1. Can you tell readers a bit about your background in dance?
Like many other little girls, I started dancing aged 3 and trained almost exclusively in ballet for 16 years, but also studied modern jazz and contemporary and now specialise in Latin, Ballroom, Salsa and Argentine Tango. After gaining a degree in Psychology, I started auditioning in London because I ‘wanted to see what would happen’. I’m happy to say that I didn’t look back and have been dancing professionally for over 10 years. I have worked all around Europe, including the most famous cabaret in the world – the ‘Moulin Rouge’.
My husband and I met on a contract, when we came together through our love of partner dance and have been working together as a Show Dance Team ever since. I still perform from time to time and teach at ‘Danceworks’ in London. Having an eclectic dance background provides me with a good knowledge base when working with dancers from various genres.
2. How did you get the idea for Sports Therapy 4 Dancers?
Before I became a Sports Therapist, I was always interested in injuries, anatomy and posture. Whenever I was laid out on a treatment table, I would ask the therapist question after question and pay close attention to what they were doing. I was just very aware that while working with my body every day, I had absolutely no knowledge about how it functioned or what I should do if I sustained an injury.
On occasions when I was injured, I wished I could find someone to treat me who had a background in dance and would be able to understand me and my body from a dancers’ perspective. I thought that if I felt like this, then other dancers must as well and so Sports Therapy 4 Dancers was born.
3. Can you talk a bit about the work you do with dancers?
I treat dance professionals, students and teachers from various backgrounds, who usually come to me with sub-acute or chronic injuries. An injury is classed as sub-acute after 3-5 days, when the initial inflammation has reduced and the soft tissues start to repair. Chronic injuries continue after about 3 weeks, but can still cause dysfunction years after they originally occurred.
I use various techniques to address muscle tension, stretch the soft tissues and re-align scar tissue, in order to restore normal function or enhance performance. I also prescribe Pilates based exercise for rehabilitation and conditioning. This forms the base of my job, but I have also worked at events to provide first aid in case of accidents on stage. In these circumstances, I deal directly with acute injuries such as sprained ankles, rotator cuff strains, back spasms and torn hamstrings. Although this can be quite stressful, I enjoy it for the fact that effective first contact management can aid a faster recovery. I also provide pre and post event massage to dancers.
Another part of my job is education and advice. I have a ST4D Facebook page where I regularly post advice, quotations and information relating to injury prevention and management in dancers. All members are welcome to ask me questions and often do. I’ve been asked about back strains, foot fractures and even for advice on academic papers!
4. Are there any “common” injuries that you find in dancers?
The most common chronic injury that I come across is tendonitis, whether it affects the hamstrings, rotator cuff or lower leg and foot. This is because it is an overuse injury, which is brought on mostly by over training and not getting sufficient rest in between sessions. If you are in a show, performing every night, this can be a recipe for disaster as the movement that originally caused the injury must be performed continuously. In cases like these, modification of movement can be vital if the dancer is to continue to perform and avoid aggravating an injury.
One of the best examples of an overuse injury is in the dancers in Paris who perform a ‘Can Can’ twice a night. This is a powerful and fast dance that can wreak havoc on the performer’s bodies. Tendonitis at the origin of the hamstring, which is felt at the very top of the leg, just underneath the gluteal muscle is THE most common injury I have to deal with when I work in Paris.
Ballet dancers tend to experience tendonitis of the flexor muscles that point the toes and male dancers who lift their partners often battle with biceps tendonitis, which is felt at the top of the arm, underneath the deltoid and inflammation of the rotator cuff. Shin splints are quite common, especially in student dancers who have just started a new training schedule or are still growing.
5. What is the most difficult thing about treating dancers?
When dancers work professionally, their bodies are their income, so asking them to take 2-3 weeks or even months off isn’t always easy or realistic. Trying to treat an injury, but allow a dancer to continue to work can be difficult. As I mentioned before, sometimes movements can be modified, for example by kicking on the other leg, or marking a back bend, but not always.
Seeing the emotional affects of injury is also difficult. Dancers are usually quite resilient to physical pain, but I have had more than one case of tears where I thought the discomfort of the injury had overcome the dancer, but in actual fact they were just very anxious about the seriousness of the injury and what it would mean to their career.
6. What is the most rewarding thing about treating dancers?
Being aware that knowledge is power and by sharing quite basic information, I can make a difference to performers all over the world. I can’t remember the amount of times that I used to be with a whole group of dancers who would discuss whether to use heat or ice on an injury, but not really know what the answer was or why (it’s ICE by the way, to restrict inflammation and bleeding). Whenever I treat anyone, I always give them information about their injury – which muscles are affected, what this means, how to look after the area and what to do in the future.
I once received an email from a dancer in New Zealand who said that because she’d read something on the ST4D Facebook page, she knew to put ice on a sprained ankle and her prognosis was better for it – what could be better than that!? It’s very satisfying when someone feels immediate benefit after seeing me.
One dancer, who is currently in Chicago in the West End, had more mobility in her hamstring than she’d had for year after just one session of STR (Soft Tissue Release) and deep tissue massage. Cases such as these confirm to me that the work I do can really make a difference to a dancer’s performance.
7. Can you share a highlight or two from your career thus far?
I regularly travel to France to treat the dancers who work in the cabarets of Paris. I see ‘Doris Girls’ from the Moulin Rouge, ‘Bluebells’ from the Lido and also dancers from other cabarets such as La Novelle Eve and Crazy Horse. Many of the dancers who work in Paris are actually from Australia, England or America and really value being able to see an English speaking therapist. The fact that I danced at the Moulin Rouge myself is a real bonus, because I know how hard their job is!
As an expert consultant for dance injuries, I have been quoted in publications such as ‘Dance Today’, which is a British (also sold internationally) Social Dance magazine. In a recent article, I discussed shoulder injuries in Ballroom and Latin Dancers.
8. Would you comment on the importance of prevention in terms of dance injuries?
‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. In a split second, a dance career can be put on hold for 6 months. I’ve seen it happen, when someone ruptures their ACL (anterior cruciate ligament in the knee). Usually, injuries occur when the dancer is tired and overworked, so performers, choreographers and directors should be aware of this and work within reasonable limits. Of course, dancers must work hard, but they should be fit to do so. Before embarking on a tough rehearsal period, a new term at college, important audition or different style of class, dancers should have cross trained in the gym or by using Pilates or Yoga so that they are in condition for the work ahead. However, cross training should be reduced if an individual is dancing for long hours each day, in order to minimise the chance of overuse injuries and give the body an opportunity to rest.
Most importantly, many injuries will show warning signs – pain, redness, stiffness or limited range of motion – before they become very serious and changes such as these should not be ignored. Sports massage can be very beneficial as a preventative measure. A good therapist will be able to identify potential problem areas and restore balance to the body.
9. If you could give dancers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Prevention is better than cure, but if you do get injured, early treatment in the acute and sub-acute stages can make a real difference in the outcome of an injury. For example, introducing RICE procedures (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) can significantly reduce recovery time. All dancers should have a bag of frozen peas in the freezer that can be reused, but never eaten. Peas are great as they are the right temperature (not too cold) and mould to the shape of the body. Use them for about 15-20 mins per hour, depending on the area. If it’s a fleshy area such as the thigh, ice can be left longer than on a bony area like the ankle. Don’t allow the skin to go red as this signifies blood going to the area, which is what you are trying to prevent. Ice is also particularly helpful for muscle spasms, which seems contradictory, but is true nevertheless!
10. What is next for you?
My vision is to make ST4D the first point of contact for dancers in London and Paris when it comes to injury prevention and rehabilitation. I am often surprised by how little basic knowledge dancers have and for this reason; I am particularly interested in providing education to young dancers who are still in college about how to prevent and treat injuries, including teaching anatomy. I believe an understanding of functional anatomy is essential when working with the body every day – it is the dancers’ instrument after all! I’d very much like to implement a short ‘Injury Prevention 4 Dancers’ course into diploma and degree syllabuses around London.
BIO: Liz has been a professional dancer for over 10 years, having worked in Portugal, Italy, Paris and Spain. She was the Dance Captain and Production Manager for FJM Productions in the USA and has appeared on television in Paris, Venezuela and the UK. After training exclusively in ballet for 16 years, she now specialises in Ballroom, Latin, Salsa and Argentine Tango and performs with her husband and dance partner as a Show Dance Team. She currently teaches at Danceworks in London. Liz is a qualified Sports Therapist and treats sports, dance and occupational injuries, in addition to correcting postural imbalances and prescribing Pilates based exercise for rehabilitation and conditioning. She is the founder of ‘Sports Therapy 4 Dancers’, which is based in London. She also visits France once a month, treating the dancers of the Moulin Rouge and Lido in Paris. Liz is available as a therapist for special events (First Aid and First Contact Management), as an expert consultant, or for individual treatment in various locations around London. www.SportsTherapy4Dancers.com