A well-dressed man walks into the room, sits down and takes his shoes off with a caress, a fondness, and with dutiful care. Once off, he takes time to clean them, polish them, wrap them in a fabric and safely box them away. This repeats as you see him putting his shoes back on, going to work (I imagined) and then he comes back and does the same. It seems like a daily activity, a time consuming process but you get the idea that it's really important to him, it is a ritual.
I was expecting the advert caption to come up with some kind of designer label for shoes, saying something like "you will always love your Versace shoes," but it didn't. However, it posed a question, "If you only have one pair of shoes for your whole life, how would you look after them?" Then came the statement, "You only have one body."
So, we only have one body and this one dances. Are we really looking after it?
How much interest do we actually take in it before it gets injured? We all know what we want it to do, what we ask it to do, how we push it, make demands of it and how it will do whatever it is we are asking it to - to its limits and beyond.
There is now a vast amount of information available for dancers in training, and working professionally, about how to avoid injury. Much of this encompasses fundamental and scientifically proven information about body preparation to a high standard but discusses a general body, rather than the one you specifically inhabit.
Most information discussed is tried and tested through clinical trials, studies and research bodies working in sports sciences or dance sciences and is becoming more widely available through a variety of resource branches such as Dance UK, IADMS and BAPAM, amongst others.
This general information is highly relevant, important and crucial to understand, specifically in relation to your own body and you must make it appropriate for you, with or without help to do so. Most of the data promoted consists of repeating topics such as:
• Proper fluid and nutrition intake
• Sufficient sleep and rest
• Advanced warm up
• Cooling down the body
• Practice and teaching of good technique
• Use of dance-appropriate facilities such as good flooring, appropriate heating, ventilation etc in the studio.
• Physical screenings to measure abilities of strength and flexibilities in the body
• Dancing when pregnant
• Cross training
There is plenty of information out there, but in the main it seems to talk about the same thing. So yes, as dancers we must listen to the research and try to be consistent in following it if we want to be our best and injury free. Yet sometimes it just goes wrong and there is nothing neither ourselves nor our bodies could have done to prevent it or avoid it (though hindsight is an incredible thing).
But, is there more than just the scientific elements that are described, tried and tested, as mentioned above? What else might be important in the world of dancer and injury prevention?
The Jen Wren EXTRA (to all the other stuff) thoughts, of injury prevention for dancers.
• Don't generalise
• Know your body
• Don't just KNOW your body - FEEL IT
• Connect up
• Find your space
• Try Power Posing
• Don't forget to breathe
• Regular therapy for prevention and maintenance
• Balance your passion with your bodily needs.
• Pay immediate attention to niggles.
• Seek RELEVANT advice
• Remember why you started dancing.
• Have an interest outside of dance.
When looking at injury prevention tactics and advice, remember, documents are written in general unless you have seen a specialist and been given a specialised programme just for you and your body. So don't generalise. You and your body are very much individual, you have both a physical and spiritual DNA.
Therefore, consider any advice that is given to you and then make it appropriate to you and your body. Just because it works for someone else, does not mean it will work or have the same effect on you.
Know your body - Don't wait for someone to tell you about it.
Learn anatomy and consider it, find out how your body moves. Anatomy is not just about muscles and where they are. What we should look at is anatomy during motion, dance mechanics, understanding that we are intrinsically linked from our toes to our head and with our mind and our spirit.
Of course it's useful to know where muscles attach to bony structures and traditional anatomy tells us that these function individually. This is no longer generally believed to be the case though. In fact, there are a multitude of elements that are involved in both skeletal and muscular movement.
So, yes, study anatomy and movement mechanics of the dancers' body - it will be informative. Alongside that, look into Fascia, anatomical lines and the likes. Then... apply it to your own body. Remember, we are all built differently with differing capacities, bone structures, muscle types etc...
Examples of information can be found here: Anatomy Trains (some of this information is not so far removed to Barteneiff Fundamentals of Total body connections). Another good source is Anatomy in Motion.
Don't just KNOW your body - Feel and Listen.
Knowing how your body moves is great. How about feeling it? When do you know it's going right and when do you know when something is not so right? Because we can't necessarily "see" what is going on in the body we need to know how to feel and furthermore, how to "listen". When we develop the ability to do this we can begin to recognise changes quickly and sometimes even pinpoint and describe elements enough to help us explain, if need be, to someone else who can help identify, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate with you - not for you.
Pay attention to new strengths and acknowledge weaknesses. Learn when to stop and when it's safe to keep going.
Remember you have a mind/body connection. It's interesting, some people believe that your body is just a functional correlation of atoms and that you have no responsibility for it. Some people believe that you are connected to your body and you work together to have a physical presence in the universe.
I personally believe that myself and my body are very much connected since it is me who asks my body to move. Let's be honest, if my body started moving without me having asked or instructed it to, we would call that involuntary movement and, for sure, we would be making a beeline to the hospital to see what was wrong.
What affects me and my mind, affects my body. Deepak Chopra, a theorist, philosopher and previous Medical Director at Harvard in the USA states that 5 minutes of anger equals 9 hours of liver repair. He also discusses that if you are not happy in your job, neither will your body be healthy.
The subject of how our emotions affect our physical state is gigantic and if we consider that as artists we have a larger tendancy to be emotional and expressive of emotions, perhaps we could benefit from understanding this area more.
Therefore, when considering your injury prevention, consider your emotional and mental health as much as your physical health. What do you need to do to clear your head or enter the studio in either a neutral or happy frame of mind?
If you have the space and the time, self research to feel how your body moves when you are angry as opposed to how your body moves when you are happy. I doubt many people do their best pirouette when they are angry or upset about something. Ha, might just have given myself a research project here.
Find your space
Space is really important in anyone's life but as dancers we are often more aware and the buzz word is "kinaesthetic proprioception", something we learn during our training and beyond. Can we take this information further into other areas of our lives?
Preparation for entering the studio is also an important part to injury prevention. We know we must find space in our minds and plug into the studio environment, be in present time and be mentally prepared - so already we are organising our space.
We must also find space to tune both in and out of emotions quickly, it's part of our job. So clear some space in your emotional pattern to be able to shuffle things around, a bit like those little puzzles where you have 10 spaces and 9 squares to move around into the right sequence.
Find space in your studio environment so that you can start to prepare your physical space not only on the outside but on the inside - within the joints, muscles and fascia. Start your warm up and consider space before and when you start moving, make space within the joints for the synovial fluids to find all those nooks and crannies to move into.
Utilise your kinaesthetic proprioception at a higher level.
You can only work within the space you have. Without space you cannot move, so make your space bigger from the outside in and the inside out.
Try Power Posing.
I'm putting this in here a) because it does actually work and b) because I think it would be fun to start seeing people do this as part of their warm ups or studio preparations. Want to know what I'm talking about, watch this Ted talk.
Don't forget to breathe
Sometimes when we concentrate too much we forget to breathe properly. It kind of goes without saying that this doesn't do us much good, right? So quite simply remember to breathe. Breathe to warm up, to focus, during movement, after movement - use your breath to fuel your body and the dance.
Regular therapy as prevention and maintenance
As dancers we often still fail to recognise ourselves as athletes. Our pockets are not lined with much silver and we see a physical treatment as a "treat". It's not. It's just that we can't really afford it and I will in later chapters of the blog give tips of how to treat various niggles and injuries yourself.
In the meantime, consider how the top athletes have regular massage and physiotherapy, pre and post activity. It is considered optimum for preparation and rehabilitation. When I work as a Physical Therapist and Massage Practitioner at worldwide sporting events, not only are the top record breaking participants having treatments, so are the more amateur sports people.
It may be impractical for this to happen in dance, I don't know, I haven't thought about it enough yet. But, what I am certain about is that regular treatment, injured or not, aids prevention and maintenance.
We ask so much from our bodies and rather than giving it the pleasure of a good stretch, consider that it might appreciate a little more so that it can recuperate and do a better job with you and for you. This could be massage in its various forms, physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy or even just going to the sauna or steam room.
Work Dance Balance
When you read all the dance injury prevention advice, it all makes sense - if you live in an ideal world.
Of course we have 24 hours a day to do all these things, right? If only it were true, if only when we graduate we can dedicate our entirety to our dance careers and forget the fact that we have to have money to move to a new location, (or sometimes even home), afford to live in general, have enough funds to get to the auditions, take classes, attend workshops, go to the supermarket to get the right foods, source the right health shops, find the right practitioners etc etc.
Many new graduates are so financially drained after their training that they need to get a job straight away. This job has to factor in flexibility for auditions, classes, workshops etc so what do they do? They get a job in the evenings or weekends. Many dancers work in bars, restaurants or theatres that finish late in the evening and sometimes into the early hours.
Sometimes we sacrifice a morning class to do a morning shift at work just so we can dash out of there at midday, run to the train or whatever, grab a snack, get off at the other end and get to the audition later that afternoon - on time.
Yes! We made it, didn't we? Of course we did, we make sure we make these things happen, but it would be silly to think we did it on optimal sleep, nutrition, hydration and without any stress of connections etc etc. So yes, we made it and now of course we can do our best at the audition - not!.
Let's be honest, we can read all this information till the cows come home but putting it into action is a different matter. Of course we need to try, since missing work can often mean you don't get to the audition (financially) and missing the audition means you miss a potential job in the area of work you have trained so hard for.
How do we create a balance? I'm not quite sure. I don't think there is just one answer to this. Our passion takes over from our knowledge of total safe practice and injury prevention.
The best we can do is to always have in our minds the things that you and your body needs and plan them into your day, whatever is happening. Find your passion and other work balance - plan ahead.
Pay immediate attention to niggles
What's that you are saying body? There is a little twinge in my calf muscle? Hmm, must have pulled it in that audition that I didn't have time to be optimally prepared for.
Ach, you think, it will just go away and you decide to just, "give it some rest". This might be the case, it might just need some rest, or it might be a warning signal that something is brewing. It's your choice whether to pay attention to it or not. I would suggest you do.
Every niggle is an alarm bell, a warning from the body - so keep an eye on it, even if just to make a mental note to check it out the following day and pay a little bit more attention to that area in your next warm up. If it's not going away and you don't know how you can treat it yourself, you know you should seek relevant advice.
Seek relevant advice
Getting relevant treatment and advice is crucial to dance injury rehabilitation. No, this is not your GP. It's important to find someone who understands dancers and a dance body.
There are now places where you can search specifically for practitioners both experienced and interested in treating dancers. The best place to look (in general) is the Dance UK practitioners list (though Dance UK do not specifically endorse these practitioners).
For info, I'd definitely call the experienced ones and you can find out why by clicking through to an article I wrote about it here
Speak to your dance friends, colleagues and teachers - get a recommendation from someone who has had successful treatment.
Remember why you started dancing
Often we get so bogged down in "getting it right" that we block the movement and learning, memory and precision, let alone the incredible endorphins that can surge through our bodies and souls when we dance and move, finding a freedom within this.
Of course technique is important and the "important" bit that one should consider is that technique not only teaches you style, approach and precision but it is taught to train your body for safety.
If as a student you are getting frustrated because your technical abilities are not seen to be improving you are not doing yourself any favours emotionally, nor are you most likely considering your anatomy or working within your physical skeletal limitations, i.e. it is impossible for most of us to have 180 degree turn out (so why are you still trying?).
Technique is part of injury prevention and is there so that you learn how to execute specific movements well, repetitively, safely and with confidence - appropriate to your body- creating an ability to dance and have a long career. Dancers don't retire at 28 anymore.
Don't get mad on the off days. Give yourself a chance- breathe. Remember why you started dancing (unless your evil wicked step mother forced you into it and waits at home with a whip or something), remember why you loved it, what made you think it would be the best thing ever to do with your life, reminisce about times when dancing made you feel incredible.
Learn your technique wisely, then let it go, breathe and learn how to dance with it.
Go dancing for fun
Dance training is not dancing - its dance training. We should NOT forget the joy of just bopping along to music we like. Going dancing for fun releases a different type of endorphin and it helps us remember why we decided to be a dancer in the first place.
So, go dancing just for the hell of it.
Have an interest outside of dance
We need time to be in life too, ensure we keep a reality with and outside of the dance world, connect with friends and family and take a break from that which consumes us. Live your life, be happy, take on the challenges and keep breaking the boundaries in every way, not just in the dance studio.
Make sure you have hobbies, something to do, think about and enjoy so that you have balance and reality. Relying only on dance to make you happy can be a fine line to walk. Being happy in yourself and general life contributes to injury prevention.
Dancing or dance may be your "thing", and of course we are dance geeks and a little bit crazy as well as seen to be obsessed, but how can you feed your artistry fruitfully, if you only have dance?