Everyone has heard that you need to suffer to dance and the dictum “no pain, no gain” is paramount for dancers.
The trouble with this is when we don’t interpret the nuances of pain correctly, we can cause harm. Pain is an important signal that allows us to make progress without damaging our selves and if we don’t listen, and learn to appreciate the lessons our body is teaching us, pain can lead to injury. Dance and injury don’t mix well and as George Balanchine said “a dancer who is not dancing (due to injury) doesn’t exist”. This is a hard statement to swallow when you have to be off dancing but it’s what you feel inside when you’re injured. It’s certainly not true in the sense that we should aim to be individuals who dance rather than a dancer who at times is a individual but this thought dose pass through your mind when you get injured and it can happen at any age or moment in your carrier!
So one of the most important objectives of a dancer, beyond becoming the best dancer you can be, is “don’t get injured” or don’t be unhealthy if you want to dance and exist as a dancer. Now some injuries (around 20%) are accidents and trauma and these are hard to prevent but the other 80% chronic or the ones we make, we can try and prevent or at least deal with in a way we don’t have to stop dancing. These are the tendonopathies, the shin splints, the painful popping hips etc…
Let’s just spend a minute and look what we mean by being a healthy dancer. It’s really important to appreciate what we mean by health. Health is defined by the United Nations as being the physical, mental and social well being of a individual (in our case a dancer) and not just the absence of a illness or injury. So we need to consider dealing with physical, mental and social injuries that can all be the cause of our not being able to dance or that limit us to dance at our best. Yes we need a great understanding of biomechanics to be able to do great plies and jumps, what frequently people refer to as placement and coordination. We also need great mental skills to deal with our body image and just seeing our selves in a mirror all day. Finally we really need to consider the social element. If you can’t get along with the ballet master or your partners or colleagues no one will want to work with you no matter how good you are.
Yes if you get humiliated in public it’s a social injury and you need to treat it. Just like a sprained ankle, take care of it as quickly as you can! In the following posts we will be investigating many of these issues in practical ways in order for you to be the best dancer you can. By respecting and understanding the physical, mental and social importance of being a healthy dancer you will be in a better position to be who you really want to be.
Enjoy and feel free to send in requests to find out more about a subject area.
Peter Lewton-Brain, DO, MA Is a osteopath and dance educator working both in Monaco and Cannes. He is on the board of directors of IADMS. www.iadms.org