Advice for Dancers: Former New York City Ballet Dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., Is a Lecturer, a Psychologist in Private Practice, and the Author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She Has Been Offering Advice to Dance Magazine Readers since 1992

Article excerpt

Does practising more than one technique cause injuries? I've studied ballet since I was a kid, but recently added modern classes to help land a job. My body is acting up big time. What should I do?--Vanessa, Brooklyn Heights, NY

Pay attention to what hurts! According to a recent study by Dr. Bonnie Weigert, each technique places different stresses on the body. While ballet dancers report more problems in the lower back, hamstrings, and shins, modern dancers are twice as likely to experience upper body strain. The upside is that training in several techniques will give you a competitive edge, but more parts of your body are vulnerable. Like Tiger Woods, all athletes, including dancers, can reduce injuries through cross-training. Try combining working out with free weights to build strength in your arms and upper body, a resistance training program like Pilates, and aerobic exercise like pedaling a stationary bike or swimming. In a study that I recently presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, serious injuries were significantly higher in ballet dancers who performed contemporary works but did not take contemporary dance classes. So if your company plans to perform Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels, try to take some Graham classes before rehearsals start.

After reading in the New York Times anout New York City Ballet's first wellness weekend for the dance community this past September, I was impressed with the company's pre-season health screenings. Why is this procedure only required for new company members? When I danced, I know my body could have used a thorough check-up before each season.--Too Old to Learn, Princeton, NJ

Annual screenings are still a novel idea in the dance community. It's a big step that NYC Ballet is offering confidential screenings to the entire company, with mandatory attendance for the youngest dancers, who are most prone to overuse injuries. This way we're training a new generation about healthy work habits, while encouraging seasoned performers to reap the benefits of early screenings. Why is it important for all company members to seek early screenings? Suppose that a dancer has tight hamstrings. If she discovers this at the beginning of the rehearsal period, she can correct it with special stretching exercises, making her less likely to pull a muscle in an area that takes forever to heal. …