Broken Toys


by Neil Nisbet

“If a professional dancer makes just one wrong move in class, in rehearsal or on stage it could, literally, be the end of their career.” That was the opening line to a feature piece written back in April within this very tome. Just last week this became all too real as our cameras caught just such an incident taking place during a live performance.

The resulting injury, a broken bone in the dancers right foot, is not too serious and the National Health Service(NHS), on this occasion, has risen to the challenge and administered relatively speedy treatment. Unfortunately, the dancer in question will be out of action for the next month or two as the break heals and the physiotherapy begins. Whether or not the required physiotherapy will be available on the NHS remains uncertain.

Incidents like this bring into sharp focus the complete lack of specialists health care available to dancers without private health insurance. Dancers expect to get injured. Some of the time those injuries are minor and some of the time those injuries are major and need immediate attention and, in some instances, long term specialized care to ensure a full recovery for the dancer.

Uncertainty comes in the form of hours waiting around in NHS hospitals hoping that the person who is treating you is sympathetic to the nature of a dancers profession and will take appropriate action with regard to treatment. Further questions about recuperation and physiotherapy come later.

Special or Not?

Some may ask what makes professional dancers so special that they require advanced medical care either on the NHS or through private medical care providers? The answer is simple! Professional dancers are special. They are special because the very nature of what they do puts them at risk of serious injury almost every day. Unlike, for example, a bank teller they cannot continue working with their leg in plaster.

When dancers are injured the complexities involved in fixing their particular physiological problem are also very different from that required by the bank teller. Unless injuries are healed properly and the balance restored to the dancers body an injured body part can lead to over compensation in other body parts, which in turn, leads to further injuries. A domino effect of physical issues can stem from the most minor of problems.

Even if someone working in a “normal job” requires time off work for medical reasons the chances are they will have access to sick pay for the time they miss. Most dancers will have no such luxury, if they don’t work they don’t make money, end of story.

It is suitably ironic that dancers are so badly paid that just 7% of them, in the contemporary profession, cannot afford private medical care to cover them in times of injury.

These issues make the speedy and effective recovery of the dancer from injury of paramount importance.

Inert NDA

A quick glance around the websites of the National Dance Agency Network will show a complete absence of any information with regard to professional dancers health issues. There is some information, of course, concerning using dance as a method of improving the health of those in the “community”. Government funded organisations would be nothing without their hollow claims about “community” involvement.

There is just one organisation that seems to take this issue seriously and that is Dance UK. As we reported in April they are attempting to establish “The National Centre for Dance Health and Performance” to provide health care to professional dancers.

DanceUK’s plan is to treat dancers the same way we treat elite athletes, recognising that they are working within a unique profession that requires specialist attention when things go wrong. Attention that is, for the most part, lacking via the traditional GP/NHS combination in this country.

Using DanceUK’s own figures it would cost just £400,000 per year to provide medical insurance for more than 800 professional dancers, granting them access to the British Olympic Association’s “Athlete Medical Scheme”. That’s just 1/20th of the cost of building a new NDA building or the annual salaries of 10 National Dance Agency directors.

DanceUK is attempting to raise money to run a pilot project covering 100 dancers along with extensive research on the treatment and recovery patterns of dancers who are injured during the research period. The hope is that after the pilot project is complete the full programme will develop to cover hundreds more professional dancers in the UK.

Arts Council England’s new Director of National Strategy, Janet Archer, should make this project a priority for full funding. Doing so would do much to deflect criticism of ACE that all they care about are ticking boxes.

It is a disgrace that in 2007 there is no practical recognition that professional dancers require specialist health care. Treating them like bricklayers or shopkeepers is an insult to the very nature of the profession. They don’t deserve health care more than anyone else in this country they just deserve a different type of health care. One that recognises that they are different, that they are unique.

Professional dancers being cast aside like broken toys when they are injured needs to stop and sufficient resources and money need to be put in place to make that happen. Dancers are not interchangeable machines that can simply be ripped out of the mechanism when they no longer work properly.

[ Top Image by SGame ]