Dancing can do great things for your body. But science is increasingly exploring the many ways it's also good for your brain. A recent study showed that dancers' brains react to music even faster than trained musicians or other people. The author of the dissertation, Hanna Poikonen, observed brain activity in all three groups while they watched dances and found that expert dancers were the quickest to respond to rhythmic changes. She believes creating movement to sound could affect how your brain hears music.
Even among dancers, however, there is wide variation in musicality. Some of your students might be naturally musical, while others might struggle a bit more. But whether or not a dance student possesses this mysterious quality, musicality is an essential skill that can help any dancer perform their best and move forward in their training and career.
Most dancers don't think about bone health until they have an injury. But it's crucial to ensure a healthy foundation early on, says Dr. Eleni Lantzouni, a specialist for adolescent medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dancers constantly strive to perform with maximum energy—often with minimum weight gain. So it's no surprise if they sometimes run out of fuel. But if undereating occurs along with missed periods and low bone density, the combined effect can spell trouble. Known as the female athlete triad, it can lead to poor performance and bone injuries, like fractures.
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 itcan have serious consequences if not managed properly.
Active relaxation exercises release tension and speed muscle recovery. Thinkstock
Strange as it may seem, the missing ingredient of a dancer's optimal performance is often rest. According to Kathleen Weber, consulting sports medicine physician at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, dancers should think of recovery as an essential element in their training. “As you walk offstage, you should already be thinking, 'How am I recovering?'" she says.
As many dancers know, repetitive strain on muscles can lead to micro-traumas, or tiny tears in muscle tissue. If the body never has a chance to heal, an overuse injury can result. Rest gives muscles a chance to repair themselves, but finding an extended period of time to relax is not in most dancers' playbooks.