This month’s guest contributor to the Dance Wellness column is Robin Kish, MS, MFA, who is on the dance faculty at Chapman University in Orange County, CA. She is a leader in the field of dance medicine, and is especially focused on competition dance.
Robin comes from that background herself, and most of the students she trains come from competition studios as well. Many of them graduate to teach in that same environment. Others have become professional dancers in shows such as “Wicked”, competed at the highest levels of “So You Think You Can Dance”, and joined such top notch companies as Momix.
Robin’s passion is to help competition dancers look for ways to be able to dance / compete / teach without feeling broken. We are so pleased she has joined us here on 4dancers.org, sharing information especially for this important segment of our dance community.
– Jan Dunn, Editor, Dance Wellness
by Robin Kish, MS, MFA
Olympians, professional athletes, and even collegiate athletic programs have something in common….they all provide a team of medical health professionals to promote wellness and maximize peak performance.
Where is there anything similar for competition dance?
Choreography, music, costumes, hair, make up, technique class and 100’s of hours of rehearsing make up the day to day life of young competition dancers. The bread and butter of private studios today are competition teams, with students ranging from ages 5-18.
Competition organizations have been around for a while, however; in the last decade the level and interest in competitions have reached an all-time high. In addition to the increased opportunities to compete, there is also a continuous stream of conventions and workshops available for dancers to take technique class and learn choreography from the latest and greatest artists. Reality TV shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” have helped promote dance in the public arena. That said, the missing factor supporting a dancer’s longevity and maximal performance is wellness…i.e, what this column is all about!
Beyond the rhinestones and sequins, the most important instrument the dancer has is their body. The hours of hard work take a toll on the body and sensations of pain may increase; therefore, a decrease in performance may develop. Since the focus of training frequently is toward the final product and the tricks necessary to score big at each competition, dancers forget to listen to their bodies along the way.
As a university instructor for the last 10 years, I have seen more first-time freshmen begin their college career having already suffered severe ankle sprains, back injuries, stress fractures, knee surgeries, and chronic overuse injuries. At the same, time these dancers are amazing performers, but their careers are being cut short due to the number and severity of early injuries. Duct tape and super glue can keep a dancer performing for only so long before their body begins to revolt. Even a small dose of dancer wellness education can go a long way in not only preventing injuries but maximizing the performance of these dancers.
In Part I of this discussion I would like to propose some ways that dancers and studio teachers can instill awareness of dancer wellness into their programs.
1. Encourage cross training activities – Every athlete in the world uses cross training methods to help maximize performance. Dancers tend to be paranoid that they will build bulk or think it is more important to take an extra technique class before choosing a cross training activity. However, the reality is that cross training helps to balance muscle strength and flexibility and can promote cardiovascular fitness. Great options are Pilates, Gyrotonics, swimming, and elliptical equipment. This column has previously discussed the importance of outside conditioning for dancers, so you’re already aware of how important that is.
2. Network with medical professionals that have a background in performing arts medicine – This may be easier said than done. Connecting with a medical doctor, physical therapist, athletic trainer, massage therapist, nutritionist, psychologist, chiropractor, and alternative providers such as Feldenkrais, Franklin Method, Craniosacral therapy can go a long way in helping you to dance longer and stronger. It’s important to understand that there is no “one therapy fits all” and having options of professionals with whom to work will benefit you the most.
3. Ensure that dancers receive proper warm-up prior to dance competitions – Young dancers think they are invincible and are easily distracted by the excitement of competition. Are you guilty of being told to warm up and decide the best option is dropping down on the floor in the splits, bouncing in the butterfly stretch, bending over to touch your toes, standing up to do 5 jumps in place and telling your choreographer you are ready? Not!
4. Encourage proper stretching habits – Stretching is important but should be placed at the end of the warm-up, otherwise injury may result. A proper warm-up ensures the muscles and joints are ready for the demands of performance. Warm-up must include a cardiovascular component starting with large general movements progressing toward choreographic specific needs. (Editor’s note: This column will have future articles on both stretching specifics and warm-up.)
5. Encourage cool down after class and competition – Young dancers exhilarated by their performance run off stage excited to share the moment with their friends. After the jubilation encourage the dancers to perform some gentle stretching and address any injuries.
In Part II of this discussion, we will discuss warning signs that something isn’t quit right. Has your arabesque height lowered? Your split range changed for the worse? Do you have a nagging pain that seems to be increasing each week? These may all be signs that you have an injury that is slowly taking away from you ability to perform at your very best.
Robin Kish, M.S. MFA is Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at Chapman University. She teaches dance technique, Pilates, Anatomy for Dancers, Injury Prevention, Choreographs and oversees student choreography. Robin has taught graduate level courses in Anatomy for Dancers at the University of California Irvine and California State University Long Beach. She is on the teacher’s Committee of IADMS and recently co-chaired the program and schedule for PAMA’s (Performing Arts Medicine Asso.) 30th anniversary conference in Aspen, Co. In 2010 Robin was awarded the Certificate in Safe and Effective Dance Practice from Trinity College London. She has presented papers at both IADMS and PAMA conferences and has also mentored several students who have presented papers and posters at both venues. As a product of the private studio / competition environment she is passionate about bringing dancer wellness and safe teaching practices to the industry. Contact at kish(at)chapman.edu