Co-Authors: Andrew Ludwig PT, DPT and Bryan Lind PT, MPT, ATC
As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues around the country and the world, dancers have been taken from the studios and moved into their homes for virtual practices and performances. While the performing arts have had to adapt to these challenging times, it opens the door for potential injuries as many dancers do not have the proper equipment to practice safely and effectively in their home. In this blog, we’ll explore dance safety and the steps you can take to practice safely.
What are the risk factors associated with not dancing in the studio?
When dancing at home, a few risk factors stand out, for which will be addressed throughout this post. These include the lack of one-on-one instruction, limited warm up/cool down activities, and lack of specialized low stiffness floors.
- Lack of one-on-one instruction
- Dancers and individuals in general learn best through a combination learning of seeing, doing, and receiving instruction. With the shift to virtual, many dancers and teachers may not be able to see the detail needed to see, instruct, and perform the activity correctly through a monitor or computer screen. This could lead to the development of poor technique and movement mechanics. Over time, these can lead to fatigue and soft tissue breakdown.
- Limited warm up/cool down activities
- Most, if not all, dance classes offer warm up and cool downs for their dancers while in the studio. With limited time via virtual services, some of these activities have been cut. With lack of warm up and cool down, dancers are experiencing rapid warming and cooling of muscles, resulting in injuries. Warmups allow the body to prepare for strenuous activity while cool downs allow the body to return to rest.
- Improper equipment and floor type
- Over the years, studies have looked at the importance of floor type for dancers of all ages and abilities. James Hackney and his co-authors talk about the need for a reduced stiffness dance floor as needed to limit injury to the lower extremities (legs). Low stiffness floors limit the maximum joint angles needed to absorb forces; help reduce the velocity needed to recover from dance activities and limit the rate of eccentric muscle recruitment.1 What this means is that low stiffness floors help limit shock to the joints and allows the dancer to maximize their muscle usage which helps to limit fatigue. Due to this, it is believed that these floors reduce the likelihood of a variety of overuse injuries especially at the knee.1 With dancers at home, many are dancing on hard wood floors or carpet which do not allow for the transfer of energy and require increased work by the body to perform the same activities they once were doing at the studio. The repetitive use of non-optimal floors for dancing may expose the dancer to overuse injuries, fatigue, and soft tissue breakdown.
How can I reduce the risk of injury when dancing at home?
Despite the challenges of dancing at home, there are many steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of injury!
- Ask for Help
- The easiest thing that can be done, is to ask for help. When working on a new technique, ask LOTS of questions – as a dancer you’ll want to learn as many details as possible. Then, if able, set up full body mirrors around the dance space as needed to monitor technique. Mirrors are a great tool to assist with optimal learning and reproduction of good dance technique.
- Warm Ups and Cool Downs
- Dancers need to remind themselves that warmups and cool downs are important to perform before and after EACH dance session, regardless if your studio or facility is offering them virtually. This will help the dancer prepare for each class and return to normal resting rate following practice. The bodies respond best when it is prepared for each activity. A great way to start and end a session is with gentle movement throughout each joint in the body. For an example warm up, click here.
- Dance Surfaces
- Most importantly, dancers need to be aware of the surfaces they are dancing on at home. If on hardwood or carpet, it is important to try and avoid multiple, repetitive jumps which add torque and increased forces through the joints. If needing to perform these jumps, it is important for the dancer to take frequent rest breaks and to limit the number of consecutive times performed. When practicing daily, the dancer shoulder try and mix up the surface for which they are dancing on. A potential alternative surface could be using the yard or a soft mat if available as needed to decrease forces placed on the joints. It is also important for a dancer to wear proper supportive dance footwear to assist with shock absorption instead of dancing barefoot. All these in conjunction with mindfulness and body awareness can assist the dancer in decreased risk of injury while dancing at home.
If I start to experience pain, what should I do?
If you start to experience pain it is important to take a break from dancing. Do not push through pain or assume that it is a strain/sprain. Take rest breaks and respect what your body is trying to tell you. If pain does not subside, it is important to see a trained medical professional. Athletico offers Free Assessments where our expert clinicians will evaluate your condition and recommend the best treatment option for you. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform. In addition, Athletico proudly employs clinicians that specialize in treating dancers. Being seen by a dance-specific clinician can reduce the time away from dancing and quickly assist the dancer with their needs. For additional information about our Performing Arts Rehabilitation, please email email@example.com.
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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Hackney, J., Brummel, S., Newman, M., Scott, S., Reinagel, M., & Smith, J. (2015). Effect of Reduced Stiffness Dance Flooring on Lower Extremity Joint Angular Trajectories During a Ballet Jump. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 19(3), 110-117. doi:10.12678/1089-313x.19.3.110