The Hypermobile Dancer

I am delighted to introduce you to Moira McCormack, the chief Physiotherapist (that’s the UK word for Physical Therapist) for the Royal Ballet Company in London, England. Moira is a former dancer who became a PT, and has been working with dancers for over 20 years.  

Several months ago we had an article on stretching, and I promised you a follow-up; a piece specifically on hypermobility — so here it is! We are indebted to Moira for writing this for 4dancers, as she is one the leading experts in this area of dance medicine. 

- Jan Dunn, Dance Wellness Editor



Moira McCormack MSc, Head of Physiotherapy at The Royal Ballet Company in London, UK

Everyone knows that dancers need to be flexible. You can work hard to achieve flexibility but while this is not easy or comfortable it is achievable to a certain extent. However, there are those dancers who do not have to work for flexibility – they can already do the splits every which way, often have swayback knees, a very flexible spine and ‘amazing’ feet. These dancers have an inherited joint flexibility. This means the connective tissue, at cellular level, which binds the body together – joint capsule, fascia, ligaments, tendon, and skin – is not as tightly or evenly knit together compared to other bodies.

Just before you wish you were one of those, you need to know the drawbacks. If you have inherited a global hypermobility (hyper=more than normal) there may be some far reaching consequences.

These dancers also have flexibility where they do not need it – the joints of the fingers which bend backwards to an alarming degree, the shoulders that are extremely flexible and the swayback elbows which look distorted. Also the skin is over stretchy, especially at the elbows and knees and over the back of the hand.

Those dancers find it hard to build strength, control and stability. If joint capsule and ligament allow more excursion (movement), this can lead to early wear and tear or even injury if dislocation takes place.

Good stability around joints is a result of joint capsule and ligament restriction and deep muscle activation during dynamic movement. All dancers need this, but the hypermobile dancer needs it even more, to counteract the lack in ligamentous restriction and protection.

There is a whole range in flexibility of the human body – from a global tightness which we do not find in dance to a global hypermobility which we do see, but it is not necessarily recognised as a condition to be handled with care.

The hypermobile dancer can make beautiful shapes but the coordination required to achieve a speedy petit allegro can be elusive. Balance and correct alignment can also be compromised in the dancer who is struggling with joints that are more mobile than stable. Overuse injuries and trauma can occur and it is the accumulation of injuries that progress the unfortunate dancer into what we call the Hypermobility Syndrome.

The hypermobile dancer who understands the particular requirements of her / his body will find training more logical and encouraging.


As with all dancers, stability and control starts with the pelvis and spine. The deep abdominal muscles and deep spinal muscles targeted in Pilates exercises are isolated and activated (editor note: In Pilates this is called “core control”, and in dance as often referred to as “center”).

The hip joint needs a balance of muscle around the ball and socket joint to stabilize and protect it. Placement and control should not be compromised by height of legs and ballistic (quick bouncy) movements.

The shoulders also require stabilizing, with exercises targeting the rotator cuff muscles to avoid subluxation (where the joint slips out of place just slightly) or dislocation (where it comes completely out of the socket) – especially in young male dancers who are starting lifting work.

The hyperextended knee needs to gain control throughout range, not just in the locked back position, to allow a global control of posture.

The foot requires correct alignment in order to cope with all dance techniques and needs specific foot exercises to develop the strength required for jumping, landing and pointe work. The very flexible foot, although attractive, is harder to control.


The hypermobile dancer finds it hard to gain and maintain strength – the ability to generate force within contractile muscle tissue. For this, high resistance exercises are necessary in the gym using equipment. This ‘cross training’ really is necessary for this particular body type.


This is the term used to describe the body’s position sense…i.e, knowing where you are in space. Good proprioception of the pelvis develops with core stability exercises, which educate correct spinal position. Good proprioception of the knee is developed with balance and resistance exercises and attention to perfect alignment in class. Take care not to rely on mirrors in studios. Instead try to develop better sense of position by improving alignment through careful repetition. Dancers describe this as ‘getting on your leg’.


Balance mechanisms are challenged in the more flexible dancer. Balance and proprioception are a result of accurate sensory information from joints and muscles via the nervous system. There is some evidence that these mechanisms are slower in the hypermobile body, which has to work harder than others to improve. Balance exercises
 in conditioning classes, the use of a wobble board and trying simple movements with the eyes closed can improve this.


Good coordination is the integration of all the above. The hypermobile dancer may struggle with speed and complex technique but repetition and determination produce rewards. (Slower work is their forte which can make the most of their exceptional lines.)

Posture and Alignment

The characteristic hypermobile posture – the rounded shoulders on the tucked under pelvis resting over the locked, swayback knees – is not to be recommended. So much time spent locking into the front of the hips and the back of the knees is weakening. Developing good postural habits – taking posture from class outside the studio with you (without the turn out) – can help with stability and control.


Fatigue can occur earlier in the hypermobile dancer simply because dancing can be more challenging for this type of body. Some aerobic exercise should be part of every dancer’s regime – swimming, brisk walking or using gym equipment.


The hypermobile dancer enjoys stretching because it is easy and feels good. However, stretching for long periods at the end of range can simply encourage instability. Sitting in box splits for too long is not good for hip joints and is unnecessary for already flexible muscles. We all prefer to practise what we are good at, while we should work at what does not come naturally. Instead, concentrate on stability exercises.


Frustratingly, sprains and strains can take longer to recover as hypermobile tissues heal more slowly. You may notice that your skin bruises and scars easily. That is because it is thinner and more delicate than normal. Injuries do heal however, but need patience and following all the same rules.

To conclude, the hypermobile body has a number of challenges but also some valuable advantages. Line and flexibility can be truly displayed once strength, stability and coordination have been acquired. In dance, different body types will require a different emphasis in training. Understanding the hypermobile body means you can train with realistic aims.

BIO: Moira McCormack MSc is Head of Physiotherapy at The Royal Ballet Company in London, UK.

After a professional dance career in classical ballet she retrained as a Physical Therapist and has worked with dancers for the last 20 years. She teaches anatomy, dance technique and injury prevention internationally, with a main interest in the management of the hypermobile dancer.


The Dance USA Conference – Minneapolis, MN

dance usaThis year marked my second Dance USA experience. The first time I went by myself to speak on a panel titled “The Blogosphere: Writing About and For Dance“. This year I made the trip up to Minneapolis with a fellow dance writer, Lauren Warnecke. We piled in the car at 6 am and headed out to network and hear more about the current state of our field.

It has taken me a while to write this post because I wanted to think about how to frame it. Based on that, rather than give you a play-by-play of the sessions I attended and what they taught me, I’d rather talk a bit about the main thing that makes this conference well worth attending…

Basically, it comes down to this: the Dance USA Conference is an incredible forum where you can talk with other people in the dance field–from all over the country and beyond. Connecting with other dance professionals from different backgrounds provides an immense opportunity for learning and growth. I even wound up spending more time with people from my own city than I probably would have throughout the course of a year.

Let’s face it, those of us in the dance field often wind up in our own little bubble; busy working, creating and trying to keep everything afloat. The Dance USA Conference provides a kind of “time out” where one is able to get a better perspective on what is going on in other places. It gives you permission to put your own creative process on hold for a little bit, so you can hear more about what others are doing. This can be quite an informative, inspirational thing.

Conference sessions often serve as a starting point for conversations that continue afterwards into the evening over dinner and drinks. There is ample opportunity to meet up with people one-on-one over the course of the conference and talk about common interests, investigate new ideas or simply spend a little time getting to know one another better. When I attended the Dance USA Conference in San Francisco, it was the first time I had met many of my fellow bloggers in person, even though we had been corresponding on the web for some time. The bond we forged over just the course of a few days is one that remains strong even years later.

So, yes, the conference sessions provide interesting information, and yes, the opportunity to see several evenings of dance performances in another city is a wonderful thing. But the real benefit of attending the Dance USA Conference is that of camaraderie and community. It is the chance to form relationships that continue long after the meetings and initial discussions take place. It gives each of us the gift of time to set aside all we are immersed in so that we can tune in to the bigger picture and see things from an entirely different perspective.

And that alone is definitely worth the trip.


Mark your calendars for the Dance USA Conference in 2015, taking place in Miami, Florida from June 17th-20th.









CD Review: JoDe Romano Presents Spanish Classical Piano And Castanets

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by Emily Kate Long

JoDe Romano is a teacher and choreographer of Spanish dance currently working in New York City. Here she is joined by pianist Felix Ventouras for a selection of ten pieces by George Bizet, Isaac Albeniz, Manuel De Falla, and others.

Both Romano and Ventouras perform with great joy and brio, and a precision that sounds clean but never constrained. There’s a spirit of excitement from beginning to end that makes the CD a pleasure to listen to, even though there are works here from Spanish, Cuban, and French composers. Some of the music, like Albeniz’s sensual “Cordoba,” was originally written for piano, but most are opera dances: De Falla’s La Vida Breve, Bizet’s Carmen, and Geronimo Gimenez’s rhythmically playful El Baile de Luis Alonso. The latter is part of the opera sub-genre of Zarzuelas, traditional Spanish operas, several of which JoDe Romano has herself choreographed at Thalia Hispanic Theater in Queens.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.38.51 PMMuch of this music (like Emanuel Lecuona’s “Andalucia” and Pascual Marquina’s famous pasodoble) is instantly recognizable, and Romano and Ventouras overdo nothing. The piano and castanets are animated and expressive enough in the hands of these two skilled artists. Carmen has more mystery and allure in this arrangement than in many orchestrations I’ve heard. Joaquin Turina’s saucy Sacro-Monte is also a delight.

This is the only CD collaboration between Romano and Ventouras. It’s intended as dance accompaniment, but is worth listening to on its own.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014 – Hubbard Street Dance Chicago & Compagnia TPO


by Nel Shelby

What a wonderful week at Jacob’s Pillow! We’re uploading footage of the Pillow’s awesome and illuminating post-show talks each week, and I’m sharing them ​on my blog. Learn more about ​all of the dance companies ​performing this festival season, ​and see some highlights from their ​shows edited into the ​Post-Show Talks, too.

​This past week, o​ur daughter Gracie saw FIVE shows of Compagnia T.P.O. and performed in each of them, and​ my husband​ Christopher Duggan continued to photograph amazing dancers.

​Here, watch Hubbard Street Dance Chicago & Compagnia TPO ​ discuss their phenomenal shows:​

Contributor Nel Shelby, Founder and Principal of Nel Shelby Productions, is deeply dedicated to the preservation and promotion of dance through documentation of live performances, fully edited marketing reels, live-stream capture, and documentaries and films that encapsulate the essence of nonprofit organizations.

Nel Shelby, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Her New York City-based video production company has grown to encompass a diverse list of dance clients including American Ballet Theater II, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Gallim Dance, Gotham Arts, Kate Weare and Company, Keigwin + Company, Monica Bill Barnes Company, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Wendy Whelan and many more. She has filmed performances at venues throughout the greater New York area including The Joyce Theater, New York Live Arts, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, St. Mark’s Church and Judson Church, to name a few.

For nearly a decade, Nel has served as Festival Videographer for the internationally celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. Each season at the Pillow, Nel’s responsibilities include documenting aspects of festival culture in addition to its 20 mainstage dance performances, filming and overseeing documentation of more than 100 free performances and events, managing two dance videography interns and an apprentice, and educating students about the technical and philosophical aspects of filming dance.

She also serves as Resident Videographer at the Vail International Dance Festival where she spent her first summer creating five short dance documentary films about the festival in addition to documenting its events and performances. Her longer-form, half-hour documentary on Vail’s festival, The Altitude of Dance, debuted on Rocky Mountain PBS in May 2013.

She has created four short films for Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, and she collaborated with Adam Barruch Dance to create a short film titled “Folie a Deux,” which was selected and screened at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York City and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. She is making a dance documentary featuring Nejla Y. Yatkin, called Where Women Don’t Dance.

Nel has a long personal history with movement  – she has a B.A. in dance and is a certified Pilates instructor. She continues to train with world-renowned Master Teachers Romana Krysnowska and Sari Pace, original students of Joseph Pilates. In addition to her dance degree, Nel holds a B.S. in broadcast video. She often collaborates with her wonderful husband, dance photographer (and fellow 4dancers contributor) Christopher Duggan on creative projects with dancers in New York City and beyond. They live with their beautiful daughter Gracie and son Jack in Manhattan.


Soothing The Soul – The Dance Photography Of Conflict Photographer Sebastian Rich

Non-dancers are often captivated by our field–and this is for a myriad of reasons. Some always wanted to dance. Others enjoy getting lost in a good story ballet, or love the thrill of experiencing a world premiere by a contemporary choreographer. But conflict photographer Sebastian Rich was drawn to our profession to soothe his own soul after seeing over four decades of unspeakable images, witnessing shocking acts of violence and documenting moments of extreme sorrow. He captures many of these moments on camera for organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children and The United Nations. 

4dancers reached out to Rich to learn more about his interest in photographing dance and what has driven him to seek out such a different expression for his talent behind the lens. You can view more of his dance (and other) photography, or get in touch with him at his website.


Backstage with ballerina

Backstage with Prima Ballerina Nina Zmievets of The Eifman Ballet Company of St Petersburg Russia. Copyright: Sebastian Rich/All Rights reserved

You have been covering hard news and current affairs for over 30 years. Where has that taken you as a person, and how did it evolve into you wanting to shoot dancers?

I was born in central London England in 1953 and I am a so-called “war photographer”. I ran away from school at the age of fifteen, branded as terminally stupid by my teachers. No one had heard of acute dyslexia in the fifties and sixties. So rather than using a pen I somewhat naturally picked up a camera to tell stories.

For over forty years I have been photographing the very worst that mankind has had to offer my lens. But here is the paradox–on many occasions an image I capture of someone in his or her most quintessential moment of loss or terror in some disgusting war–and the image has been remarked on as ‘beautiful’.

This well-meaning and flattering remark about my photography rests very uneasy with me. I get it–and at the same time I don’t!

In my youth as an arrogant young photographer I thought that the people that I was photographing were there for no reason other than to further my career! So then, to have the compliment of “it’s beautiful” was most rewarding.

As the years moved on–in some respects I grew up. Not all, but some. It took a catastrophe to knock the stupidity and arrogance from my young bones. A catastrophe that killed two soldiers and sent hot screaming metal through my stomach.

I became the victim–the photographed, the exploited and the frightened.

Now I spend time, maybe too much time with my subjects, as one client was to remark just recently. I listen to their stories in great detail, as sometimes I am the only one who will listen, or remotely care. At some point I will take their photograph, I will hardly notice that I have done so, nor will they. Maybe it’s a technique, but it’s a subconscious one.

Why does poverty, war, famine throw up such sharp, hard beauty? I have no idea, as photography is so utterly subjective.

As a war photographer, I have witnessed unspeakable acts of violence. I had to photograph something beautiful, something–anything to save my soul. There comes a time in the life of some in my profession that we cry out for beauty and a gentleness that is missing in our lives.

I have reached that stage.

I have no idea why ballet popped into my head—it just did. I have never been to a ballet, never met anyone involved in the ballet, and certainly never photographed anything close up. Yet I managed to convince the Julio Bocca Ballet School in Buenos Aires to let me into their world.

Ballerinas dancing in classroom

Ballerinas at the Julio Bocca Ballet School Buenos Aires, Argentina, Photography: Sebastian Rich/Copyright/All rights reserved.

I was soon to discover that the Julio Bocca School was one of the very best in the world. Even the cabbies in Buenos Aires had heard of the legendary ballet dancer Julio Bocca. I confessed to the school that I was somewhat of a burnt-out old warhorse who knew nothing about their profession. This was to be the best confession I have ever made. The door, along with the hearts of the school administrators and the dancers flew open to me, welcoming me into a marvelous new and dazzling world of creativity.

While fiddling with the lens on my Nikon and at the same time trying to give off the air of a professional dance photographer, 17-year-old ballerina Augustina Flores Saavedra took flight like a giant, long-legged bird of paradise. My jaw dropped as she smiled down at me floating two meters above the studio floor. The image that I had just witnessed (and not photographed) was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen in my life.

I had not been long out of Afghanistan and was wondering just how the hell I was going to capture what I had just seen on film. Normally the only bodies that fly through the air in front of me are in torn, bloody pieces. And I am normally hiding and terrified, waiting for the moment to pop out like a snake so I can photograph what remains of the flying corpse and run away.

Then Augustina and three other girls took off their pointe shoes. I was instantly back at home—these girls’ feet were bruised, bloodied, bandaged, and broken for their art. I was back in a war zone, I circled the trio with shutter continuously shooting every torn toe in extreme close up.

Ballet dancer toes

The bloodied bruised and bandaged foot of the young Argentine ballerina Agustina Flores Saavedra, photographed at the Julio Bocca ballet school Buenos Aires, Copyright: Sebastian Rich/All rights reserved

Unfortunately for me, the very first frame that I shot in the dance studio in Buenos Aires took me straight back to something horrible I had witnessed and photographed in a shop in Mogadishu. I visibly winced as I saw the bloodied, bruised, and deformed toes wrapped with tape and padding.

But as soon as they were up “on pointe,” Mogadishu and its nightmares vanished from my mind altogether. These girls moved so beautifully and with such grace and poise that once again, for a little while, I didn’t shoot a frame, but just watched in fascination.

I am now starting to smile behind the camera. Not the perverse smile of the photographer who knows he has caught a moment of terror in a war zone, but the smile of the photographer who has just captured the most beautiful movement he has ever seen. As I am a lensman and not a pensman I will try and let my pictures tell the story of the dedication and sacrifice of these ballet dancers. I think that’s fair to them and me.

Description: Ballerina's feet in pointe shoes leaving the ground. Photographed at the Julio Bocca ballet school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Copyright: Sebastian Rich/All rights reserved.

Ballerina’s feet in pointe shoes leaving the ground. Photographed at the Julio Bocca ballet school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Copyright: Sebastian Rich/All rights reserved.

How is photographing dancers different for you than the other photography you do?

Because photographing dance is still so very new to me I am like a child in a chocolate factory, just spoilt with wonderment at what beautiful shapes a human body can achieve.

After a lifetime of photographing human movement, albeit in a rather different scenario, you gain an instinct for when movement is perfect. This could be dance, sport or even a soldier firing a gun. There is a fraction of a second that all the elements, muscles, light, expression, eyes combine and create the essence of that movement. That “moment in time” again. But this is a magical moment not a terrifying moment–that is the difference.

What is the greatest challenge in taking photos of dancers?

Patience, more patience and then just a little more patience.

What is the most rewarding part of photographing dancers?

Knowing exactly when you have captured the very essence of the dancer.


Dancers at the Capezio/Peridance Studios New York. Copyright: Sebastian Rich/All rights reserved.

What is it that you are seeking to capture when you look through your lens at a dancer?

I am not really seeking anything I just wait to be pleasantly surprised. I have no preconceived ideas when going into a rehearsal studio–none at all.

What are you drawn to in terms of the dance field?

Dedication, determination, and above all else–passion.

How do you think your skill set as a conflict photographer has helped your perspective in terms of taking photos of dancers?

Once again the ability to be patient and capture a moment that tells a story.

dancer warming up backstage

Dancer warming up backstage. The Eifman Ballet Company of St Petersburg Russia. Photography: Sebastian Rich/Copyright/All rights reserved.

Where is your photography taking you next?

I will be photographing refugees from the dreadful war in The Central African Republic for The United Nations.

What, ultimately, would you like to do in terms of photographing dancers?

To be able to earn a living photographing dance! I have been so lucky–I have worked dancers from Julio Bocca, The Eifman Ballet, the Kate Weare Company, Peridance Capezio Center–they have all taught me so much in such a short time.

But I am always looking for ideas, so dancers out there–shower me with your thoughts, ideas and dreams.


Watch this interesting segment from NBC News on Sebastian Rich and his ballet photography. With Ann Curry.

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