We dancers have always been in tune with our bodies. Detailed movement and quality requires concentration and skill, not to mention strength and dexterity. This attention to detail creates a heightened awareness of the muscles, bones, and connective tissues that make dance possible. We get to know our own bodies so well, that even if the smallest issue arises, we can sense an imbalance immediately.
But our awareness isn’t just born out of consistent use and mental fortitude. Throughout history, it has also been about survival. Dancers haven’t always had access to medical aid or counsel given limited funding and intense work conditions. Oftentimes, as any dancer can tell you, we end up having to perform on subpar flooring or freezing cold spaces which just increases the likelihood of injury or strain. As such, we’ve had to rely on ourselves and each other to pinpoint and treat any injuries or inconsistencies we come across.
For generations this is how it has been. Any movers who had a deep understanding of anatomy had to seek it out on their own to properly educate themselves on the technical aspects of their facility.
But the past few decades has seen a shift.
The rise of kinesiology, anatomy, and other technical practices in the educational system (predominantly in college dance programs) has made the most recent generations of dancers the smartest yet. Now, these practices are not new, but it wasn’t as widely spread to the average dancer, especially young ones, as it is today.
As Dance Medicine is becoming a large and well-established field, more and more knowledge is being shared, and the result is a trickle-down of information and resources for many a mover. Large collectives like the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) has pushed for the field to grow. As resources and information expands, it finds its way into the hands of the people who need it the most; the average dancer.
Physicians with a specialization in dance are becoming more prominent and, therefore, easier to access. While in college, I did an independent study with a mentor of mine, Dr. Jeff Russell (Ph.D., AT, Licensed Athletic Trainer, Assistant Professor of Athletic Training, and all around great guy), and had the privilege to observe and shadow a lot of what was being done in the SHAPe Clinic, a clinic dedicated to musicians, theater majors, and dancers. This would not have been possible just a few years earlier; even so, the clinic and Dr. Russell came in the latter half of my second-to-last year in college.
When I first entered college, I couldn’t tell you which bone was the tibia and which was the fibula, never mind how to take care of a blunt injury. Both ice and heat were beneficial, but when did you use which? What was a metatarsal? These things were never taught to me in high school (I geared more towards physics than biology in my teen years), and certainly not in the dance studio.
Lucky for me, the program I was in required kinesiology classes, which were reinforced by the jargon used in my technique classes. Professors consistently used ‘scapula’ instead of ‘shoulder blade’, ‘iliopsoas’ instead of ‘hip joint’, and a whole host of other specific terminology that made what I learned in the books make sense. It’s easier to articulate pain or discomfort you are experiencing when you know the proper wording and understand the physical structure of your body. Furthermore, we learned to take care of our bodies in ways that built strength and released tension...preventative action is the best friend a dancer will ever have.
Technology has certainly helped the newer generations of dancers find literature, studies, and videos pertaining to preventative care, anatomy, and movement studies. While most younger students may not often seek out this information, the very fact it’s out there is something. A quick Google search can help someone pinpoint what region their pain is stemming from, or offer them videos of Pilates exercises that can help with core stability.
This exchange of information is not exclusive to dance; almost every other profession that exists today has been affected by the rise of the internet and the lightning-fast answers to almost any question a person can ask.
Spreading the Word
Just as dancers in previous generations imparted their knowledge to me, I do the same with the students I now teach. Though I am teaching at the studio level, I try to insert bits and pieces of anatomical knowledge when I can. I use the technical names for body parts and joints. I help them understand some basic mechanics of the techniques we practice. I explain what a specific exercise does for the body. I do this in hopes that they will be less prone to injury, smarter about training, and more prepared should they continue their dance practice into college.
I’m not the only one doing so.
As new discovery becomes basic knowledge, the profession, and those involved in it, will continue to evolve. I have no doubt the students I am now teaching will grow to be smarter, more creative, and more aware of the field than I am. And I want them to be.
This is how we grow, how we survive, and how we create. I am excited to see what will happen in the decades that come, and hope that my students, like me, pass down their knowledge step by step, generation to generation.
Students today are the future of the profession; let’s prepare them as much as we can.