Transitioning from the Virtual Class Back to the Studio Safely

"Slow and steady wins the race." - Welsh proverb

As the country gradually begins to reopen, schools will be beginning a new academic year, and dancers will be flooding back in to studios.

It will be a welcome relief for all of us who have been limited to dancing in bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, family rooms and backyards. So…how do we do it in a healthy way that limits the risk of injury?

It is important to remember that even those who have been taking virtual classes will likely not be dancing at the same level they were when everything closed…have they been able to turn at home? Jump on healthy surfaces? Perform traveling phrases or grand allegro?

In order to lessen the risk of injury, precautions should be taken and the return should be gradual.

1)    Gather information before charging headfirst into grand jetés and multiple turns:

·      Create a survey for each dancer, asking what he/she has been doing since the shutdown, inquiring about current levels of fitness, any recent illnesses or injuries and what concerns the dancer might have about returning

·      Create some type of baseline evaluation for your dancers. It should be made to fulfill needs based upon the technique and level of the class. You might consider evaluating the number of relevés and sautés that can be completed correctly before the dancer fatigues and displays poor technique or look at the amount of time a dancer can hold a correct plank.

2)    Consider a phased-in approach – Strength, flexibility and neuromuscular coordination will have decreased (1).  Since dancers will not be performing at the level they were before the shutdown, classes should not pick up right where they left off. The first few weeks should be focus on conditioning exercises and basic technique to help raise fitness levels and reinforce neuromuscular pathways. Work from short sequences, two-legged stationary jumps and single turns toward longer sequences, single-legged jumps, leaps, multiple turns and traveling phrases. 

Expecting too much too soon is a sure way to increase injury risk!

3)    Lastly beware of week three! Studies on military recruits have shown that most injuries occur between weeks 3 & 6 of basic training (2), and dancers will likely experience this same phenomenon. Everyone will be excited during the first two weeks back and on high alert. The body will be in a heightened state and releasing hormones and neurotransmitters like adrenaline and dopamine. They push us forward and dull any pain, making us feel invincible. As the excitement begins to subside, so will the release of these substances. The dancers will not feel as energetic, their bodies will feel tired and will start feeling pain if they have overdone it during the previous two weeks.

It will be both exhilarating and exciting for dancers to return to the studio, however, nothing will be more disheartening than to have a dancer be forced to leave again because of an injury. Dancers need to be guided responsibly through a healthy, phased-in approach that helps them return to the studio and start dancing again!

(1)Narici, Marco et al. (2020) Impact of sedentarism due to the COVID-19 home confinement on neuromuscular, cardiovascular and metabolic health: Physiological and pathophysiological implications and recommendations for physical and nutritional countermeasures, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1761076
(2)Piantanida NA, Knapik JJ, Brannen, S, and O'Connor, F. Injuries during Marine Corps officer basic training. (2000) Military Medicine, 165(7), 515-52