A dancer of any calibre can face pressures in the dance studio, from themselves, their peers and even their dance teachers. Pressures can take hold in many forms, such as healing after injuries, aspiring to create the ‘ideal’ dancing body shape and changes in the behaviour of dance teachers. Each has an effect on both your dancing and performance, hindering the creation and maintenance of a healthy mind and body, which is paramount to excelling in and enjoying dance.
Often teachers can appear unfriendly and cold, not offering encouragement or help to young dancers. This can stem the enthusiasm a young dancer has for dance and can be detrimental to their progress as a dancer. A dance teacher’s decision to teach is a result of wanting to pass on their knowledge and aid other dancers, so erratic behaviour can often seem odd. They can be overly critical of your work however they usually have many students they are working with at one time, so try not to take their attitude personally.
While there are often jarring relationships with dance teachers, this can also occur on a personal level with yourself. Aspiring to be a thin waif-like dancer is unhealthy and can lead to dieting, starving and an eating disorder, which can ultimately be dangerous. Fortunately, there is now more emphasis on creating a strong body which is fit and ready to take on the challenges of dance, not likely to collapse afterwards. Teachers are now more focused on healthy eating to prevent disorders, and promote dance alongside wellbeing for the body and mind.
Similar pressures of this type on the self can also occur as a result of injuries, especially those that are slower to heal. As a dancer the mentality is to power through the class whatever the cost, due to lifelong mantras such as ‘the show must go on’ and ‘no pain, no gain’. An ethos of this sort is now becoming less common, as ultimately it is of the upmost importance that the body and mind heals following an injury.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Dancing barefoot for modern or contemporary dance doesn’t come without its pitfalls – ballet dancers certainly suffer but that’s not to say contemporary dancers don’t too! Many dancers opt for socks, or their costume may demand them to be worn, however to fully feel the floor beneath you – and to move in response to that – requires barefoot dance. Despite this, dancers may still encounter problems along the way.
Hard skin on the soles of your feet is a good thing to help you turn and slide, although it takes a long time to build up. As a dancer your feet may not look as attractive as possible in summer sandals, however you can use a foot file or pumice stone to pare the hard skin down. If calluses develop some dancers may soak their feet in Epsom salt, or use vaseline overnight to keep the skin from cracking. This can also be done if your feet are prone to splitting. Splitting the skin in and around the toes is difficult to bandage and splits can reopen, deepen or become infected. Here, prevention is the best cure by keeping your feet moisturised, but clean and dry.
Contemporary dancers may also suffer from floor burns – although they are common they still need a little attention in order to prevent them worsening. You can relieve a painful floor burn by running cold water over the wound, but don’t use ice or lotions. Overall, ensure your feet receive the relevant care they need by spending time with your feet on a daily basis and be alert for potential problems. You can really spoil your feet by soaking them in a foot bath — especially if your feet are tired or sore — and by applying moisture treatments to ensure they are receiving the best possible care for dance.
Related: Our range of foot thongs and dance socks.
While 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!
Soft 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.
Following injuries, it is paramount that dancers recover as quickly as possible, and diet can particularly aid this. And it’s not just about what you eat, it’s about what you shouldn’t eat too; junk food fills holes without providing any nutrients, just empty calories, and caffeine reduces bone-mineral density and increase fluid loss.
In order to promote healing, the following foods are of particular benefit: produce, dairy and meat aisles, rather than pre-packaged goods. Every nutrient plays a part in recovering from injuries, particularly protein, vitamin D and vitamin C. For calcium choose milk, yogurt, low-fat cheese and almonds; for vitamin A try sweet potato, carrots, blue/orange/purple fruits and vegetables; gain vitamin C with broccoli, citrus fruits and berries; to increase magnesium have almonds, spinach, pumpkin and ground flaxseeds; for omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, ground flaxseeds, beans, wild salmon; and for protein: milk, eggs, tofu, beans and lean meat.
To ensure strong bones, rather than gorging on milk and other calcium-filled products, try adding a little more virgin olive oil to you meals, such as salad or pasta. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reports that men put on diets that included the Mediterranean staple showed a significant increase in levels of osteocalcin, a marker of healthy bone formation.
Another unexpected food tip is to use juice to stay slim. Juice is usually associated with ‘bad foods’ due to its high sugar content, however if you’re craving a fruity drink, try watermelon juice. A recent study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that an amino acid in watermelon juice called citrulline might help with weight maintenance.