Dancer Health

When Bodies Change: Help Your Dancers Stay Injury-Free During Puberty

At Kansas City Ballet School, Peter Pawlyshyn makes adjustments for students during growth spurts. Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios, courtesy of Peter Pawlyshyn

When students go through puberty, the body they've been diligently training may suddenly change. Growth spurts can throw off balance and reduce flexibility, a combination that can increase the risk of injury.

You can help your students hold on to their technique and confidence during this transition, as well as teach them how to use their changing bodies safely and effectively.


Recognizing Puberty

The first step to keeping your students healthy overall is to be understanding and convey that it's completely natural for their bodies to change, even if it temporarily affects their technique.

Most females experience puberty between the ages of 11 to 14, although dancers tend to have a delayed experience, says Julie Daugherty, an American Ballet Theatre physical therapist who works with students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. Male dancers experience it between the ages of 12 to 18. “When students are in the middle of a growth spurt, they may say they are feeling tight or can't lift their legs as high, or they may not be able to do the splits anymore," Daugherty says. “They can also start to have issues with knee and hip pain or various muscle or tendon strains."

In addition to aches and pains, Peter Pawlyshyn, school director of the Kansas City Ballet School, says he notices imbalances in his students once developmental changes begin to occur. “There's a weakness, a wobbliness," he says. “We encourage students to be very up-front and honest with their teachers, so they know what's going on."

Risk Management

The top three reasons injuries occur are muscle/tendon imbalances, incorrect alignment and growth spurts, says Lyle J. Micheli, attending physician for Boston Ballet and professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. When a dancer starts to grow, her bones lengthen more quickly than muscles and tendons. If she doesn't have enough time to build up her strength, she is especially at risk of injury during this time.

Encourage students to focus on core strength to develop stability and control, and stretching counteracts tightness in the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors and gluteal muscles during growth. Daugherty suggests incorporating Pilates mat work two to three times a week.

If a student experiences consistent pain or an ache that progressively worsens, she should consult a physician. You may also want to consider coordinating a local medical team committed to helping your dancers if they need it. Kansas City Ballet School has an off-site network of three orthopedic surgeons, a physical therapist, a nutritionist and a psychologist. “They allow our students to get an appointment at a moment's notice, and they have been equally as invested in our dancers as we are as a staff," Pawlyshyn says.

Adjusting Your Curriculum

Teachers should be very careful about the intensity of their students' training and how many hours a week they are dancing during this time, Micheli says. He has noticed at several prominent ballet academies that teachers “back off on the intensity and total volume of training" during puberty, which is helpful in preventing injuries. Consider replacing one technique class a week with a strengthening and stretching class.

Daugherty agrees: “Instead of pushing really challenging steps during periods of rapid growth, teachers should focus on more of the artistic quality of dance, musicality and acting."

Another option is to concentrate on “the basics"—clean, simple, centered movement. “Make sure they are dancing with good alignment and working on their trunk control, because they are still struggling with finding their coordination and stability," Daugherty says. However, be sure to explain to your students, who might be expecting to work on difficult steps, that slowing down a bit will help them in the long run because they will have stronger technique and core stabilization to lean upon once they are done with their growth spurts.

Ultimately, it's about teaching young students to properly care for their bodies —their instruments. “We try to impress upon our students how important it is to keep up the health of the body for the longevity of their training and dance career," Pawlyshyn says. “I tell them, 'Your body changes, it ebbs and flows, throughout your career. You just have to be knowledgeable and rely on your training, and your technique will come back when things settle down.'"

Common Injuries During Puberty

Students should seek medical attention if you see any indication of these conditions:

Iliopsoas tendonitis and snapping hip syndrome

Cause: Tight iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscles.

Symptoms: Pain in the front of the hip near the groin indicates tendonitis. An audible popping sound during a grand battement or développé (snapping hip syndrome) is due to a muscle or tendon passing over the greater trochanter bone at the top of the femur.

Achilles tendoniti

Cause: A tight Achilles tendon (the large tendon in the back of the ankle) or weak calves.

Symptoms: Irritation and inflammation of the Achilles tendon, along with pain in the heel and lower calf, especially when jumping.

Patella tracking issues

Cause: Widening hips (in girls) in combination with weak quadriceps and iliotibial bands leads the knee's patella bone to run off-center.

Symptoms: Knee pain and/or giving way of the knee.

Osgood-Schlatter disease

Cause: Overuse of the knee while growing. Male dancers are sometimes prone to this injury when practicing additional jumps.

Symptoms: Pain and swelling in the area below the knee on the upper shinbone.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton, courtesy of Forance

While Teddy Forance admits that performing with commercial artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and in front of 30,000 people, is exhilarating, he is personally drawn to more abstract music when he choreographs. It's a preference that sometimes confounds his contemporaries. "Some of my friends will ask, 'How do you choreograph to music that sounds like silverware fighting?'" he says. "I just tell them one sound at a time," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Via YouTube

The celebration of tap dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday comes each year May 25, and the dance world goes wild for it! Since 1989 the day has been celebrated by tap lovers everywhere through music, movement and festivals.

Interested in joining the party this year? Here's one special way to celebrate NTDD in 2019.

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students

Dance Teacher 2014 K–12 public-school education award recipient, Joan Sheary, is starring in a new documentary, Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life. The film, which is currently wrapping 10 years of filming, follows a group of high school students as they participate in a public arts magnet middle school program in Worcester, Massachusetts, under the direction of dance teacher and former Rockette, Sheary.

Through the eyes of the students, the audience has the opportunity to see the value of arts education in action. The film shows students as they navigate daily practice, grueling workouts, competition, bullying, peer pressure and complex home dynamics, all culminating in the school's year-end performances.

"We have filmed for a total of 450 hours over a 10-year period," director Barbara Copithorne says. "The result is Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life—a 76-minute documentary about Joan Sheary, the origin and breadth of the program she created, the students' lives she's touched and a city that supports the arts."

As the film creeps toward festival submissions, the creators are reaching out to the dance community to raise funds for its release. You can contribute here.

Sheary's success as a teacher was celebrated at our yearly Dance Teacher Award presentation in 2014. To participate in this year's DT Awards, join us at The Dance Teacher Summit in Long Beach, California. Follow the link to get more information on registration, class schedules and events.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

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

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox