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Posts Tagged ‘Martha Graham Dance Company’

Dance And (Healing) The Broken Body

Posted August 9th, 2012

Sarah Jordan has written extensively for national and regional magazines and newspapers. She is also the author of four books and a regular contributor to the Festival Blog.

Before Pilates.

How bad does it have to hurt to keep a dancer off the stage? Often, near catastrophically. Dancers, especially classically trained, continuously battle the limits of their bodies’ abilities to tolerate damaging physical repetition all for the sake of creating the illusion of effortless beauty on stage. Chances are that Georges Balanchine ballet that dazzled you with its speed, attack, and precise musicality, was performed by a dancer concealing a bum knee, murderously throbbing feet, and an aching back. Dancers are known for their high thresholds for pain and will push through most suffering, making physical accommodations to achieve the look they want and to perform their choreographic assignments. But there is a physical price they pay.

Dancers’ bodies require atypical strength, power, flexibility, agility, fine motor skills, and proprioceptive and kinesthetic awareness. Properly trained, rested, fueled, hydrated, and lucky, a dancer’s body will thrive season after season. But when hurt, dancers often wait until they are in significant pain before seeking help. And the line between temporary discomfort and career-ending pain can be blurry.

Many young classical dancers will push past the levels of their training to perform challenging choreography, and set themselves up for ticking time-bomb injuries. Forcing turnout (the rotation of their leg outward at the hip) beyond normal range can eventually cause stress fractures in the spine or knee issues; going on pointe without necessary foot and ankle strength can create tendonitis, stretched ligaments, and bone spurs; improperly strengthened lower abdominal muscles and hamstrings can lead to their own chain reaction of problems. Dancers dance through the pain for their art—and often for fear of losing work or being branded as a dancer who is “injury prone.” According to the US Department of Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics), 90 percent of all dancers get injured.

But change is afoot for encouraging safer dance practices. I talked with three dance veterans to learn how attitudes towards dancing injured are evolving and messages of preventative wellness are being preached to younger dancers. New programs such as The University of the Art’s Body Pathways, the brain child of associate professor of dance Jennifer B. Johnson, is a powerful model for dancer education and preventive health care.

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