Part 3 of our article series covering aspects of returning to performance environments and building up work schedules and routines in the light of the COVID 19 pandemic and lockdowns. BAPAM Physiotherapist Lucie Rayner looks at injury prevention for dancers, and provides a wealth of useful information for anyone building up physical performance activity after a break.
Dancers require optimal physical fitness to perform at their best and reduce injury risk. During the lockdown, our physical activity levels significantly decreased leaving many of us deconditioned. In addition, dancers may have been unable to access their normal training facilities and classes, leading to further loss of physical capacity. Despite taking online classes, replicating the physical and psychological demands of in-person classes and performance is limited due to spatial constraints, lack of floor space and flooring unsuitable for high-impact training. Therefore, a combination of general deconditioning, reduced training load and lack of exposure to performance conditions will reduce soft tissue resilience. However, there is lot that dancers can do to make their return to post-lockdown classes and performance safer and more productive.
What you can do now
Gradually increasing your general day-to-day activity levels can help the process of re-conditioning. Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day by taking short walks and moving regularly. Even small bouts of activity can have positive mental as well as physical health benefits. Remember the 30:30 Rule: Every 30 minutes – move for at least 30 seconds.
Dance is a highly physically demanding activity, requiring strength, endurance, power, flexibility and aerobic fitness. Dancers are encouraged to use supplementary training to enhance dance ability and performance. The inclusion of supplementary training will be particularly beneficial during this time to mitigate deconditioning. There are some useful online resources for dancers who want to maintain and develop aspects of fitness at home.
- 11+ Dance: In conjunction with Elmhurst Ballet School, Strength & Conditioning Coach Nico Kolokynthas, has developed an evidence-based injury prevention programme specifically for dancers. Full instructions and videos for the 11+ Dance exercise series are available online. 11+ Dance | StrengthMotionMind
- Jump Maintenance Programme: One Dance UK has an online five-week jump maintenance programme that uses explosive plyometric jump training to maintain lower limb strength. One Dance UK | Health Events and Conferences – One Dance UK
- Calf Endurance: The Australian Ballet Health team describes single leg calf raises as their secret weapon for preventing injury in the lower leg. Their research found that increasing calf endurance significantly reduced injury in dancers. For details see their website: How to get strong calves | The Australian Ballet
- Flexibility: Dancers recognize the importance of flexibility and dedicate much of their training time to increasing range of movement, particularly in the hips. However, maintaining thoracic spine flexibility is often neglected. Improving thoracic spine mobility can have a positive impact on many aspects of technique. Try this exercise sequence developed by Physiotherapist Lisa Howell: Thoracic Mobilisers for Increased Flexibility – YouTube
Prioritise Health Foundations
Sufficient, good quality sleep; a balanced diet and adequate hydration are the foundations of health and injury prevention.
- Sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation is a significant risk factor for injury and dancers can struggle to ensure they have sufficient good quality sleep. Research has shown that professional dancers have poor sleep quality, particularly when preparing for a performance. One study advocated taking daytime naps during periods of intense preparation. Practising good sleep hygiene has also been found to be effective: How to get to sleep – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Diet: A healthy, balanced diet will provide all the nutrients needed to fuel your dance training and performance. It is also crucial for optimum immune system functioning and recovery from injury. For more guidance, read this ‘Nutrition for Dancers’ factsheet developed by One Dance UK: Nutrition-for-dancers.pdf
- Hydration: The more energy a dancer uses, the more fluids they will require, and being dehydrated will harm performance. In addition, a dancer needs to be careful not to overhydrate to avoid electrolyte imbalance. One Dance UK offers advice on hydration practices for dancers including electrolyte replacement: Fluid-for-dancers.pdf
The time spent away from your usual performance schedule could be an ideal opportunity to hone aspects of your technique. Several organisations are offering free online technique development classes such as Italia Conti Virtual and the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. Remember to progress slowly and plan plenty of recovery time.
Take Care of your Mental Health
Dancing is a form of creative expression and being denied the chance to perform has been psychologically challenging for dancers. Research has shown a marked increase in mental health problems in performing arts professionals during the lockdown. The National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) has gathered a number of useful resources on topics such as anxiety, depression, bereavement and mindfulness to help dancers through this difficult time. In addition, see the BAPAM factsheet ‘Psychological Self Care – Enhancing Mental Health & Wellbeing’
What you can do after lockdown
Dancers employed in companies may have been able to train normally and are also likely to receive support from company health professionals in their transition out of lockdown. Freelance and self-employed dancers will need to manage this process independently. At the earliest, in-person dance classes can resume on 17 May 2021 in COVID safe premises. It is hoped that performance venues can also re-open at this time. Here are some tips and advice for returning to performance environments and busier schedules safely.
COVID Risk Assessment
The risk of exposure to COVID-19 will remain once lockdown is eased, and dancers will need to consider their health and risk of exposure as they return to work and in-person classes. BAPAM has developed a guidance document that allows performers to assess their level of risk and how to mitigate COVID-19 risks within the work environment.
Taking your first post-lockdown class will be exciting and it may be tempting to push yourself. Be aware that your overall stamina will be reduced, and you may fatigue more quickly. Depending on how much training you maintained during lockdown you may wish to start with a lower-level class. If not, begin by gradually phasing back into your pre-lockdown levels of ability:
- Reduce your range of movement: Work with demi-pliés instead of full pliés; keep legs lower in battements and arabesque; don’t work with your full turn out.
- Reduce pace: Move more slowly across the floor; mark steps more often
- Reduce intensity: Hold back from dancing ‘all out’ for the first few classes; gradually work up to full jump height.
Warm-up and Cool-down Effectively
A well-structured dance class will prepare the body appropriately for the more challenging technique and choreography performed later in the session. However, not all teachers prioritise physical preparation and each dancer may have specific needs for warming up. Plan to arrive with enough time to complete your own individual 5–10-minute pre-class warm-up to ensure you are adequately prepared. Research has shown that a combination of cardiovascular exercises (to increase heart rate), followed by static (held for 30 seconds) and dynamic stretches provide optimal performance. Use clothing layers to keep your muscles warm at the beginning of class or if the class is stop/start. The cool-down is an opportunity for your body temperature to gradually return to baseline levels, encourage the dispersal of lactic acid, release muscle tension and work on flexibility using more prolonged static stretches.
Read this article by The International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA) for more information.
Plan Rest and Recovery
Planning adequate rest should be an integral part of your training strategy to promote muscle regeneration, reduce fatigue and avoid injury. The campaign, #dancersneedrest, led by One Dance UK aimed to encourage and support dancers to prioritize rest and this will be particularly important as you transition from virtual to in-person classes. You may experience Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which is the muscle tenderness and pain experienced following certain types of physical activity and is more common when returning from a break. Dancing with severe DOMS carries a potential injury risk as it negatively affects range of movement and muscle recruitment patterns. Rest, or dance at a lower level of intensity for 1-2 days after the initial onset of DOMS.
Don’t Ignore Pain
Musculoskeletal injuries are extremely common in dancers, yet they are often reluctant to report an injury and continue to ‘push through’ pain. There are several reasons why dancers delay getting help. Freelance or part-time dancers may not receive appropriate support or have job-related concerns such as the risk of losing a contract. Company based dancers may also have fears about limiting their career progression or losing potential roles if they are injured. However, seeking help early can help reduce the impact of an injury, speed up recovery and lead to more positive outcomes. BAPAM provides free, confidential assessment clinics run by Performing Arts Medicine specialist healthcare professionals.
Practise Self Compassion
The dance environment can be a competitive, pressurised and critically evaluative space that can foster negative self-perceptions. Returning to this environment when your dance ability, confidence and fitness levels are low could heighten those feelings. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion can be a useful tool to help dancers navigate feelings of anxiety, critical self-talk and fear of negative evaluation. Try these free guided meditation and self-compassion exercises by Dr Kristin Neff
The global pandemic has brought unprecedented disruption to dancers’ lives over the last year, but we are now starting to emerge from lockdown and return to some normality. This article has explored ways that dancers can help ensure they have a smooth transition back to full-scale training and performing. If you need any further help or advice with physical or mental health issues, please contact BAPAM helpline on 020 8167 4775 or email email@example.com.
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