, there are other ways to get a dancer functioning at their best. Some factors can include diet, hydration, and adequate recovery time, but from a movement standpoint, cross training can be highly effective.
Cross training is when an athlete uses other forms of exercise, other than their typical style or sport, to train areas of weakness. With dancers, there can be many areas that need to be addressed including cardiovascular endurance, range of motion, neuromuscular control, and flexibility that may be leading to their injury. Having a cross training program tailored to the specific dancer, their history of injuries, and their deficits from a thorough evaluation can decrease the risk of injury, help rehabilitate old injuries, and get the dancer set on a path for future success.
Want more details? Stay tuned for a future blog post about how dancers can use the specific principles of cross training.