“If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us.” – Adlai Stevenson
Everyone is given one body that needs to last a lifetime. With lifespans growing longer, it is becoming increasingly important to focus upon the quality of life. Living to be 100 years old does not mean much if the person is in constant pain and unable to complete the simple activities of daily living without the body rebelling.
Daily, dancers place extraordinary demands upon their bodies. There are the torque forces applied during turns, the constant impact of multiple jumps, and, for the ballerina, the demand placed upon the toes that must support the dancer’s body weight. The human body was not created to endure these stresses, therefore, it is up to the dance community to train dancers in ways that will keep them healthy and limit the amount of stress placed upon the body.
Although this ideology makes sense, it is an uphill battle because dance is based upon tradition. Dance notation and videography have allowed us to record and preserve great works of choreography, but actual dance training is something that has been passed on from one generation of dancers to another. The dance masters established rules, positions, and steps, and passed their methods of training onto their students, who then became teachers and passed the information onto their students. Many of the original conventions of training are still present in 21st century dance technique. Dance masters and teachers are respected individuals, and when a dance or exercise scientist suggests that some of these age-old traditions should change, her or she is understandably met with resistance.
Change is always difficult, but there is a growing body of research, suggesting that changing the ways dancers train will keep them dancing longer, stronger, and healthier. In order to implement these changes, the traditional dance class also needs to change. Beginning ballet class with a cardiovascular exercise is still unheard of in many schools as is strength training for dancers. Many dancers still believe that stretching should be done at the beginning of class as a warm-up and that cross-training to develop other muscle groups is taboo. Dancers and dance educators fear that altering the traditional class will result in changed or compromised bodylines, and the artistry of dance will be lost. Scientists have no desire to change the final product. They simply hope to enhance and strengthen the process so that the dancers’ bodies are placed under less stress and can grow stronger and healthier. Stronger and healthier bodies mean more efficient ways of moving, less time lost due to injuries, and better performers.
Dancers in Canada and Australia have begun to embraces the changes that dance scientists are suggesting, and organizations like the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science are helping to promote awareness in the dance community. An increasing number of college programs have begun to offer classes in dance medicine and dance science.
Knowledge is a powerful thing and can be used to strengthen the field of dance. Embracing the new findings in dance and exercise research will mean changing the traditional approach to dance but will serve to make dance a stronger, more viable art form.
The Healthy Dancer grew out of a desire to educate dancers, parents of dancers, and dance educators about how the advances in dance medicine and exercise science could benefit the dance community. After only one year, The Healthy Dancer has grown quicker than I ever imagined possible when I began this blog last October. Each week over 100 subscribers receive my posts, another 150 people follow the blog’s happenings on Twitter, an additional 900 people visit the site, I have a loyal following on Facebook, and I have begun travelling across the country to give lectures on dancer health. I have made many connections with other dance bloggers, am grateful to my loyal readers, and am looking forward to where the next year will take The Healthy Dancer.