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Here’s Why Even Young Dancers Should Be Thinking About Injury Prevention

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Have you heard the story about the dancer who needed a double hip replacement…at age 16?

It's not an urban legend—just ask iconic choreographer Mia Michaels. In a video series about dance injuries, produced by Apolla Performance Footwear, Michaels tells the tale of a teenage comp kid who pushed so hard she ended up in surgery.

That dancer's harrowing story was one of the inspirations for the Bridge Dance Project. The new initiative—brainchild of Jan Dunn, co-director of Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and Kaycee Cope Jones, COO of Apolla—aims to connect members of the competition and commercial dance communities with dance science experts. While many academic and professional concert dancers have benefited from recent advances in dance medicine, that information hasn't made its way to most of the young students in convention ballrooms. And as the technical demands on those students increase, so does the number of injuries.

We talked to Dunn and Jones about how the Bridge Dance Project was born, the initiative's long-term goals, and why young competition and commercial dancers should make injury prevention a priority.


How did you two first connect?

Jan Dunn: A colleague of mine sent me the link to the Apolla video with Mia telling that hip replacement story—I'd never heard of Apolla before then. Immediately I thought, Wow, This is huge. For Mia, this award-winning choreographer, to be saying that action needed to be taken—it meant something. Traditional dance medicine has made inroads into the academic world and especially the professional ballet world, but we haven't really gotten a foothold in the competition scene, or been able to reach the average dance studio. I'd been watching things like "So You Think You Can Dance" and just cringing, worrying about these young dancers doing such incredible but also potentially damaging things to their bodies. And here was someone talking about injuries in that exact group. So I reached out to Kaycee and told her how impressed I was. She was immediately receptive.

Why are convention and commercial dancers at especially high risk for injury?

Kaycee Cope Jones: One reason is the increasingly high level of technique at these competitions and conventions. These dancers are doing things we'd never dreamed of a few years ago! And with those higher expectations—the push for hypermobility, for harder and faster dancing—comes increased risk. Just like these students are going to school to learn math, they need to educate themselves about their bodies. But how can they do that? Ballet companies and academic institutions have the resources to bring in dance science experts to help their dancers, but students who train at local studios and go to competition on weekends don't have that kind of access. For many young dancers, the only sources of information are their teachers, who may not be trained in dance science, and their favorite social media influencers.

JD: And the dance science research that is available, much of that literature is very scientifically oriented. So if you're not from that background, it might go over your head—it's not really speaking to your everyday life in the studio.

What were your first steps in creating Bridge Dance Project?

JD: Kaycee and I first began putting it together about three months ago, so we're still in the early stages. But we started by assembling a board—people from her world, and people from my world, with different skill sets and networking capabilities.

KCJ: Our goal is to help dancers see a 360-degree view of health, so we were looking for people from all different perspectives—dance medicine researchers, psychiatrists, eating disorder specialists, physical trainers and therapists. We want them to share their expertise about dancers' minds, bodies, and souls.

What are your longer-term goals for the initiative?

JD: We're envisioning a network of medical professionals and dance educators who can give presentations at studios or offer clinics at conventions. All of it will be offered free—it's not a money-making thing.

KCJ: One of our board members created the Doctors for Dancers directory—that's such an amazing tool, and we want to expand on that, to connect dancers to the dance medicine specialists who really understand them and their injuries. We're also going to put together dance medicine resources written in everyday language, addressed to the everyday dancer.

JD: Speaking the dancer's own language is so important. For example, it's not "external rotation of the hip," it's "turnout"!

Where can readers learn more about Bridge Dance Project, and what other wellness resources do you recommend?

JD: We'll be launching a website, a Facebook page, and a monthly newsletter soon. Use our email sign-up to stay in the loop.

KCJ: In the meantime, Doctors for Dancers, which we mentioned before, is a fabulous resource. And so is 4dancers.org, a dance wellness site with advice on a lot of different topics. Education is so powerful—learning about your body as a dancer will change how you think, how you eat, how you train, everything.

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Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

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Misty Lown delivers a seminar in Austin. Photo courtesy of More Than Just Great Dancing

Business leader Misty Lown convened (remotely) more than 700 dance studio owners to create an action plan in response to COVID-19 studio closures. ICYMI, here are the takeaways:

  • Studios can deliver value to customers with online content.
  • Owners can preserve enrollment with caring communication.
  • The federal stimulus package is a strong short-term safety net.

At the end of her virtual town hall meeting Monday, March 30, dance studio business advocate Misty Lown said to the more than 700 studio owners who attended (remotely): "We've gone through difficult things before. We will survive, but let's thrive. Let's come through this closer, more compassionate, with greater courtesy and contributions than ever before."

Lown, who operates a studio in Wisconsin with enrollment of 900, outlined the steps she and other studio members affiliated with More Than Just Great Dancing have taken to provide service continuity during COVID-19-related closure of dance studios and schools. In the 90-minute session co-hosted by Dance Teacher and Dance Business Weekly, she shared strategies to assure the best outcomes going forward.

Our Current State

Based on a survey completed by the first 500 studios to register for the video call, only 7 percent had elected not to move their classes online; 48.8 percent of those who had moved to online reported they were continuing to charge full tuition rates for online classes; 28.6 percent were offering a discount for online classes; 22.6 percent were not planning to charge for online classes.

A survey question about recitals showed that 41.4 percent were moving forward with spring recital plans, hoping to salvage this significant piece of their revenue for Q2 (April, May and June)—typically the highest income quarter of the year; 25.7 percent indicated they were not sure they'd be able to produce their recital; 32.9 percent were planning to reschedule or relocate their events.

Competition activity has been greatly affected: 76 percent of the responders had experienced a competition cancellation; 42 percent of those had received a refund or a mix of refund and credit; 58 percent had received a credit only.

Transitioning to Online Learning

Lown presented some inspiring examples of studios who have successfully transitioned to online classes, each with a unique imprint.

Exemplary Training Effort

Focus on Retaining Students

Give Extra Attention to Faculty and Parents

Clear Communication

Adding the WOW Factor

Asked about families who declined to participate in distance learning, Lown noted that often it wasn't because the parents questioned the concept of distance learning and why it was necessary. There was usually a secondary concern to be addressed, such as: "I don't want to do it in my living room"; "it's too crazy here;" or, "she wasn't really that much into it anyway so let's just wrap it up for the year." But if you do everything you can to convince your customer and they still want to leave your studio, she said: "Let them go, because you want them to go with a sweet taste in their mouth." As always, you're creating a reputation in your community that will serve you well in your future.

Tapping Into Funding Options

Lown invited CPA Mary Jo Werner to help explain how the CARES Act can benefit dance studio owners. (See Dance Business Weekly's explanation of the stimulus details here.) Werner suggested to look first at the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) which provides funding for the equivalent of eight weeks of payroll expenses (and more, see details in our article here) and is forgivable loan for those who maintain their current payroll levels.

Then there are loans up to $2 million under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL), with interest rates of 3.75 percent for small businesses, 2.75 percent for nonprofits—and up to 30 years to repay. Before applying for either, it's important to slow down and really look for the net benefit, Werner advises.

Also of note is that independent contractors and self-employed individuals will now be covered by unemployment compensation.

Call to Action

If all this seems overwhelming, you're not alone. But Lown compares it to the project of planning a recital, something every studio owner has done many times. "We are the most creative people on the planet," she said. "If we can't do this, I don't know who can."

For additional resources, please visit Studio Help Source.

Watch the complete presentation here.


Dance News
Photo by Kyle Froman
Update March 31, 2020: This article was first published in Dance Teacher, February 2009.

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