Advice for Dancers

By Hamilton, Linda | Dance Magazine, April 2000 | Go to article overview
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Advice for Dancers

Hamilton, Linda, Dance Magazine

Q I have read about you cautioning against running in dancers with established turnout. I am the father of two children who attend the School of American Ballet. I would like to address the concern with their physical education teachers. Could you refer me to any periodicals?

William Dieck, M.D., Mount Kisco, N.Y.

A Running places stress on everybody's knees. However, dance medicine specialists tell me that it's especially risky to run with a turned-out foot--a normal consequence of dance training. While I'm unaware of any studies on dancers, there is considerable research on patella femoral injuries in the kneecap and thigh in runners with an abducted (turned out)forefoot. You should be able to find specific references on the Internet or in your library.

Q I don't have an eating disorder. Yet, according to your weight-height chart you used in one of your publications, I'm at an anorexic weight after losing eight pounds by eating a well-balanced diet. Is it possible for you to modify this chart so it works better for dancers? I'm 13 years old, 5'3" tall and weigh ninety-four pounds.


A A reason I have this chart by Sargent in my book Advice for Dancers (1998, Jossey-Bass) is because it has been used extensively In research on professional dancers in China, Russia, Europe, and in the United States. Regardless of the culture, female ballet dancers typically fall around 13 percent below their ideal weight for height. You, on the other hand, are 23 percent below your ideal weight for height--which is way too thin even for ballet! A healthier weight would be closer to 100 pounds. If you're not anorexic, gaining those five or six pounds shouldn't be a problem.

Q I have a 15-year-old daughter with hyperextended knees. One of her ballet teachers is having her compensate by not straightening her knees completely when she dances. Another teacher says this will cause her thighs to build up and become "bulky." What is correct?


A First, you should know that hyperextended knees add to the beauty of the "line" in dance. The problem is that they also create weakness and make it difficult to support the legs. According to Katy Keller, physical therapist for the Juilliard School in New York City, it's best if your daughter works with straight knees (neither bent nor hyper-extended). It would also help if she did therapeutic exercises before and after class to strengthen her calf muscles and her hamstrings. To find a suitable physical therapist, contact the Orthopedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association, (800) 444-3982, for their list of specialists in the performing arts (the list cost is $2).

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