What Are They Doing Wrong? Physical Therapists Talk about the Common Mistakes Dancers Make

By Wozny, Nancy | Dance Magazine, July 2012 | Go to article overview
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What Are They Doing Wrong? Physical Therapists Talk about the Common Mistakes Dancers Make


Wozny, Nancy, Dance Magazine


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Health practitioners who work with dancers are a dedicated tribe. They love the art and its performers, hoping for long careers, less injury, and years of pain-free dancing. Yet frustrations mount when they see easily preventable problems in their patients day after day. Sometimes it's not rocket science but a small change, like how you walk, what you do outside of class, or a hand placement at the barre, that can make a huge difference. Larger mistakes take more consideration and may need reeducation about how our bodies really work.

Dance Magazine spoke with three leaders in dance science to get their gripes out in the open, which could possibly lead to healthier choices. So, listen up: The experts know their turf.

KNOW YOUR STRETCHING

"I wish dancers wouldn't stretch the way they do," sighs Jennifer Gamboa, president of Body Dynamics, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia. "They love to plop down before class and stretch out, using static instead of dynamic stretching."

Here's the problem: According to recent studies, static stretching before an activity decreases strength and power. A static (or passive) stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus, such as hoisting a leg onto the barre and just hanging out there. "If you stretch a chain-link fence, it becomes deformed. The same thing happens to the muscle fibers," says Gamboa, who works with Washington Ballet's dancers. "The brain has to adapt to that change, so the muscles are not as strong and less able to produce speed. Plus, you have less agility. Static stretching before classes decreases strength, speed, agility, and useful range of motion." The worst part is that she sees static stretching at the wrong time in a dancer's daily schedule. "I find dancers doing static stretching between the barre and center work, and again before rehearsal, where often speed, power, and agility may be in demand."

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It's not that static stretching is bad in and of itself, but it puts you at risk. "You are more likely to land incorrectly, and are more susceptible to injury," she adds.

Gamboa prefers dynamic stretching, which involves movement that is of low intensity and uses a broad range of motion. Leg brushes, arm circles, trunk rotations, lunges across the floor, and other large movements constitute dynamic stretching.

"Even walking or biking to class is an ideal way to get the blood moving and raise the body's temperature. Simply put, the body needs movement to get ready to dance."

You don't have to stop having those long, luxurious stretch experiences. "Static stretching should be done at the end of class, the end of rehearsal, and the end of the day," Gamboa says.

WALK LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE

Marika Molnar, president and founder of Westside Dance Physical Therapy, hopes that some day dancers might quit walking like ducks. "Walking with the hips and the feet turned out on a daily basis creates too much stress, especially on the feet and ankles," says Molnar, who works with New York City Ballet dancers. "You end up rolling medially over your arch and putting stress on your posterior tibial and flexor hallucis tendon. You also put too much stress on the medial knee, which can affect the stability of the patella.

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