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


Masks in the Dance Studio - Harmful or Helpful?

"A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it." - Ray A. Davis

Since it looks as if masks are here to stay, dance educators and dancers should be aware of how to use them effectively. There has been widespread concern about dancers wearing masks during class –

                        Will they get enough oxygen?

                        Will they be inhaling too much carbon dioxide?

            If an asymptomatic individual is a carrier and inhales expelled droplets, will he or she develop a full-blown case of the illness?

The good news is that there is no evidence that wearing a mask while exercising causes any harm. While masks do present an added obstacle for the body when exercising, the body is fully capable of overcoming the obstacle and meeting any increased demands of energy. It will take time for the body to adapt just as it does when someone begins a new exercise routine. For this reason, students should begin wearing masks for short periods of time with breaks and gradually work up to completing an entire class with a mask without a break.

Several studies on exercising with masks have been conducted within the past 4 years. These studies included high intensity interval training (2), endurance exercises (3) and resistance training (1) while wearing, much more restrictive, altitude training masks.  Alll have determined that exercising while wearing a mask results in no significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure. The studies, however, have found an increase in the rate of perceived exertion (the amount of energy the individual feels he or she must be expending) which makes sense because the mask does present an additional obstacle while exercising (1,2,3,4)

While the endurance exercise study found modestly lower levels of oxygen in the subjects, the levels were well tolerated, and since dance does not fall into the category of endurance training, these findings are not a major concern among dancers (3).

Since cloth masks are not sealed, additional oxygen is allowed to enter through the sides, and most of the exhaled carbon dioxide escapes before the next inhalation. Additionally, the body is strong enough to filter out and withstand  the small percentage of viral droplets that might be exhaled and inhaled again.

Masks will require an adjustment for dancers, and exercises that focus on breathing – inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth – can help prepare them for dancing with a mask. It is important to note that masks that become wet due to sweating are ineffective so dancers should also be encouraged to have a second mask in their bags.

It is an adjustment, however, one that our amazing bodies are capable of making. Will it present a challenge? Definitely, but who better to rise to this challenge than dancers?

(1)Andre, Thomas L. et al. (2018) Restrictive Breathing Mask Reduces Repetitions to Failure During a Session of Lower-Body Resistance Exercise, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32 (8), 2103-2108.

(2)Biggs, NC, England BS, Turcotte NJ, Cook MR, and Williams, AL. (2017) Effects of simulated altitude on maximal oxygen uptake and inspiratory fitness. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10, 127–136.

(3) Granados, J, Gillum, TL, Castillo, W, Christmas, KM, and Kuennen, MR. (2016) Functional respiratory muscle training during endurance exercise causes modest hypoxemia but overall is well tolerated. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, 30: 755–762.

(4) Maspero M, and Smith JD. (2016) Effect of an acute bout of exercise using an altitude training mask simulating 12,000 ft on physiological and perceptual variables. International Journal of Exercise Science, 2 (8), Article 90.