Injuries can be devastating to a dance career, but you can reduce their occurrence or avoid them—if you know what to look for. To learn why certain injuries happen and what can be done to prevent them, we consulted a group of experts: Jacqui Greene Hass, director of Pilates and Dance Medicine at Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Therapy Services; Marijeanne Liederbach, director of research and education at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries; Jennifer Deckert, assistant professor at University of Wyoming (holds an MFA in ballet pedagogy and has presented at the International Association for Medicine and Science); and Michael Kelly Bruce, associate professor at The Ohio State University (certified in Pilates and specializes in conditioning).


1. Neck Strain: Choreography that calls for excessive head movement can easily strain dancers' neck muscles, especially if dancers do not properly use the full spine when arching the head/neck. Prevention Tip: “Lengthen the neck rather than collapse it," says Bruce. “I like using the image of the fountains at the Bellagio [Resort & Casino]: a long, graceful arch."

2. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis and Impingement: Extensive use of the arms (overhead lifts and falls) can lead to tears in upper-arm tendons or even impingement, painful pressure felt in the shoulder when the rotator cuff and scapula rub together as arms are lifted. Prevention Tip: “Be aware of the actual landmarks of the shoulder girdle," says Bruce. “Once students understand the scapula is located behind them, they can have better anatomically aligned mechanics."

3. Lower-Back Strain and Muscle Spasms: Lifting, arching and improper technique can all overwork and strain the lower-back extensor-erector muscles. Dancers with lordosis (a swayed back or lower-back curve) are more prone to spasms. Prevention Tip: “I like to use the image of a cummerbund, where the student has a more three-dimensional sense of their abdominal wall," says Deckert. “Or imagine the pelvis as a bowl with water. Preventing the water from splashing will improve core strength."

4. Snapping Hip Syndrome: Iliotibial (IT) band tightness, weakness along the outside of the hip and lordosis can cause this syndrome. Dancers will experience a snapping rubber-band–like sound in the frontal hip joint, as the IT band glides over the greater trochanter (upper-leg bone) during battement or développé. Prevention Tip: Strengthen the lower abs and all pelvic stabilizers (abductors, adductors, hip flexors), and avoid turning out at the feet, which stresses the knees and hips.

5. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: This syndrome stems from tight hamstrings and calf muscles, weak quadriceps and repetitive force from normal movement putting pressure on the patella (kneecap), causing the knee-protecting cartilage to lose its shock-absorbing ability. Dancers with high-arched or flat fleet, wide hips and knees that turn in or out are more likely to experience this pain. Prevention Tip: “The knee is the victim between the ankle and the hip," says Liederbach. “Core strength, hip-abductor strength training and IT stretching are key."

6. Meniscus Knee Tear: Twisting knees during movement, forcing feet in turnout or losing control when landing a jump can tear the cushioning knee cartilage. Prevention Tip: “Strengthening the core is so crucial to knee health," says Bruce. “It lessens the burden on the knee, so you are not landing with so much force."

7. Posterior Tibial Tendonitis: Dropping the medial arch during warm-ups or basic barre exercises overworks the tibial tendon. This type of tendonitis also coincides with shin splints or can be the result of chronic ankle rolling. Prevention Tip: “Work to lift the arches and do not force turnout from the feet," says Deckert.

8. Achilles Tendonitis: An overuse injury caused by training extensively during a short period of time, dancing on a hard floor or putting pressure on a tightened calf muscle. Weight pressure or unbalanced range of motion will predispose dancers to this type of tendonitis. Prevention Tip: Use Thera-Bands when doing tendus, basic flexibility and resistance work, says Bruce.

9. Lateral Ankle Sprain: A ligament tear that happens when the outside of the ankle rolls inward after loss of balance from landing a jump. Prevention Tip: “Use a Thera-Band to keep the ankle flexible and strong," says Bruce.

10. Posterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome: A pinching sensation felt during repeated floor or barre work, as the heel bone comes into contact with the talus bone and tissues at the back of the ankle compress. Reaching a full range of motion when pointing the feet or in relevé will be difficult. Dancers born with an extra bone in place are more prone to this syndrome. Prevention Tip: Vary your training regimen to focus on other types of dance after excessive pointe or demi pointe work.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading...
Site Network
Getty Images

Dancers certainly don't need anyone to tell them how physical their profession is. But now, we have the data to prove it.

Researchers at InsuranceProviders.com analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a national organization developed through support from the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration, to determine the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the country. They analyzed the level of strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination required for a host of jobs, and each category was assigned

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2020? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Going upside down can be scary. It's spatially bewildering, and young students who have spent their lives upright often lack the strength required to feel confident putting their weight on their hands. But, don't fret! There are safe and pleasant ways to build the muscle and the might for dynamite inversions.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

I love this level. I see it as the true origin of a student's dance journey. Intermediate students have bought in, caught the fever, chosen to move beyond inquiry about dance to investment in dance. They are yearning to advance past their beginner training and label.

As teachers, we begin to set more stringent expectations for them to commit to class, take ownership of their learning, and comprehend more terminology and skills. Yet, they are still a bit disheveled in their movement and engagement. They still sometimes forget their dance pants and confuse upstage with downstage. Some of them are still, well, terrified.

Keep reading...
Site Network

2019's movies featured some truly fantastic dancing, thanks to the hard work of many talented choreographers. But you won't see any of those brilliant artists recognized at the Academy Awards. And we're (still) not OK with that.

So we're taking matters into our own jazz hands.

On February 7—just before the Oscars ceremony—we'll present a Dance Spirit award for the best movie choreography of 2019. With your help, we've narrowed the field to seven choreographers, artists whose moves electrified some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
Kathryn Alter (left). Photo by Alexis Ziemski

In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Melanie George (right). Photo by Grace Corapi, courtesy of George

Teachers from coast to coast are pushing students to move outside the constraints of popular music. There is a consensus that the earlier you introduce varied musical forms, the more adept and adaptable a dancer's musicality will be.

New York–based jazz scholar and teacher Melanie George notices that many students' relationships to music can be reductive: They may think exclusively about lyrics or accents. But jazz, for example, is about swinging: an embodied comprehension of instrumentation that only comes with musical acuity. "Students are ready for this specificity, even if we aren't giving it to them," she says. When her students understand that there is a technique to listening, it becomes less about going forward, and more about going deeper into the sound and into their bodies.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in a scene from An American in Paris. Courtesy Fathom Events.

If you loved Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris on Broadway, you can now see the 1951 Oscar-winning movie it's based on in all its Technicolor glory. Fathom Events will present MGM's An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and French ballerina Leslie Caron, and with music by George and Ira Gershwin, in select theaters nationwide January 19 and 22.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
"Music is magical," says Black. "It just transforms kids." Photo courtesy of Black

After 31 years of teaching, Kim Black has mastered how to reach young dancers. Between a studio and private school, she teaches 34 classes per week in Burlington, North Carolina: That's 238 kids from ages 2 to 6 years old. "You have to make them fall in love with dance," says Black. The music, she says, cues this engagement.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of PNB School

Naomi Glass, teacher at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, knows firsthand the advantages and challenges of hypermobility. As a young dancer, she was told to keep her hyperextended knees in a straight position far from her full range of motion. "It felt too bent to me," she says. "But once I was able to access my inner thighs and rotators, I found strength and stability and could still use the line that I wanted."

Hypermobility occurs when joints exceed the normal range of motion. Dancers can have hypermobility in specific joints, like their knees, or they can have generalized laxity throughout their bodies (which is often measured using the Beighton system—see below). While this condition may enable students to create beautiful aesthetic lines, it can also increase risk for injury. Help dancers gain the strength they need to stay healthy while making the most of their hypermobility.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Photo by Rachel Papo

Alicia Graf Mack's journey to become director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division—the youngest person to hold the position, and the first woman of color—was anything but a straight line. Yes, she's danced with prestigious companies: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But Mack also has a BA in history from Columbia University and an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis; she pursued both degrees during breaks in her performing career, taken to recover from injuries and autoimmune disease flare-ups.

As an undergrad, she briefly interned at JPMorgan Chase in marketing and philanthropic giving, and she later made arts administration central to her graduate work, assuming that she'd eventually take an administrative role with a dance organization.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox