"A setback is a setup for a comeback" - T.D. Jakes
Dancers spend so much time taking class, rehearsing and performing that experiencing an injury at some point in their training or their careers is almost inevitable.
Injury rates among dancers have been reported to be as high as 97%, yet less than 50% of those injuries are treated by medical professionals. Dancers tend to dance through any pain they feel because they worry about missing class and losing technique, losing their roles to other dancers and losing pay due to missed rehearsals and performances.
However, injuries do occur, and there are times when dancers may be forced to stop dancing for a period of time. It is important for everyone in the dance field to know and understand that there are some psychological effects a dancer may likely experience when injured.
A dancer may feel shocked and frustrated to discover that this body that he/she has spent year's training has betrayed him/her. If the injury forces the dancer to take time off, the frustration may soon turn to depression as the dancer begins to miss classes and/or rehearsals. It is important to note that this depression may not only be psychological but may have some of its roots in the fact that when we dance our bodies naturally release endorphins which promote a sense of euphoria. When dancers are forced to stop, the endorphins are not released, and they will not experience the sense of euphoria which is a normal state for them.
Standard practice within the dance community is that injured dancers should attend classes and rehearsal when injured and observe. Although dancers can certainly learn by observing (see my post, about mental rehearsal), a 1996 study determined that watching class was related to an increase in the injured dancer's feelings of guilt, anger and distress over being injured.
As the injury begins to heal, the dancer will grow optimistic but may soon become pessimistic as he/she grows impatient with the amount of time necessary for the body to heal.
Dance directors, educators and parents can help dancers cope with injuries in several ways. Very few dancers have enough anatomical knowledge to understand the nature of an injury and the body's recovery process. By educating dancers before injuries occur, we can eliminate the fear that often accompanies an injury.
Dancers need to be reassured by everyone around them that injuries are temporary and that they will eventually be able to return to the technical level at which they were performing prior to the injury.
It is equally important for an injured dancer to see a medical professional who understands the mentality of dancers. The doctor or physical therapist should understand that the primary goal is to get the dancer back in the studio as soon as possible and provide realistic rehabilitation exercises. Quite often, the rehabilitation exercises that are prescribed are less challenging than the exercises dancers do on a daily basis.
Lastly, it is important that injured dancers who sit through class or rehearsals feel they have a purpose. A dancer with a leg injury can sit in a chair and perform all of the upper body movements, or the dancer may be asked to take notes for the teacher or rehearsal director so that he/she feels valued.
While it is inevitable that injuries will occur in dance, psychological feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety may be avoidable or alleviated by the approaches of those surrounding the dancer. Their reassurances and kind gestures can help keep the injured dancer in a healthy psychological state while the body is given the chance to heal.
Bowling, A. (1989) Injuries to dancers: prevalence, treatment and perceptions of causes. BMJ. 298:731-34.
Kerr, G., Krasnow, D., Mainwaring, L. (1992) The nature of dance injuries. Medical Problems of Performing Artists. 7:25-9.
Macchi R, Crossman J. (1996). After the Fall: Reflections of injured classical ballet dancers, Journal of Sport Behavior. 19(3): 221-234.