A year ago, the concern of parents, teachers and students was that dancers train safely in their homes during the time they were outside the studio. Uneven surfaces, concrete basement floors, not to mention the occasional stray pet or bookshelf suddenly getting in the way of a grand battement – all held potential for serious injury.
In May 2020, Dr. Danelle Dickson, a physical therapist who specializes in dance and sports medicine in Washington D.C., provided Dance Advantage with some valuable guidance, specifically highlighting ways dancers can safely train in their homes as well as the ways they can avoid injury. She returns to help guide dancers back to the studio and onto the stage – safely!
Dance Advantage: Can you point to statistics or anecdotal evidence from your practice that can show the decline in dancer training hours vs. the rise in injuries?
Dr. Danelle Dickson: The sports and dance world have studied the correlation between the decline in training and rise of injuries quite a bit. Several factors contribute to the presence – or absence- of injuries in athletes. The decline in training hours for dancers not only produces decreased technical skill but also reduces the fitness of the dancer – which research shows inverse relationships with injury risk. Therefore, once skill decreases because of fatigue, injury becomes more likely in dancers. One study of elite vocational ballet students demonstrating low levels of aerobic fitness was found to be significantly associated with many of the injuries sustained over a 15-week period.
The trends for injury rates in dancers follow those of most athletes. In general, higher training loads are associated with greater injury rates, with differing factors changing the scales. Conversely, lower training loads result in lower fitness levels that increase injury risk.
“Dancers primarily experience overuse injuries, which can be considered training load-related and therefore are potentially preventable.” – Dr. Danelle Dickson
So in looking at this specific categorization, we ideally want to find the “sweet spot” in training that maximizes performance potential and has positive function (fitness) and avoids the negative consequences of training (i.e., injury, illness, fatigue and over training).
Did you see a rise in interest from parents regarding their children’s training?
There has definitely been more attention to the needs of dancers in general both from parents and teachers/administrators. The pandemic has forced dancers to work in unconventional spaces, so more dialogue about what was required, along with things needed for success has definitely been discussed more among parents and teachers.
Were you seeing your clients engaging in cross-training for either injury prevention or simply because they couldn’t take part in group in-studio classes?
Many dancers – due to the pandemic- have now been placed in a position where they had to be more thoughtful about their training. This is a huge shift from dancers just showing up to class and following the teacher’s/ choreographer’s instructions. Both parties – dancers and teachers alike – were problem-solving this situation in real-time together, so many dancers had an opportunity to have more ownership and practice advocacy in their training process. For that reason, I did see more dancers asking more insightful questions that led them to better understand the role of cross-training and its benefits to their overall fitness. In addition, with such a gap left in training frequency and intensity due to the pandemic, many dancers saw the utility of a cross-training program to prevent the losses anticipated from decreased training.
Teachers/administrators also have stepped up to the challenge of finding better solutions for dancers to get them adequately prepared for dance life as they returned to the studio, with utilizing assessment tools and cross training programs designed to fill these gaps.
Can you give a general assessment of dancers’ readiness to get back to class, performance, and competition? Who do you see being in the best position to take part in high-impact activity?
That’s a difficult question since dancers have had such variance in dance participation before and during the pandemic. So varying factors, including training intensity, frequency, location, previous injuries and cross training can all influence a dancer’s readiness. Since the starting points of so many dancers are so variable, it is advisable to get a dance medicine professional to assess this – as would be standard in any sport prior to return to full sporting activity.
Can dancers do self-assessment of their readiness and if so, what might they ask themselves to know if they are prepared?
I’ve co-created a tool where dancers are now able to test themselves objectively to get clear understanding of where they are and where they need to go next – it’s called the Dance Ready Screen. Easy to do in the safety and comfort of your home, and can be done by anyone, it only takes approx 20 mins to complete! Additionally, with results in approx 72 hours, you can get results that are easy to interpret and utilize right away.
Are you Dance Ready? Test yourself here!
(All photos courtesy Dr. Danelle Dickson from her practice.)
Dr. Danelle Dickson, PT, DPT, OCS is a licensed physical therapist, Performing Arts specialist, Orthopedic clinical specialist and owner at Performance Plus Physical Therapy. She is also the host of the Dancing around Elephants Podcast, creator of Dansebridge Online – a cross training program for dancers, co-founder of a business mentorship for minority women: The Black Female Foundation, and co-founder of the Dance Ready Project, an online hub for tools and resources for dancers. She has worked with DC dance companies, DC dance schools and notable companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, and Little Dancer Theater.
She has lectured at Howard University, University of Maryland and University of Delaware on dance medicine , injury assessment and treatment, and has also presented on Dance Medicine and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) in physical therapy at the national level – American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and international dance medicine conferences on her published dance research at International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS). Expert topics include dancer injuries, injury prevention, patient advocacy and business mentorship for minority women.
Leigh Purtill is a ballet instructor and choreographer in Los Angeles where she lives with her husband and charming poodle. She received her master’s degree in Film Production from Boston University and her bachelor’s in Anthropology and Dance from Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of four young adult novels from Penguin and HarperCollins. She is the artistic director of the Leigh Purtill Ballet Company, a nonprofit amateur ballet company for adults and she teaches ballet and jazz to adults both in person and online, Leigh Purtill Ballet. Read Leigh’s posts.