By Shaz Sajadi
The curtain goes up, you step on stage, adrenaline kicks in, you’re twirling, spinning, jumping. You’re a dancer, a storyteller, an artist creating magic for the audience. You land and roll your ankle, but keep dancing through the pain, smiling despite the agony.
The show must go on.
Becoming a professional dancer does not happen overnight. It takes years of missing out on after-school activities with your friends to take dance lessons every day. It takes months of blisters and bloody toes to break in your first pair of pointe shoes. But with that dancer sense of identity comes a duty to your audience, one which you cannot betray, not even when you get injured on stage.
Dancing with an injury will often result in longer recovery time. Kelsey Griffith, performance enhancement and rehabilitation specialist at Micheli Center said, “We want driven motivated dancers, but how do you shift that motivation to dance wellness?How do you encourage longevity of career by shifting the focus from instant gratification of ‘I need to dance tonight.’ It’s hard, the change is hard.”
According to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Sports Medicine in 2009, more than 160,000 people were treated for dance-related injuries. Injuries in dancers can be caused by more than just unfortunate accidents and bad partnering. Unhealthy eating habits and extreme dieting can cause low bone density in dancers which in turn can result in injury or they can simply be from overuse. But there are ways for dancers to protect their bodies and prevent these types of injuries.
Foot and ankle injuries are more common in female dancers and back injuries are more common in male dancers, according to Overuse Injuries in Professional Ballet Injury-Based Differences Among Ballet Disciplines, published in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (OJSM), an open access journal for orthopedics.
“Usually when adolescents come in with an injury especially a stress injury if the person is old enough to be menstruating, 15, 16 year olds and are not menstruating that’s another cue for me to look into their nutrition so the physician will refer them to me to come for an evaluation from me,” said Laura Moretti, a registered dietitian. “And we will try to get their body to a place where it’s healthy again.”
Haruka Tamura, 25, has been training in ballet since she was five years old and is no stranger to dance injuries. The first time she got injured was in the middle of her high school production of “Don Quixote” when she tore her meniscus for the first time and performed on the injured knee until the end of the show. The next day she had a surgery, but was back in the studio dancing in six weeks.
Now almost eight years later, she’s a professional ballerina dancing at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. In her most recent injury, what appeared to be a minor pain in her left ankle kept her out of the last two productions of the company.
Injuries scar; they leave their mark on both the body and the mind.
“After I got hurt and couldn’t dance anymore, I started working at a physical therapy company and very quickly I started seeing the psychological component to dance injury,” said Kelsey Griffith, former dancer and a graduate of sports psychology. “All these athletes were coming in, individuals whose jobs depended on the fact that their bodies functioned and weren’t at the time so in addition to the need of physical rehab, I started to see the psychological component and how it affected them both outside and inside rehab.”
Griffith said dancers and athletes often want to talk to someone they feel understands their situation. Many dancers indicate they can’t trust their doctors, because they are afraid that the doctors might tell them to stop dancing and they feel that someone who specializes in dance or sports injuries could offer them solutions that will allow them to keep doing what they love to do.
Dancers are often taught to push through pain. They have said it’s easy to feel lonely when your body doesn’t move they way it used to. They noted they experience a sense of loss when they cannot perform and participate in class, so they might put pressure on themselves to push through pain.
Griffith said it takes time to teach dancers and artistic directors to shift the focus from instant gratification to longevity of career. Sports psychology tries to help athletes and dancers understand what their bodies can and can’t do at the time of injury. It aims to educate dancers on the importance of longevity of career and how to keep dancers on stage later into their careers.