Teaching Dancers to Listen to Their Bodies

"Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen to them." - Shakti Gawain

      The most important gift anyone can give dancers is to teach them how to listen to their bodies.  Daily, dancers enter the studio aiming to get their legs a little higher, their feet to arch a little more, their bodies to move a little quicker and their range of motion to increase.  These dancers go home a little sorer and often refer to this soreness as “good pain”.   This “good pain” is not truly pain but more of a dull ache that occurs when we push our muscles a little harder.

            When we exercise, slight tears occur in our muscle tissue.  The body’s automatic response to these tears is to send extra protein and white blood cells to the damaged areas to “clean up the mess” and begin repairing the tissue.  When these extra fluids accumulate in the muscle tissue, they produce a slight swelling which presses on nerve endings and causes soreness.  Soreness is encountered by all athletes, is unavoidable and an expected part of the training process.  The sharp pain (or “bad pain”) produced by an injury is not.

            It is important that dancers be able to recognize the difference between these two sensations and report an injury as soon as it occurs.  Dancers often try to dance through the pain, believe it can be worked out with more dancing or do not acknowledge the pain.  In a study published in 1995, researchers found that professional ballet dancers had a significantly higher pain threshold (point at which it starts to hurt) than their peers.  The dancers also reported the pain becoming intolerable at higher intensity levels than their peers.  These findings indicate that dancers will normally react to pain later and may take longer to report an injury than the average person.  If dancers delay reporting an injury further due to concerns about losing roles or because they refuse to acknowledge the pain, injuries can grow more serious and have the potential to become chronic conditions.

            Pain is the body’s way of alerting us to a problem and needs to be acknowledged.  Injuries that are cared for when they first occur will heal quicker, cause minimal disruption in training and are less likely to affect the dancer at a later time.

            The body’s alarm system is built right in.  We need to make sure that our dancers don’t ignore it because the consequences of that action can affect them the rest of their lives.