Dallas — While modern and contemporary dance have become increasingly more popular to our generation, little has been reported with respect to dance injuries common to the dancers within the genres and their consequences. Recently, I’ve seen more and more of my peers suffering from and dealing with serious injuries to the very body parts that make us capable of teaching, practicing, and performing our craft. Some of them are sidelined for months at a time; others are pushing their bodies through the pain and crossing their fingers that everything will be alright. Sometimes it is; sometimes, it isn’t. But, I get it. Dance keeps us in touch with our sense of self. Yet, how can you deliver your best work when you’re juggling your practical (financial) and tangible (emotional) needs? What is the cost/benefit analysis of dancing until you can’t dance anymore?
Constantly, dancers have to deal with difficult, sometimes career-threatening issues, that can bring forward risk, relevance, and humanity in both the choreography they are producing and the motivation behind the way they move. But if you don’t sweat the details, you’ll have to sweat the consequences.
I watch my peers—and I’m guilty of this myself—working through the pain, often ignoring doctor’s orders. Granted, it’s difficult to tell when a dull ache or a twinge requires further attention, no matter how connected to your body you are. Sometimes things just hurt, and dance is not like basketball or football, where you can just send someone else on—especially in a small company where there are no understudies in place—so, you just keep pushing. But sometimes the pain is unbearable and even though the show might be weeks away and you have a central role, or the show is the next day, you have to know when enough is enough. You have to know when to say, “No more.”
In the first-ever study to examine dance-related injuries on a national level (which came out in 2007 and was published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health), researchers found that between 1991 and 2007 about 113,100 children and teens were treated for dance injuries in U.S. emergency rooms. During that time, the number of cases in a year increased by more than 37 percent, to about 8,500 in 2007. A 2013 Center for Injury Research and Policy study, supported that claim, also finding that injuries from dance in children and adolescents have increased by 37 percent over the last 17 years. Further, in the last two decades, with the rise and popularity of competition dance, choreography has become more and more athletic, yet, dancers have not necessarily kept up the pace. In lieu of good technique, young dancers are trained to perform tricks and put through long, repetitive, high-energy rehearsals—on average, young dancers at a competitive studio are in rehearsals for 12 hours a week. “Overuse” injuries of the hip, foot, and ankle are common, with a large number of dancers suffering from strained ligaments, tendinitis, fractures, and cartilage issues.
But the increase in injuries is not just relegated to youth of the dance community. Professional dancers also suffer an imbalance between their passion and desire to perform with their physical flexibility and strength. It’s partly due to their enthusiasm for their craft and their need to succeed. When the desire to be the best takes over, the details tend to fade into the background. You forget to take class because you’re running from school to school teaching your own lessons. You forget to warm-up before teaching because you’re too busy shuffling paperwork and answering questions about the syllabus. You forget to follow your own technical rules when choreographing. You forget that you’re not 18 years-old anymore and your body has aged. You just simply forget about your own safety because you are concern about the safety of your students and your dancers. You forget to listen to yourself. These elements combine make professional and adult dancers more injury-prone.
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, researchers worked toward defining the incidence, risk factors, and management of musculoskeletal injuries in professional modern dancers. A total of 184 dancers in the U.S. completed an anonymous 17-page questionnaire on their injuries, and according to their self-reports, 82 percent of the dancers suffered between one and seven injuries. The foot and ankle (40 percent) were the most common site of injury, followed by the lower back (17 percent) and the knee (16 percent). Injured male dancers returned to full dancing after a median of 21 days, while females returned after 18 days. Most dancers missed no performances due to injury. Further, while the majority of injuries were considered work-related—61 percent of the most severe injury and 69 percent of the second most severe—few were covered by Workers’ Compensation insurance (12 percent and 5 percent, respectively).
This latter fact is where things get tricky for a professional dancer. What is covered by Workers’ Compensation and what isn’t. In some states, in order to be entitled to such benefits, the injured party must prove an “accident,” and an “accident’ is defined in Workers’ Compensation Law as only an unexpected or unusual event or a result that happens suddenly. The burden of proof is a gray area that confuses and bewilders most. It should be as simple as if you have an accident while working, you are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits; but it is not that simple.
Then comes the issue of whether or not the dance studio or company you are dancing for has an insurance policy that provides liability coverage, and there are many different types of liability coverage that depending on what your employer has in place dictates what you can benefit from. There’s Bodily Injury Liability, Premises Liability, Participant Liability, Personal Property Liability, and Professional Liability.
And then there is the safest and best way to protect yourself: carry your own insurance. There are many options out there for self-employed dancers who are not covered under a traditional organizationally based insurance. Research your options. Education yourself. Protect yourself.
Dance requires that you take care of your body and condition yourself. You have to gradually work up to an extreme degree of intensity—to those long nights in the studio after you’ve already worked an 8-hour day. It’s unfortunate, but, now that dance has become popular, it’s also become rooted in competition. The art of it has become secondary to the glitz and the glamor of dancing on TV or for the next big pop star. If the focus remains on competition, we’ll lose the process of dance.
Dance can give us so much—it brings us in touch with ourselves, uniting the physical, the intellectual, and the emotional; but it can take as much as it can give.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears on the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
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- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
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- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
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- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy
- September 2015: Dancing to Learn
- October 2015: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December 2015: '15 Going on '16
- January 2016: In Memoriam
- Februrary 2016: The Politics of Dancing
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- April 2016: Defining Dance Theatre
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- June 2016: Dancing for Change
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