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Dancing Longer: Safe and effective dance practice to optimize performance, and minimize injury risk

Posted By Edel Quin on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Monday, July 27, 2015

This is the third installment on the topic of dance injury on the IADMS blog. Elsa began by introducing us to injuries and injury management in dance, highlighting some great examples of specialized and tailored injury care for dancers in the UK (National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science) and the USA (Harkness Center for Dance Injury). This was followed up by Stephanie’s post on multi-disciplinary screening programmes as a means of highlighting “any concerns with regards to health, injury risk or mental and physical capabilities” and also the potential role of screening as an educational tool in contributing towards injury prevention. As the next contributor in this series, I focus on minimizing injury risk from the perspective of safe and effective dance principles as applied to dance teaching and dance making.


 

Photographer: Chris Nash, 2015.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Dance Science Testing with Wayne McGregor | Random Dance
Dancer: Jessica Wright

Firstly, it is important to dispel the impression that safe dance practice is about ‘wrapping dancers in cotton wool’ to the point that there is no risk, no creativity, no progression. I do not dare to think what dance - a wonderful, expressive, art form - would become if this were the way we engaged with dance teaching and dance making! No – safe dance practice is the complete opposite, it is a means by which dance can continue to challenge physical (and mental) capabilities, through the application of knowledge and understanding of research-informed practice. It is often noted that choreographic practices of today are increasingly demanding of dancers physicality, and at times reach extremes of athleticism. This can be what makes dance exciting! But, how can we continue to push these artistic boundaries, without increasing an already high injury rate1… enter safe and effective practice.

The principles

Safe practice does not solely aim to reduce injury risk, optimizing dancer potential is just as, if not more, important! The combination of these two aims results in the ultimate intention of prolonging participation in dance through healthful practice. The principles are borne out of dance science research, and engage with key overlapping areas of physical, psychological and environmental knowledge (see figure 1 below). Once understood these principles can be applied and adapted to any dance style, any age group, and any dance setting. 


Ask yourself…

As dance leaders (i.e. teacher, choreographer, artistic director, etc.) some of the key safe practice questions we should ask ourselves are:

1. Do I understand and apply physiological principles of warming-up and cooling down to my dance classes/rehearsals? [look out for the upcoming IADMS Resource Paper on Warm-up and Cool-down!]

2. Am I aware of different ways to stretch and when is it best to the different types? [see here]   

3. Do I understand basic anatomical principles and have an awareness of the possible implications of any alignment variations, such as hypermobility or a forward pelvic tilt, within my dancers?  [check out ‘Teaching the Hypermobile Dancer’ by Moira McCormack or ‘Improving Pelvic Alignment’ by Jennifer Deckert]

4. Do I consider the physiological training needs of my dancers (not just the technical or artistic needs)? [see IADMS Resource Paper]  

5. Do I appropriately balance amounts of activity with rest within in dance class/rehearsal3?

6. Do I understand and encourage effective fuelling (nutrition and hydration) in my dancers? [see IADMS Education Committee Resource Paper]

7. Do I know how to manage an injury, if one occurs during my dance session, or how to engage an injured in the dance class? [check out First Aid for Dancers or Technique Class Participation Options for Injured Dancers]

8. Am I aware of how I could create a positive and healthful learning climate in the dance studio?  [check out ‘Standing on the Shoulders of a Young Giant How Dance Teachers Can Benefit From Learning About Positive Psychology’ by Sanna Nordin and Ashley McGill]

9. Do I know how to adapt my safe practice knowledge to my specific dancers and dance style? [see chapter 10 in Quin, Rafferty & Tomlinson (2015)]

If the answer to any of the above is ‘No’ or ‘I’m not sure’, then let today be the day that you take the first step to exploring that specific area of your practice a little more. Dance has evolved, our understanding of the dancing body and mind has evolved, our teaching practices should also continue to evolve.  Keeping up to date with the developments in dance medicine and science research are certainly integral to my own safe and effective dance practice, and that of the dancers that I teach.

While not every dancer or dance teacher has access to the wonderful work of organizations such as the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York or the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science in the UK, fortunately every dancer, dance teacher, dance leader has access to the growing number of widely available resources, a mere sample of which have been included in this post!  IADMS obviously provides a wide range of easy-to-read research-informed educational resources such as the Resource Papers, the Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers, as well as Posters to adorn dance studio walls. There is also an expanding number of dance-specific texts that are applying the research into practice. There is even an organization dedicated to supporting, developing, encouraging and endorsing safe and healthy dance practice world-wide; Safe in Dance International (SiDI), go here for more.

So, as we strive to advance our art form, let’s do so with the aim of minimizing injury risk, optimizing potential and prolonging participation, by educating ourselves on dance science informed principles. As dance medicine and science research continues to develop, so should our knowledge and application of safe and effective dance practice. Just imagine the possibilities….!

  

Photographer: Kyle Stevenson, 2010.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
MSc Dance Science Students Investigating the Dance-specific High Intensity Fitness Test
Dancers: Helen Reeve and Casey McEldowney


For further reading, have a look at these resources:

1. Shah, S., Weiss, D.S., & Burchette, R.J. (2012). Injuries in professional modern dancers: Incidence, risk factors, and management. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 16(1), 17-25.

2. Quin, E., Rafferty, S., & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. An applied dance science perspective. Champaign, Ill, USA: Human Kinetics.

3. Batson, G,. & Schwartz, R.A. (2007). Revisiting the Value of Somatic Education in Dance Training Through an Inquiry into Practice Schedules. Journal of Dance Education. 7(2):47-56

 

 

Edel Quin MSc FHEA

Dance Educator and Researcher, Programme Leader MSc Dance Science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Tags:  dancers  injury  teachers 

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