While many dancers spend hours stretching, a lucky few are endowed with nearly limitless flexibility. Stretchiness is prized in the dance world, so that could seem like a huge advantage. But is more always better?

"As dance has progressed, dancers are increasingly being asked to work at their end ranges of joint motion with really high arabesques or développés," says Nancy Kadel, orthopedic surgeon and co-chair of the Dance/USA Task Force on Dancer Health. But, she warns: "When someone has hypermobility, there is more play in the joint, which may increase the risk of injury."

Being hypermobile may help you create beautiful lines and shapes, but it can have serious consequences if not managed properly.


When More Flexibility Isn't Necessarily Better

There are different kinds of flexibility, says Heather Southwick, director of physical therapy for the Boston Ballet. "Some dancers are flexible, but that doesn't mean they are hypermobile," she explains. "There is a difference between muscle flexibility and what's happening at the joint." If someone has hypermobility, the ligaments holding the bones together at a joint are loose, allowing for more movement beyond the normal range of motion. This can lead to wear and tear, or even dislocations of the joint. So, although the ligaments are more mobile, they are also more fragile.

Sometimes it's a sign of benign joint hypermobility, an inherited condition involving joint laxity along with pain, fatigue, a tendency to bruise easily and even digestive problems or hernias. In rare cases, it signals a disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, in which extreme flexibility can accompany problems affecting the eyes, skin, blood vessels and heart.

Of course, being overly flexible doesn't always cause symptoms, but regardless, dancers need to balance their innate flexibility with strength and control.

Kadel, kneeling, recommends strengthening exercises to combat hypermobility. Photo by Aaron Burnell, courtesy of Kadel.

Be Aware of the Dangers

The drawbacks of extreme flexibility can include fatigue, pain, sprains and chronic injuries. Some dancers experience the condition only in certain places. But even one unstable joint, like a knee, can be a weak link in a chain reaction pulling other joints out of line.

Annette Karim, director of dance medicine at Evergreen Physical Therapy Specialists, says she sees a lot of dancers with problems affecting the hips. Examples include labral tears—when the cartilage ring lining the hip joint socket separates from the joint—and impingement, in which the bones of the hip joint rub against each other, causing pain and joint inflammation. Dancers may hear a clicking sound or feel pain in the hip when they développé to the front or side, but should see a dance physical therapist before jumping to any conclusions.

An overly mobile spine is also vulnerable to injury. "L-4 can slide in front of L-5 during back cambrés, battements or arabesque," says Karim, which may cause a vertebral fracture in extreme cases. Over the long term, spine osteo-arthritis may develop, leading to chronic back pain and stiffness with age.

Southwick working with Boston Ballet dancer Alec Roberts. Photo by Lauren Pajer, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Managing the Condition

You cannot reduce hypermobility, but you can manage it. "Dancers really have to work to stabilize and protect the joints," says Kadel. As with all dancers, stability begins with a strong center. Pilates is a good option for building core strength.

Southwick gives dancers strengthening exercises that engage and activate the core and deep muscles. "All athletes and dancers tend to use their global muscles, and it's hard to find the deep muscles," she says. If you're not strong enough to perform a développé, for instance, the bigger muscles like the quads take over.

Isometric exercises, where the muscle contracts without changing length (like pushing against a wall), are also important for creating strength, says Karim. "A dancer can still go to their end range, but they need to be strong," she says. "You have to be stable in the whole range."

Dance teachers should be aware that strengthening exercises given in class may not be enough. Dancers may need to do additional strengthening on their own or with a physical therapist. And, while it's still important to stretch, hypermobile dancers should be mindful to stretch just the muscle itself, not the joint or ligaments.

It's worth seeing a physical therapist who works with hypermobile dancers. Physical therapists often use an initial test of flexibility and may refer the dancer to a physician if there is concern.

Hypermobile dancers should come to terms with their bodies, says Southwick. "The key is to make sure students know how to control it." She cautions against oversplits, in particular. Kadel likes to remind dancers to balance flexibility with stability and control: "With great mobility comes great responsibility."

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox