When Dance Training Gets in the Way of Being Healthy

            Dancing should look easy; like an optical illusion.  It should seem effortless.  – Bruce Marks

         A dancer’s job is to create a grand illusion for the audience.  The most difficult steps must look easy, and no one must ever guess that pointe shoes contain feet that are home to bunions, blisters and bleeding toes.  Like athletes, dancers need to perform with sore, and sometimes injured or overworked muscles, but unlike athletes, dancers must never show any sign of weakness.  Dancers must always be ready to push themselves to the next level to secure a role or a job, and there is no option for taking the easy way out.
            While all of these qualities are necessary in a field where performance is the ultimate goal, it is these same qualities that can be harmful to dancers when they begin cross-training or conditioning classes.

            Pilates and yoga instructors and personal trainers usually offer several variations of an exercise, ranging from beginner to advanced levels.  Most dancers, in spite of being new to this type of training, will choose the most advanced version simply because that is what they have been trained to do.  Although dance teachers might make statements like, “You may do a double turn if you want,” or “You may add beats to this exercise if you’d like,” dancers know that if they want to be noticed, an option does not truly exist.  They are expected to challenge themselves.  Unfortunately, since dancers’ muscles are specifically trained for dance exercises, the advanced version may be too difficult at first and strain the dancer’s body.

            As the conditioning class or session progresses and the trainer looks to the client to determine if he or she can handle a heavier weight, more repetitions or a more difficult exercise, the dancer will not portray an accurate picture.  If a dancer finds an exercise taxing or difficult, no one will ever know it.  Dancers are always performing, and they are trained to make the most difficult look the easiest.

            Lastly, since dancers are used to working with sore or tired muscles and have extremely high levels of pain tolerance, they may not always listen and respond to their bodies the way others do.  A pulling or burning sensation in the muscle may be ignored and classified as a slight twinge that must be worked through, and dancers may continue the exercise, assuming that they are feeling “good pain” when in fact they are feeling an injury occurring.  Dancers may not even realize they are injured until swelling or extreme pain occurs.

            When in a cross-training or conditioning program, dancers need to remember that starting to train at the beginner level is not a bad thing, it is okay to acknowledge tired muscles and to listen to their bodies in a different way, and trainers need to remember that dancers will push themselves to the absolute limit.  Cross training in dance is necessary and effective, but both dancers and trainers need to be aware of the psychological ramifications of dance training in order to keep the dancer healthy.