The Many Facets Of Dance

Zumba ClassRegardless of your favourite dance discipline, it is important to maintain your practice in other dance forms to both complement and balance your training. Whilst one discipline may be concentrated on, it is beneficial both physically and mentally to take part in other dance forms other than your main interest.

Many teachers encourage their students to try everything to ensure their dance training is well-rounded and dance interests are well-informed. The more dance styles and dance knowledge you have under your belt, the better!

Once dance students begin to venture into dance careers, the different dance styles lend themselves to performances in different ways, and can even influence the roles you are cast for and whether you may have a role created on you in the future. Having a multitude of dance skills at your disposal means dancers are even more of an asset to the dance companies they join. Dance companies demand a lot from their dancers, so the more you can offer, the better.

Despite this, sometimes extreme pressure is placed on the body (and mind) when something completely new is required. Different styles to what you are used to can be difficult to get used to, but by cross-training your body, it will become easier to manage these changes.

Daily class is one of the best ways to cope with the extremes of different styles, as it warms the body up and prepares it for the day ahead. Keeping the body strong and confident is important, so eating well and looking after your body outside of the studio is also vital to succeeding.

Don’t forget that the opportunity to work on lots of different things in lots of different styles is the best way to develop as a dancer, and keep on learning!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Common Foot Problems For Dancers

Foot ThongThe feet are important to any human being, in terms of posture, gait and movement. For dancers the feet are constantly put under pressure as dance relies predominantly on flexible, mobile and healthy feet. Despite this there are a few common foot injuries in dancers:

Hallux Valgus and Bunions

The big toe tilts sideways towards the second toe and becomes painful, often developing bunion at its base. The pain is usually worse when wearing tight footwear, or when putting excessive pressure through the affected area, such as when on demi-pointe. The entire leg’s biomechanics are often involved: to manage the problem there are options of manual therapy, stretches and strengthening exercises for the feet, ankles, knees and hips. Failing this, surgery may be required.

Hallux Rigidus

This condition becomes apparent during full demi-pointe and is characterised by pain and reduced ability to achieve a 90 degree angle at the joint between the big toe and the rest of the foot. Forcing demi-pointes causes the joint surfaces to become irritated and bony spurs can develop. Half demi-pointes should be encouraged as the forces through the affected structures are then reduced. Cryotherapy (ice treatment), mobilisation and regular stretches can help in reducing pain and inflammation.

Plantar Fasciitis

Characterised by pain on the sole of the foot that is often worse in the mornings or after a strenuous exercise session. It is caused by an irritation and inflammation of the fascial covering of the sole of the foot and, in dancers, it is often linked to dancing for long hours on hard floors. Rest, cryotherapy, anti-inflammatories and manual therapy are all helpful in its management. Orthotics and splints can be used in chronic cases to help alleviate the symptoms.


Characterised by pain over the ball of the foot. It is usually caused by years of overuse and overstretch of the ligaments of the toes; the associated joints become too unstable to sustain body weight and pressure which leads to metatarsalgia. Rest and cryotherapy are recommended, and metatarsal pads can be used to relieve pain and pressure, and strengthening exercises is encouraged.

Taking Care Of Your Body During The Summer

Take Care Of Your BodyFor many dance students, the summer spells summer schools and dance intensives. These summer training programmes are designed to push dance students further and give them another dance experience. They can vary in length, style and structure, but it is important to make the most of the programme while looking after your body.

It is important to warm up properly, despite the fact the warm weather will make you feel like you are already warm and flexible. While your body is warm however, your muscles and joints are not. Don’t be tempted into skipping your usual warm up, in order to give your body the preparation it needs to dance and protect itself from injury.

Remember to drink enough water during summer programmes: staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of taking care of yourself during long days of dance. Make sure you drink water before, during and especially after classes, and also ensure you eat well-balanced meals. You will be dancing for many hours every day, which may be more than you’re used to, so make sure you eat enough of the right food to get you through the day.

With many different dancers around it is tempting to become competitive and push yourself beyond your dancing limits. Get enough rest to balance out the energetic days, which also means you will decrease the risk of injuring yourself. Injuries are common during summer programmes, simply because you are dancing more than your body is used to. Pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you and at the end of the day cool down and stretch.

Above all, remember to have fun! Summer intensives are designed to push you towards being a professional, but remember to enjoy the hard work.

Recovering From Smaller Injuries

Shin SplintsWhile major injuries are devastating, it is often the smaller injuries which have more of an effect on a dancer’s wellbeing, such as being covered in bruises or burning the feet constantly. Dancers can become desperate for a cure, such as for cuts, split skin, blisters and bruises.

For cuts and split skin, lots of dancers use fat-based balms to keep skin softer so it’s less likely to split in the first place. Use a pumice stone to reduce the thickness of skin or calluses, or nail clippers to trim tough edges so they don’t get caught and pull the wound open. Some dancers also develop taping methods for prevention. Cuts need to be kept clean and sterile, to prevent microorganisms from growing and tape can be used to hold the skin together.

Despite being small, blisters can be painful and troublesome. They form due to friction on the skin but by placing a layer between what rubs and your skin can eliminate the friction, such as by using tape, tights or clothing. Your skin will also toughen up with exposure so you will be less susceptible to blisters once your skin gets used to a new shoe or to dancing barefoot. As with calluses, dancers can use a balm or oil to make sure their skin stays soft and doesn’t dry out and harden around the blister: make sure you keep an open blister clean, sterile and covered. Don’t pop the blister, but if it is no longer intact, leave the skin over the wound.

Bruises are difficult to prevent, as they occur when capillaries, and sometimes tiny veins, are broken due to impact, allowing blood to collect near the surface of the skin. Try to control descents to the floor with strong muscles and smooth, coordinated movement. If you do bruise easily use balms and creams such as Arnica to help the healing process, and don’t let the small stuff get you down!

Life Without Dance?

Red CrossAs a passionate young dance student, it can be hard to conceive of a life without dance. Perhaps you’ve been injured, or can’t get a job or even discovered a full dancing life just isn’t for you. You may be able to return to dancing, and if you do your body will not have forgotten, and you’ll be able to bring more to your dancing than previously.

For many, letting dance go and getting a different job is a welcome change. The change from dancing can be refreshing and the shift in routine can be a welcome break from a sometimes intense dance existence. Injury might also mean you need to take a break from dance and, if it permits, with the right rehabilitation you can return your body to dance.

In the return to dance it is important to retrain the body to return it to its optimum health. A combined programme of, for example, running for cardio, skipping for lower leg strength, Bikram yoga for flexibility, lunges for thigh strength and ballet classes for overall strength, coordination and movement pathways can get the body back into condition.

An alternative return to dance may be through teaching, either within an institution or, more likely, freelance. It is important to take it slowly and set good foundations as a gradual return will put your body at less risk. Focusing on gently increasing your flexibility, strength and fitness means there is less chance of injury.

If you’ve managed to stay fairly active, you might not find the physical side of returning to dance too tough, but it is still important not to be too hard on the body in the beginning by keeping your legs low and not at maximum turn out. If you haven’t been active, start with simple things like brisk walking, swimming or gentle yoga classes. Pilates is always useful for core strength, flexibility and overall conditioning.

Prepare yourself mentally for the fact that you body may have changed, especially if you are a little older or if you’ve had a particularly long break. This is not a limitation however, but a positive change in a new direction and an opportunity to learn more.

Soft Tissue Therapy For Dancers

Soft Tissue TherapySoft tissue therapy is a method used to assist dancers in building and maintaining flexibility and facility, as well as treating injuries, in keeping the body both strong and supple. Using soft tissue therapy aids dancers in reaching their potential: sometimes referred to as massage, the technique covers such a broad range of entities the term massage cannot encompass them.

In soft tissue therapy, all the soft tissues of the body are concentrated on, as well as the systems of the body which maintain wellness. Dancers must maintain their bodies as their instrument, and in that comes muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, connective tissue and so on. Dancers may seek the therapy because of injury, or even small aches and pains. Others may come to increase flexibility or fluidity, and to check they are working at their capacity. As a result, soft tissue therapy can be about both improving performance as well as diagnosing and treating injuries.

For some therapists, working on soft tissues is not always about being ‘hands-on’, but also about working with occupational therapy and the mind-body connection which both affect the state of soft tissues. Dancers sometimes have to be trained to let the body relax and release tension to enable them to perform better – visualisation and relaxation techniques can help along with concentrating on breathing. Positive thinking is another technique that is encouraged to help dancers, along with visualisation techniques to help them see the body doing what they want.

In enhancing the benefits of soft tissue therapy it is important to be aware of the body and not ignore things, as early intervention is the best intervention. To get the best out your body you must ultimately believe in yourself, and believe that your body can do what you want it to do.

Learning To Dance

Learnuing to DanceFor most young children, dance class is a time to don the pinkest tights in town and join their friends in becoming fairies, soldiers and various other characters at the command of their teacher. It is only when children become a little older that ballet and dancing becomes a little more disciplined and structured. Instead of bouncing, bending and clapping there are pliés, tendus and lots of skipping. The focus may still be on having fun, but now works to encourage the ballet basics.

Ballet has been shown to have many positive effects for children, such as confidence, strength, flexibility and focus, love of music and rhythm promoted in classes. The class must also suit the child and their needs, with many not taking students before the age of three in order for them – and the others in the class – to have a fulfilling experience that is worthwhile.

Children need to be able to concentrate on the simple tasks of the class alongside the others. It is important the class is structured and secure, later translating into identifiable sections of warm up, barre work, centre practice, travelling and sequence. Their concentration will improve as they learn, forming a cycle of positive reinforcement. Ballet also provides much discipline, requiring children to focus whilst balancing rules with fun.

The physical development caused by ballet goes without saying: children need to be at least three before their range of movement and balance is sufficient to take on such a physical and mentally demanding activity. Following this they can then work on the co-ordination, strength, flexibility, grace, range of motion and endurance that is required. From there comes emotional development. Little dance students can become very independent quickly, moving alone and growing their confidence for this, as well as feeling comfortable as part of a group.

OM Yoga Show 2014

OM Yoga Show 2014

As two separate techniques, it is clear that ballet and yoga compliment each other perfectly. As a result, Ballet Yoga is a unique combination of contemporary ballet and Vinyasa yoga positions, working together to create strength, flexibility, fat burning, coordination and an improved posture, in addition to lightness, balance, agility and expression for an inspiring workout experience.

This year’s OM Yoga Show will see a free 30 minute Ballet Yoga session take place, following the workshop session for all levels of Ballet Yoga earlier in the day. The sessions will be led by Nicky McGinty, who has worked as a professional dancer and choreographer for over 17 years. Nicky discovered yoga through injury rehabilitation and prevention and went on to become a certified international yoga instructor.

Throughout her career Nicky has studied Kundalini, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Jivamukti yoga all over the world. She went on to combine her love of yoga with her passion for dance on her return to the UK, formulating the Ballet Yoga technique she teaches today. This unique fusion is a highlight of the OM Yoga Show in Manchester this year: Ballet Yoga is just one of the sessions taking place from 10-11 May; whether you are a yoga lover, ballet lover or wellness and fitness fanatic, the Yoga Show is sure to have something for you.

In attending the OM Yoga Show, ticket holders will have entry to the Mind Body Soul Experience which will be taking place in the adjoining hall to the OM Yoga Show, meaning there are two shows for the price of one on offer.

And if Ballet Yoga doesn’t sound quite up your street, why not try Disco Yoga!? This special creation intertwines Vinyasa yoga, a live DJ and a specially created soundtrack to enhance natural fluidity and creative expression. Full of rhythmic variations and appealing melodies, Disco Yoga is a truly gratifying experience that will change your opinion of yoga forever!

Fuel Your Dancing Body Like An Athlete

Nutrition PyramidFor dancers, the correct nutrition for the body is of utmost importance for their performance in dance. Dancers are athletes combined with artistry, so they must think of themselves as athletes, and how athletes manage their food intakes or their nutrient and energy needs.

The energy dancers need varies enormously but generally increases with the level, time and intensity of training. Males need more energy because they have more muscle mass than females but every day can be different for both sexes. If dancers find that they are tired most of the time, not recovering sufficiently from an injury or just not performing well, they are not meeting their energy needs.

Compared to the general population, dancers need to eat foods that are going to help them in their dance performance. Specifically, these foods are energy-giving grains, high quality proteins as well as some good fats and oils. Dancers must eat good quality food to serve their bodies, filled with nutrients and vitamins which are useful for performance. Many dancers also get caught up with the energy content of food rather than the quality; often what is required is higher energy content food in order to meet needs rather than opting for low-energy or fat alternatives.

Another vital need for dancers and their performance is hydration – this is critical to dancers’ well being and energy levels, supplementing the body during its hard work. Dehydration most commonly causes low energy, headaches and difficulty concentrating or focusing, so is the number one requirement for dancers or any athlete. On an average day, dancers should be aiming for 35-45ml per kg per day, and more if it’s hot or classes are long or intense.

Want A Deeper Plié?

Achilles TendonAre you blessed with long Achilles tendons, loose calf muscles and a deep plié? Count yourself lucky. Many dancers are desperate to increase the depth of their plié however, short of surgery, there is only so much change that can be made.

Some grand pliés in second position are shallow and look more like a demi-plié, caused by tight calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons, which regular stretching can remedy. Despite this, some dancers develop a bony ridge of calcium deposits (or bone spurs) along the bottom edge of their tibia or along the front of their ankle bone which inhibits movement. The bone is stopped by bone and cannot move any further.

Another cause of shallow pliés could be the shape of the ankle bone: it normally slopes downward from the centre of the joint towards the floor which allows dancers to plié from the front of the ankle. For some dancers however, their ankle bones lies horizontally so it lacks that slope, which means they experience a decreased range of motion in their pliés.

Aside from surgery, there is little than can be done to increase the depth of pliés. Some dancers do use adjustable heel lifts to help. Sorbothane heel lifts, for example, tilt the whole ankle bone downwards, giving an increase in range of motion in front of the ankle. They move the bony blockages away from one another, so dancers experience the feeling that they can plié deeper.

Another option is to try stacking two quarter-inch lifts under both heels, and sew a half-inch strip of elastic along the back upper edge of your pointe shoes to prevent them from slipping off. Wearing heel lifts may tighten your Achilles’ tendons, so be sure to do regular calf stretches.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.