No matter how hard we try to prevent them, injuries still occur. But with a little advanced planning, minor disasters can be quickly and easily taken care of with as little stress as possible to the dancer (and to you). A well-stocked first-aid kit is essential for injuries that do not need immediate professional medical attention, or to hold a student over until help arrives. Here is a basic list of items every studio should have on hand and how to use them.
+ Latex gloves
Use: “It should be standard practice that anytime bodily fluids are involved, gloves are used,” says Alison Deleget, ATC, clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. When treating an open wound, gloves protect the injury from contamination and help both parties avoid infection.
+ CPR masks
Use: The mask prevents contact with saliva while rescue breaths are administered during CPR. It allows your oxygen to enter the injured party’s airway, but her breath cannot enter yours.
+ Gauze (square pads and rolled)
Use: Square gauze pads stop bleeding and absorb drainage from minor cuts or wounds. “Put direct pressure on a cut with gauze,” says Peter Lavine, PhD, an orthopedic surgeon in Washington, DC. “Then clean it with sterile saline and wrap it up with rolled gauze.” Rolled gauze can also be used for compression in minor joint injuries, like sprained or strained ligaments in the wrist or ankle. Wrap the injured area to reduce swelling.
+ Three to five ACE bandages
Use: For a serious ankle injury, the ACE bandage provides support until the dancer can see a physician. “When wrapping, go from the toes to the nose,” says Deleget. “Wrap inward so the swelling is pushed back up to the core rather than into the toes, where it has nowhere to go. Also, do not maximize the pull of the band.”
+ Five instant cold compresses
Use: In the case of a sprain, use ice to reduce swelling. Keep in mind that extreme cold can damage skin, so always use a barrier between skin and the pack. “Break the ice pack, wrap it in a paper towel, then place it on the injury,” Lavine says. “Remove it after 20 minutes,” which will allow blood to flow back to the injured area.
+ Air cast
Use: This should be used to immobilize a more severe ankle sprain or strain, or when a break is involved. “Air casts loosen up to fit everyone,” Lavine says. “Each can be used on either foot, so having one is convenient in many situations. Just fit it onto the ankle and secure it with Velcro.”
+ Three triangular bandages
Use: Triangular bandages have several uses. They can immobilize body parts when wrapped around the injury or be used to create a sling by tying the two opposite corners at the shoulder for support under the injured arm. “However, you need to be trained in how to make one into a sling,” Deleget says. You may also include a standard sling in your first-aid kit, but triangular bandages are more versatile.
Use: Crutches keep weight off an injured leg, ankle or foot. Lavine suggests metal models with adjustable height, which should be measured from the floor to the dancer’s armpit.
Your kit should also contain:
- Adhesive bandages in assorted shapes and sizes (20 to 25) for minor cuts and scrapes
- Cloth tape to hold bandages in place
- Stainless-steel scissors for cutting bandages and tape to the correct length
- Q-tips for applying ointment
- Individual alcohol wipes and saline solution for disinfection and cleaning out cuts
- Hydrocortisone cream packets for irritated skin
- An eye patch for injuries such as a scratched cornea or foreign objects in the eye
- Tweezers to remove splinters
- Toenail clippers
“Anyone who is a staff member at a dance studio should be trained in first-aid and CPR,” says Alison Deleget, ATC, clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. There are affordable classes offered at the American Red Cross. To find a class or workshop in your area, visit www.redcross.org.
In Case of Emergency
Studio owners should post an emergency action plan near the front desk, which employees can refer to as guidelines during an emergency. According to Deleget, this poster should include all of the studio’s information, like its specific location, to give to 911, as well as the location of the first-aid kit.
The Drug Dilemma
While Advil, Aleve, aspirin and Tylenol can all be used to keep swelling down, dispensing drugs, even over-the-counter versions, is controversial. “It is the studio owner’s choice if she would like to have over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications available,” says orthopedic surgeon Peter Lavine, PhD. “They are nice to have, but always ask if the dancer has any allergies before distributing them.” Also, dancers under 10 years old should not be given anything; leave this decision up to their parents.
Brianne Carlon is an Ohio-based freelance writer and former dancer for the Cleveland Cavalier Girls.
Illustration by Emily Giacalone
While his nose will still grow, and he’ll still dream of becoming a real boy, Pinocchio gets his first physically integrated treatment in Cleveland in December. Five wheelchair and eight stand-up dancers from Dancing Wheels perform the world premiere of Ginger Thatcher’s Pinocchio December 2–5 at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School.
Thatcher, who danced with Cleveland Ballet and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, has worked as a freelance choreographer for 20 years on Broadway, in opera and ballet. She agreed to create the one-hour show for Cleveland-based Dancing Wheels, even though she had no prior experience working with dancers in wheelchairs.
For advice, she sought out Kitty Lunn, artistic director of physically integrated Infinity Dance Theater and herself a wheelchair dancer. “I had to get into a chair and wheel around to really understand the possibilities of movement,” Thatcher says. It was important to understand that the location of the spinal injury dictates what movement can be done and how much the dancer can move his or her chair. “There are those in chairs who can stand or do floor work, then get back into their chairs. There are so many combinations,” she says. “The stand-up dancers are used to working with their wheelchair counterparts. They were able to show me better ways to make my images happen.”
The original story of Pinocchio is different from the Disney version, and Thatcher used elements from both. “All children will remember that his nose grows, he turns into a donkey and he’s swallowed by a whale,” she says. “But in the original it’s a shark, so I have shark teeth come out of the dark during my black-light ballet.” She also showcases several styles of dance. “The weasels are my tribute to Fosse, and we’ve got tap-dancing donkeys,” she adds.
Thatcher had only three weeks to put the show together. “It was awesome that Ginger came in with little knowledge of physically integrated dance and created a whole ballet,” says Kristen Stilwell, a stand-up dancer who plays Geppetto. “There is so much to learn. If you don’t have that relationship between the sit-down and stand-up together, the partnering will not be as effective onstage.”
Dancing Wheels was founded 30 years ago by Mary Verdi-Fletcher, a pioneer in physically integrated dance. She created the Dancing Wheels School in 1990.
Ryan Dick, a stand-up dancer who plays Pinocchio, hopes the production will encourage kids in the audience to follow their dreams no matter what. “I’m excited to bring the character to life and see their faces light up,” he says. For more: dancingwheels.org
Brianne Carlon is a freelance writer living in Youngstown, OH.
Photo by Dale Dong, courtesy of Dancing Wheels
A dancer’s intense training often results in overuse of muscles, wreaking havoc on her body. And because most dancers’ workout regimens tend to concentrate on core conditioning and increasing flexibility, they overlook the need for strength and cardiovascular training—exercises essential to preventing injury. Noticing this in their own dancing and teaching practices, movement and fitness specialists Meredith Koloski and Jennifer Walker were prompted to develop a well-rounded conditioning program for dancers.
The two met at Arizona State University while MFA candidates. They combined their expertise in dance, dance kinesiology, Pilates and sports medicine and in 2008, launched Optimal Fitness, a three-part program that tests body balance and builds a
system of strength training, core conditioning, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise tailored to individual needs.
“The exercises and assessments in this program were created from personal experiences of learning how to activate and strengthen different muscles to balance out my dance technique,” says Koloski, who has since settled in Philadelphia, where she choreographs, teaches and works as a personal trainer. “I realized that most dancers don’t know how to activate their muscles, like the glutes or hamstrings. The program helped me heal from chronic dance-related injury and to balance out my body better, which strengthened my dancing.”
Koloski and Walker implemented Optimal Fitness into the Junior Repertory Company at Dancers’ Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Walker is the school director and Koloski was serving as a one-year guest artist. To conduct part one, the two teachers assessed each dancer’s muscular imbalances, overuse injuries and training needs, while observing the dancers in various positions. They followed a comprehensive packet of diagrams, questionnaires and fill-in charts to answer such questions as: “Does the pelvis tend to tilt forward or backward?” “Do their arches fall in or out?” “Do the knees fall in or out?” and “Do the shoulders roll forward or backward?” If a dancer squats or does a pelvic lift with her knee falling in, for example, it means her inner thigh is weak. They then assessed core strength, balance, agility and flexibility in a similar method.
Cardiovascular fitness was tested last. This is the biggest problem area for dancers, says Koloski, since technique class is greatly anaerobic. “Some dancers give out within three minutes of cardio activity, especially ballet students,” she says. To perform the test, dancers did jumping jacks to a steady beat for three minutes. Each dancer’s pulse was then taken for one minute. The lower the heart rate, the fitter the dancer.
Once the assessments were complete, Koloski and Walker helped their dancers set personal goals and design individualized training programs to accomplish outside of class. “This could be a series of exercises to do at home, in a small group or private class in Pilates, functional training or cardio-focused sessions,” says Walker. She encouraged students to go swimming, take group classes like Zumba or kickboxing or even try hiking for extra cardio.
The third and final portion of Optimal Fitness involves bringing injury-prevention training into the studio, so dancers become familiar with what muscles to activate. “It only requires 7 to 10 minutes during warm-up or technique class, once dancers have learned the proper method for the exercises,” says Koloski. “Before ballet, I start with floor work,” says Walker, who is also the rehearsal director, choreographer and performer with Contemporary Dance Wyoming. “I implement Pilates into floor barre. Standing, we work on pelvic alignment. If time is an issue, doing interval training of jumping jacks, mountain climbers or step-ups with strength training in between will allow dancers to get great cardio.” Their strength-training drills include: squats, lunges, scapula stretching and ab work.
Although the program has yet to grow beyond the creators and their direct students, Koloski and Walker have experienced successful results. “One student sprained her ankle last year and tore some ligaments. She has had a hard time coming back,” says Walker. “We realized she was not activating her core when jumping, and she had some unevenness in her landing. Now I can see the difference in her movements.” DT
Brianne Carlon has a BS in journalism from Kent State University and danced professionally for the Cleveland Cavalier Girls.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Walker
April 23 to May 2 is National Dance Week. Sponsored by United Dance Merchants of America, the event raises awareness and appreciation across the country for all forms of dance.
“There are many open house events held at studios throughout America,” says Patricia Goulding, executive director of NDW, “but there are also a growing number of registered delegates who are electing to take their events to the next level by holding large public activities, such as festivals and concerts.”
New this year: Registered delegates can access their support materials online at the NDW website. For more: www.nationaldanceweek.org
Photo of Ukrainian Dance Group performing in Ohio as part of NDW, courtesy National Dance Week
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, when viewed from the back, has one or more curves. The vertebrae are abnormally rotated, which creates twisting and more prominent visibility of the rib cage on one side, and it is most commonly seen in adolescents ages 10 and older. Most cases cannot be reversed, but they can be controlled. Dance teachers can play an essential role in spotting the condition at an early stage.
“Teachers can help to notice that scoliosis is there in the first place,” says Sophia Fatouros, a New York City–based dance teacher and and former professional ballet dancer who has struggled with scoliosis since she was 12. “Parents do not always see their children in tight clothes, like leotards.”
So what should you keep an eye out for during class? In addition to a curved spine, other warning signs are: head not centered directly above the pelvis; uneven shoulders; one raised hip; rib cage sides at different heights; uneven waist; changes in color or texture of skin overlying the spine (like dimples or hairy patches); entire body leans to one side; fatigue; difficulty breathing.
Once you notice that a dancer may have scoliosis, the next step is to alert the student and her parents. But, “encourage the student to continue with her dance career,” recommends Fatouros, who is the former director of dance at The Harlem School of the Arts. “Let her know it’s not over.” Wendy Whelan, Deanna McBrearty, Alexandra Ansanelli and Katie Bergstrom, for instance, all had successful careers with New York City Ballet after being diagnosed with scoliosis in varying degrees.
Every case is unique, says Rebecca Dietzel, an anatomist who works with The Ailey School. “Dancers need to find a physical therapist to pinpoint where the curves are happening and to get personalized exercises.” And while scoliosis is not usually painful, if a dancer does develop pain, it is important to see a doctor. “She should be encouraged to see her health care provider and bring back recommendations for movement modifications to the teacher,” says Karen Clippinger, a dance professor at California State University at Long Beach and author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology, who was diagnosed with mild scoliosis as a teen.
If a dancer has a curve of 10 to 15 degrees, her doctor may suggest exercises that will strengthen the muscles around her spine (see below for a spine-strengthening exercise). Fatouros recommends trying Hanna Somatics, a system of neuromuscular mind-body training that helps improve spinal strength and symmetry. While there is still debate about the effectiveness of back braces, some doctors suggest that patients with a curve between 20 and 40 degrees wear one, and they can be removed during class. If a curve is greater than 40 degrees, the dancer may need surgical treatment.
When a dancer undergoes surgery for scoliosis, parts of the spine are fused together or may be held in place by a rod, which immobilizes those joints. “She can no longer move that part of the spine,” Dietzel says. “Movement will come from above or below those joints, and the movement will look different. Teachers should not compare the student to how she moved before surgery or to other dancers in class.” After surgery, Clippinger advises, teachers should promote the use of abs to support the spine. “Because the fused segment moves as a unit, the vertebrae adjacent tend to bear extra stress,” she says. “Students should use the abdominals to support and distribute the arch of the spine throughout the area that is moveable.”
But don’t fret: There’s no need to overhaul or create special combinations for students with scoliosis. Most can do all movements, unless advised otherwise by their doctor. Simply using certain imagery in class instruction can help these students work on maintaining a straight posture. “Use images that are strong and balanced,” Fatouros advises, “like a fountain that comes straight through the body and goes out in all directions.”
Another helpful technique is to think about pulling up with the front of the body and down with the back of the body. “You can use a physical or verbal cue to help a student bring the shoulder forward or hip bone back so that it is even with the other side,” Clippinger says. “Encouraging the student to feel the weight evenly placed on the feet and to keep the hips and shoulders square with the rib cage directly above the pelvis can help the dancer develop a sense of how much symmetry their body will allow.” Clippinger adds that students with scoliosis should alternate the use of their right and left sides during class exercises and barre work for better balance.
But the most important thing a teacher can do for a student with this condition is to encourage them in every way. “Be sensitive to students with scoliosis,” Fatouros says. “Understand that they may not always look like the other students. Check in on a regular basis to make sure she is doing her exercises, and keep her moving and motivated.” Fatouros recalls one particular success story: “I once had a student who would do an exercise, and then she would slump on the barre. It wasn’t helping her scoliosis.” Once she fully dedicated herself, it affected her posture positively. “By junior year, her doctor said the degrees of curvature had lessened,” she says. “I saw evidence of a dancer holding herself well, and it helped.” DT
Straighten Up Scoliosis!
Dance professor Karen Clippinger breaks down a simple spine-strengthening exercise from her book Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology for dancers with a 15-degree or less spinal curve. (Dancers with curvatures going in the opposite direction will need to adjust accordingly, and those with greater degree curves should seek medical recommendation first.)
Curl-Up with a Twist:
1. Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Curl the torso up vertebra by vertebra until the shoulder blades are off the floor. Then, use hands to curl the torso slightly higher off the ground, emphasizing rounding the spine and pulling the abdominal wall inward toward the spine.
In this position check for symmetry, and if needed, shift your upper rib cage (generally to the left) so that its center is aligned as close as possible with the center of your pelvis. Let go with the hands and hold this position for four counts before lowering to starting position.
2. As strength develops, when letting go with the hands bring the left arm overhead and think of reaching out with the fingertips and lengthening the spine as if curving around a large exercise ball. Hold for four counts before bringing the left arm forward and lowering to the starting position. Perform six repetitions with the left arm going overhead and then four repetitions with the right arm going overhead.
3. As skill improves, rotate the upper torso to the left when the left arm is overhead. Be sure to isolate the rotation to the upper torso and think of keeping the right hip bone back so that the pelvis and lower back are not allowed to rotate. Reverse the pattern when the right arm is overhead.
Brianne Carlon is the former managing editor of Dance Spirit. She has a BS in magazine journalism from Kent State University and danced professionally with the Cleveland Cavalier Girls.
Picture this: A vast crowd sits staring blankly at you. Bright lights temporarily blind you. Your costume begins to itch and your palms start to sweat. You’ve forgotten all the steps. Feelings of panic begin to envelop your entire body.
Walking into the spotlight can be an intense, and sometimes overwhelming, experience for students. As a teacher, it is important to understand why dancers experience these fears and how you can help them overcome them. We’ve gathered tips for successfully guiding students from studio to stage.
Why do dancers experience stage fright?
“The stage brings up many issues,” says Joshua Estrin, dance teacher and licensed psychotherapist, “including fear of failure, body image issues and basic fear of public humiliation.” If the dancer does not feel prepared, if she is not comfortable with the choreography or if the stakes of performing are high—a large audience, for example, or a reviewer in the crowd—she may develop feelings of fear. In addition: “If the performer is worried about handling factors that may be beyond her control, such as costume-change problems or a problem with the music, the level of anxiety can increase,” says Rebecca Gose Enghauser, associate professor of dance at the University of Georgia.
How does stage fright affect the body and the mind?
Dancers certainly experience physical symptoms of stage fright—the “fight or flight” reactions, which include sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth and shortness of breath. But students may start to react mentally, too, showing an inability to concentrate and a hyper-internal focus. “Anxiety is often accompanied by negative thoughts or an unrealistic assessment of one’s performance, which continues the vicious cycle of anxiety,” Gose Enghauser says. Unless the dancer is prepared to handle this stress, the unwanted symptoms will persist.
How can I prepare my students so that they’re less likely to experience stage fright?
Dancers need to be supremely comfortable with their routine, so rehearsals for performances should begin months ahead of time. “I drill technique and choreography so they don’t even have to think about it come performance time,” says Katya Virshilas, founder of Katya’s School of Dance in Vancouver, Canada. (However, beware of over-rehearsing, which can lead to injuries, as well as tired, burnt-out students.)
The next step is getting students comfortable with people watching them dance. “About two months before a recital, we invite other classes to watch,” says Stephanie Prosenjak, artistic director of Cherry Creek Dance in Denver, Colorado. “Because it’s their peers, the students are comfortable. We also cheer so they get a feel for performance.” This is especially helpful with teenagers, who tend to be particularly insecure. “I will invite parents into the classroom so students know that people are there to support them, not criticize,” Prosenjak says.
Closer to performance time, make sure to visit the theater and allow students to walk through the wings, become familiar with the backstage area and note any irregularities in the flooring. A dress rehearsal is always a good idea and the perfect time to allow students to explore their performance venue.
Creating a team environment, which allows individual dancers to feel that they belong, can also help ease anxiety. “They are less inclined to feel alone or scared when they are a part of something bigger than they are,” says Fenton Fulgham, co-owner and choreographer at Revelation Dance Studio in Plano, Texas. Encourage camaraderie by setting up a “Big/Little Sisters/Brothers” program with the competition team, in which older students take younger ones under their wings, mentoring and cheering them on with kind words, cards and small gifts. And make sure that dancers know your door is always open, Fulgham says, if they want to discuss their concerns about a show. “They need to know their feelings are valid,” he says.
Finally, teachers should taper off critical comments as the performance date approaches, according to Gose Enghauser. “It can create extra stress on dancers as they deal with additional factors, like spacing issues, lights and costumes,” she says.
What about the day of the performance?
On the big day, it is important that dancers have a well-thought-out schedule. Many young students are surprised to find that there is a lot of waiting time on show days, and if this downtime is not managed properly, it can increase anxiety. Start by setting a consistent warm-up routine that students can do on their own. Playing movies and providing cards and board games backstage—so that younger dancers, especially, never feel that they’re just sitting around—are also good strategies.
Mental exercises are just as important as physical ones. Help students develop and use positive cues, like a comforting phrase they can repeat to themselves. (“Calm, centered and persistent” is one useful mantra.) Also, the regular use of mental imagery has been shown to be effective for many dancers. Have your students close their eyes and picture themselves going through their routine onstage with no mistakes and a smile on their face, or receiving hugs and praise after their performance. Another idea is to instruct dancers to look out over the audience when they first step onstage. “Tell them to survey the space from one side to the other,” says Susan Biali, PhD, and professional flamenco dancer. “That way, dancers ‘own’ the audience, which is empowering, rather than trying to avoid looking at the audience.” Finally, Mariana Diskes, director of Mariana’s Dancing in Ipswich, Massachusetts, tells her students that performing is about “giving.” “Someone who has stage fright may feel the audience is ‘taking away’ by watching them,” Diskes says. “But reinforcing the idea that the student is the one ‘giving’ places the power on the dancer and gives her a purpose.”
“For severe cases of stage fright, which may occur in younger, less experienced dancers, having an older buddy in the wings can be helpful,” says Alexia Adcock, theater dance director at Boleros Cultural Arts Center in Jacksonville, Florida. It can also be reassuring to have an instructor just out of sight of the audience to offer silent support and direction. DT
Stage Fright Quick Fixes
Jennifer Edwards, who teaches stress reduction to dancers through New York University Tisch School of the Arts and Gina Gibney Dance Co., shares exercises teachers can use to help students calm stage fright symptoms.
Butterflies in the stomach:
Place your hands on your lower abdomen. Breathe in so that your stomach fills your hands, releasing the muscles in and massaging the tension away from the gut. Feel heaviness and breath in your belly and pelvis; ground yourself by dropping the weight of the shoulders, chest and head into your center.
Gently massage the front of your neck with your fingertips. Start just under your chin and draw the hands down toward your collarbones, exhaling as you go. Once the throat feels open, begin to massage and tap the area around your collarbones. As you do this, breathe into the upper chest and sternum.
After the Show
Performance skills are developed even after the big day. Help your students analyze their performances in a supportive but objective way. Suggest that dancers watch their recital videos as soon as possible and pick out things they like and dislike about their individual performances. That way they can see what their strengths are and what they should improve on for the following year. Rebecca Gose Enghauser, associate professor of dance at the University of Georgia, says: “Students who see their mistakes as an opportunity for growth, rather than devastating occurrences, will be more successful in future performances.”
Brianne Carlon is a freelance writer based in Youngstown, OH.
Photo copyright istockphoto.com/Sebastien Bergeron