It’s been quite the build up, but Safe Dance Practice Module 1 is complete… Exhale!
I had 8 students who attended the first of the 4-part course, which was a great number and allowed for discussion and sharing without feeling too crowded. For those who are interested in the sound of this course but aren’t quite sure what it entails here is a little recap of the experience and what we covered:
The diverse group of attendees made for a really interesting platform for sharing. Participants consisted of a mix of both professional dance artists who were also teaching dance, as well as those teaching other movement forms like pilates, yoga or fitness. We had an ex-professional dancer turned fitness instructor watching her 8 year old daughter in the competitive dance scene now. We had a ballet dance teacher with a phD in dance pedagogy, a dance studio owner, and many dance artists teaching ballet, contemporary, jazz, acro, heels dance… pilates, fitness and yoga!
The course began with a discussion on what safe dance practice was. I always like to start with this because although it’s the reason we’ve all gathered, it’s not always obvious what our goal is. We started with big picture questions, then narrowed down the conversation to what we could do as individual dance educators promoting safe dance practice in our own environment.
One of the topics that came up in this discussion was the the difficulty in wanting to protect and respect the traditions and history of different dance forms while also challenging some of these traditions. We have made so many scientific gains in recent years and what we know about training and safe practice has changed dramatically. There comes a point when we can’t be afraid to respectfully challenge what is being taught and begin to influence a new culture of dance.
Where is that line though? How can we do that respectfully? We agreed discussion and education were probably the places to start.
We then dove head first into an anatomy review. We discussed bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons; What they do, what they are made of and how they are involved in movement. For some participants this was a nice refresher, while others were excited to be learning new things. We discussed the mobility-stability continuum in the body and what joints need to create safe, efficient movement. This built the basis for our understanding on how the body functions holistically through movement.
The main focus of this Module 1, was anatomical and biomechanical principles of alignment, so after our anatomy refresher we jumped into a discussion on alignment. We broadly discussed the importance of alignment in dance movement (both static and dynamic), what ‘good’ alignment was, why it might be important and how we might go about achieving it.
We then went through a few postural analyses together as a group. As we went through a few examples of participants’ alignment, and started to recognize some common themes and alignment deviations to this population. We did this by learning how to find body landmarks in the body, and visually assessing how they stacked up in the line of gravity and where tension might be held in the body.
This fed nicely into the next section where we went through alignment deviations common to dancers. Some of these included anterior pelvic tilt, hyperextended knees, thoracic extension and excessive pronation/supination. As we made our way through the body, discussing alignment deviations joint by joint, we considered how each deviation was affecting the kinetic chain and how changes at one joint impact the rest of the body.
Lastly, we discussed how, as dance teachers, we could go about impacting dancers’ alignment. Changing alignment is unfortunately more complicated than just lengthening what is short and strengthening what is weak, although that can often be a good place to start. We discussed the neuromuscular re-patterning that is necessary to go about making changes in postural habits. How can we do that though? … We discussed different ways we can successfully re-pattern the neuromuscular system.
The afternoon consisted of a combination of lectures, discussions, movement and sharing.
One of the participants spoke about her experience:
“I'm a former dancer and now a yoga teacher. The concepts and information in Hannah's course are certainly transferable to safety in yoga teaching. Hannah is amazingly clear, articulate and engaging in her approach to sharing information. There was a great balance between theory and practice and she had a real life example to help explain any theoretical question that a participant posed. I definitely plan To take the other modules as well’.
Another participant said:
"Hannah is incredibly knowledgeable about the human body and how it relates to dance practice. The information is progressive, relevant, and fun to learn".
We are gearing up for Module 2 on May 7th, which will look at supplementary training and the nutrition and hydration needs of dancers. There is still time to register so be in touch if you are interested in attending!
E-mail email@example.com to register!
Safe Dance Practice … Healthy Dance Practice … Safe and Healthy Dance Practice… Safe and Effective Dance Practice! These are all terms that are used by various organizations and educators to explain a similar concept
But what really is safe dance practice and what does it entail? I recently did a workshop presentation at the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) Regional meeting in Toronto on behalf of Healthy Dancer Canada on this very topic, so I thought it would be worth while to put it down on paper. Almost as often as I get the question ‘What is Dance Science’ I also get the question ‘What is Safe Dance Practice’?
What is Safe Dance Practice?
‘Well informed dance teachers can enable dancers to dance for longer and enhance performance. We know that it is in the studio that future generations of dancers are born, either for the professional theatre, or for recreational pleasure. By keeping dance teachers up to date with the best information we have, those dancers will have greater longevity and the life-enhancing joy of dancing.’
I like this quote, as it speaks to the growing understanding among dance educators, researchers and dancers that recognizing and implementing safe dance practice principles is essential to the dancer for multiple reasons:
Safe Dance Practice can be defined as “allowing all dancers of every age, ability and style to engage fully in the act of dancing without risk of harm to the body or mind, while also supporting them to achieve their full potential” (1). Therefore, SDP is about both limiting risk of injury (both physical and psychological) while enhancing performance potential (both physically and psychologically).
We say LIMIT risk because risk can not be avoided completely! Dance, like any physical activity, has its inherent risks however injury rate among this profession is extremely high with studies citing it to be anywhere up to 98% annually (2) . What we can do, is try to limit unnecessary risk and be educated on what to do if injury does occur.
What Safe Dance Practice is NOT
When discussing SDP with fellow dance educators I will sometimes get a natural almost visceral negative reaction from people who think that safe dance practice means telling dancers that they can’t do certain things. Safe Dance Practice is NOT about restricting what dancers can do ... we are not the dance police! It’s not about bubble wrapping dancers preventing any risk or harm and as a result stifling creative risk.
In fact… SDP is about the exact opposite. By educating and empowering both dancers and dance educators with the exact knowledge and skills to provide the best support, it will open the door to more opportunities. Longer careers, less time off for injury, more chance for a successful and meaningful dance career.
What SDP is really about is educating dancers on how best to deal with an acute injury ensuring the greatest chance for quick recovery. It’s about providing the research based information on how to best utilize supplementary training so as to enhance dance performance while minimizing the risk of overtraining. It’s about recognizing postural deviations as either functional or structural and knowing what to do when you see them and how they may impact technique. It's really about using the amazing scientific research and advances we have made in the 21st century and disseminating this information to the people who actually use it!
Safe dance practice also incorporates the stylistic requirements of the genre, respecting the integrity and historical developments of each dance’s current style. Acknowledging potential issues or risks does not necessarily mean certain movements are inappropriate and contraindicated. It requires a complex interplay between safe practice recommendations and stylistic requirement… and this is where the discussion starts.
What is the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate?
I’m currently entering my final term of study to become a Registered Massage Therapist in Canada. In Ontario, Massage Therapy is a registered profession ruled by a college (CMTO) and as a result there are very strict and regulated rules that I must follow to call myself an RMT. As there is currently no governing body for dance teachers the result is anyone can open up a studio and teach dance, regardless of their background.
Safe in Dance International is an organization that provides certifications for both dancers and dance educators to provide evidence that they are teaching dance with awareness of safe dance principles. SiDI is endorsed by the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, a partner with Healthy Dancer Canada and the provider of the Safe Dance Practice course I will be discussing here. Although there is no ‘law’ that a certification is necessary it can provide dance schools, parents and teachers with the confidence that as an educator you have the knowledge and education to teach safe AND effectively giving your students the best chance at success.
If you are interested in applying for a healthy Dance Practice Certificate, you must apply and provide evidence of your teaching through both written work and a DVD of your teaching. Applicants can apply independently if they feel they have the adequate knowledge to do so, or they can apply under the guidance of a Registered Provider. Registered Providers can provide support in the form of courses, or independent support.
A Safe Dance Practice course will be running in Toronto beginning April 9th, 2017 to prepare applicants for the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate. The Safe Dance Practice course can also be used as CPD hours for RAD teachers! Each workshop can be taken individually or all four can be taken together to best prepare for the Healthy Dance Practice Certificate.
Safe Dance Practice encompasses both physical, psychological and environmental elements.
The course is split into 4 modules, each covering 2-3 of the 10 Core principles.
Module 1 will look at the more anatomical and biomechanical aspects of dance training. In this module we will cover a basic overview of the muscular and skeletal systems including the main muscles and structures significant in dance activity. Posture and alignment will be covered in relation to dance activity including discussions on static vs dynamic alignment. We will discuss how to recognize deviations in alignment common among dancers, whether they are structural or functional and what to do about them. Transfer of training in regards to posture and alignment will also be discussed.
Module 2 will look at the physiological side to dance teaching. In this module, we will discuss supplementary physical conditioning including the components of physical fitness related to dance and why supplementary training might be important. By the end of module 2, dance teachers will have the skills to create a needs assessment for what types of supplementary training their dancers need, how to create a supplementary training class, and how to incorporate it into their dancers’ schedule. This module will also cover the nutrition and hydration needs of dancers, disordered eating, the female athlete triad and how to give nutritional advice to dance participants.
Module 3 will look at the psychological aspects of dance training as well as motor learning in relation to dance training. During this module participants will learn about safe progression, sequencing and structure of dance activities including the appropriate preparations for stretching, jumping and lifting activities. Transfer of training will be addressed as we look into how to bridge the gap from class to performance, from supplementary training to class/performance and how and when to best give corrections and feedback. Lastly we will discuss the psychological needs of dancers, how to create an optimal motivational environment and the skills needed for creating a psychological toolbox for your dancers with the use of goal setting, self-talk, imagery and relaxation techniques.
Module 4 will discuss injury prevention and management strategies. Included in this module we will cover common injury patterns among dancers, how to recognize risk factors for injury (including technical faults, environmental factors and physiological practices) and how to create strategies to minimize risk. As injury risk can not be completely eliminated we will look at emergency responses to injury as well. Proper warming up and cooling down practices will be covered including a chance to apply this knowledge into practice! Lastly, we will discuss the dance environment in relation to minimizing risk and ensuring moral safety in the studio and safeguarding.
So are you curious about how pelvic alignment affects turnout? How you can create an environment that meets your students psychological needs? How you can ensure your students are getting the most out of their training?
Then this course is for you!
To register download the registration form below and email to firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Quin, E., Rafferty S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. Human Kinetics.
(2) Russel, J.S. (2013). Preventing dance injuries: Current perspectives. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013(4)
Sometimes I wish I had an easier job to explain. The question “what do you do?” would be much easier to answer if I was a high school science teacher, or a lawyer. But on the flip side, answering “I’m a dance scientist” starts up all sorts of conversations at a party.
My favourite example of this was when I was visiting a small town in the south of France where no one spoke English. Being the friendliest village I have ever visited, we were invited over to our neighbours house for dinner. Having French skills that would barely pass the 4th grade level I found it hard enough to say “pass the olives” so you can imagine my difficulty when they asked me what I was studying. ‘La science de la dance’ - “huh?”. Explaining what I do is hard enough in my native tongue, let alone another language. I muffled my way through a broken explanation of what I was studying wishing at that moment I was an engineer.
Sometimes I explain it like this. You know sports scientists? All those people that work with the Toronto Blue Jays to make sure that they are doing exactly the right amount of activity at exactly the right times. Scheduling in their training sessions and their rest days, making sure they are eating exactly the right food before and after a game, that the biomechanics of their pitch means that exactly the right amount of spin occurs in the ball to psyche out the batter. That they have the power to hit a home run, the speed to sprint to first base and the psychological skills to survive a bases loaded scenario. These are the scientists that investigate how these athletes can perform their absolute best. Now a dance scientist is similar, just without the multi-million dollar industry.
Simply put, as a dance scientist I look at ways to optimize all aspects of a dancers life and career. Whether it’s improving their performance, their wellbeing both physiologically and psychologically or keeping them dancing as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Sounds pretty rad right?
So why do dance scientists get our own completely different category? There isn’t anyone called a “Baseball Scientist” or a “Hockey Scientist”. To answer this, it’s important to understand that dance is a unique category of movement as it crosses over into the domains of both art and sport. As an angsty teenager I remember getting into viscous fights with my friends on whether dance was a sport or not. Suffice to say, there is no clear answer. Dancers need the athletic capabilities of an athlete, with the creativity and soul of an artist.
Sports Science vs. Dance Science
Sports science is a mature field of research. Most universities have a sports science department and there are numerous research journals expanding the field; therefore there is already a built up collection of research. A basic understanding of performance optimizing principles are now pretty much understood and research is now looking into much more specific details like very specific supplementation uses.
Dance science on the other hand is relatively new. At this point we are still trying to pinpoint the physiological demands of dance, and what “good performance” even means. I say relatively, as I believe recent years have crossed a threshold where Dance Science has really forged its own path. Yes, there is a crossover and research from the sport domain can be helpful - however, It’s simplistic to take the research being conducted in the sports science field and apply it directly to dancers. A creative and critical approach must be taken by dance scientists to apply research from other fields to a dance setting that is appropriate for the population.
An excellent example of this is the subjectivity of what ‘improved performance’ really looks like. For a marathon runner, an improvement in performance is an increase in speed or endurance resulting in faster splits, and ultimately a faster marathon time. There is very little subjectivity there, if your marathon time improves from 2:15 to 2:14 BAM, improved performance. With dancers however, it gets a bit more tricky. Is the dancer with the higher jump height better, or perhaps the one who can whip out 6 pirouettes in a row, or perhaps, is it the one that who has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ but for whatever reason you can’t take your eyes off her as she moves across the stage. This is an added complexity that is unique to dance and other aesthetic sports.
How can a dance scientist help YOU?
When I was studying dance pre-professionally in university, I often got asked the same question “what are you going to do when you turn 30 and can’t dance anymore”. Yikes! Why should dancers careers stop in their mid thirties? Or 40s for that matter? Although my ultimate goal was never to become a professional dancer, the question stuck with me. I decided I would like to help those who want to fulfil that.
I would argue that research is only as relevant as its application. It’s all well and good if amazing research is being conducted in the field, but if it’s not being integrated back into the studio or performance setting what use is it? For example, current evidence suggests there are optimal ways to warm up and cool down the body for dance class or performance but how many teachers are actually integrating this into their classes? Is this information accessible by teachers who may not be in the research field?
I like to think that most teachers are open to helping their students become the best dancers that they can be in the safest way. There is no reason for them not to be - however the question becomes how accessible is this information and how is it being delivered?
My aim, as a dance science consultant is to break down that barrier! I remain up to date on the physiological and psychological research that is being conducted in the dance science field and apply it into a real dance setting. By working alongside teachers and dancers, I aim to help navigate how informed research can lead to the practical application of a safer dance environment.
Lastly, I want to stress that Dance Science is not about limiting what the dancer can do. It’s not about telling a ballerina they shouldn’t be going on Pointe, or that an Irish dancer shouldn’t land with straight legs. It’s about finding ways to best help these dancers thrive in their artistic discipline and give them the tools and skills to make safe and educated decisions. It’s about educating teachers on how to best lead dancers through their stages of development and reach artistic maturity. It’s about creating an environment where a dancer can thrive. It is here, as a dance scientist that I believe we combine the science of training with the art of movement.
How many of us spend many hours every day sitting at our desks? Sitting for long periods will predominantly cause two major muscle imbalances in the hip joint: weakness in the glutes and tightness in the hip flexors. As a result, this stiffness in the hip joint can lead to limited range of movement and poor or dysfunctional movement patterns in the hip. When the hip isn't able to function optimally, the lower back will often take over resulting in lower back pain. Sound familiar to anyone?
Fear not! This three part hip mobilizing sequence is great for moving the hip joint through a variety of positions and can be used as a great warm-up for your training sessions.
Targeting the hip
Starting position: Start in a high plank position with your elbows straight and wrists directly under shoulders. If you have wrist pain, use a bench to rest your forearms on.
Step 1: Step your right foot up to your right hand (or as close as you can). Make sure your toes face forward and your knee is directly over your ankle. Using your right elbow, gently press your right knee out, keeping the foot glued down. Hold for one slow breath, step back to plank.
Step 2: Step your right foot towards your left hand, allowing the hip to rotate outwards and your right knee to fall towards the ground. The aim is for your shin to be perpendicular to your body however you may need to bring your foot closer to your body depending on your mobility. Square your hips towards the front. Hold for one slow breath, step back to plank.
Step 3: Step your right heel to your right hand, pointing the toes to the ceiling and keeping both knees as straight as you can. For an increased stretch, reach your left heel backwards. Hold for one slow breath, step back to plank.
Repeat the whole sequence on the left. Complete for a total of 3 times on each leg, allowing yourself to get deeper into the stretch on every round.
Benefits of this exercise
Full body work: This is a great exercise to do as a warm up as it targets both the upper and lower body. You probably noticed the 'resting' position is a high plank which means you are mobilizing the hips while simultaneously strengthening the shoulders, arms and core.
Multiple ranges of motion: This exercise takes the hip through a variety of positions and ranges of movement targeting not just one, but multiple muscles that surround the hip joint. Hip flexion, extension and rotation are all involved and will thus help us in the various movements our hips need to go through in life: walking, sitting, bending, dancing!
Increased joint lubrication: Your hip joint is an example of a synovial joint, which means that within the joint capsule is synovial fluid. Think of this as the oil that lubricates your joint. As you begin to move the leg in the hip joint your body begins to release synovial fluid, allowing for smoother and more fluid movements. It's important to warm up so that there is enough synovial fluid in your joint before attempting any big moves!
The hip is the most powerful joint in the body and can produce an incredible amount of force! However, when the muscles surrounding the hip are tight, their potential for power are limited. Both a short muscle and a long muscle is a weak muscle, but when a muscle rests at its optimal length its potential to generate force is greatest.
With good mobility comes better stability - So get mobilizing!
Healthy Spine = Healthy Body; Healthy Body = Happy Mind!
I'll start this post by quoting my good friend and brilliant Pilates instructor Ellie Kusner who says 'Your spine is your first priority' Always.
I've recently begun working as a Pilates instructor in addition to working as a personal trainer and dance science lecturer. As a result, I am constantly on a quest to see how I can integrate these various hats I wear to best help my clients. For some clients I now do almost entirely Pilates based sessions, whereas with other clients, I use more high intensity cardiovascular or strength work. Either way, I am constantly looking for commonalities and ways to integrate everything I know about the body. A time when all bodywork philosophies cross paths no doubt, is when we look at the spine.
In any balanced exercise programme, I believe it is important to move the spine through all planes of movement. It's important to understand however that the potential for movement in these various directions will differ depending on the region of the spine involved. This chart is a brilliant visual on how the spine moves and how to optimise good spinal health through movement.
How to read this chart:
The left column shows the spine from both a side view and straight on. The vertebrae C1-C7 cover the cervical spine which is the neck region, T1- T12 are the thoracic vertebrae covering the upper back / ribs, L1- L5 are the lumbar vertebrae which is the lower back followed by the sacrum at the bottom.
The next three columns show the four movements of the spine and how much movement potential each individual vertebrae has in each direction. Source.
Before attempting a movement it is important to understand the different individual vertebrae's potential for movement in different directions. For example, if you look at the large size of the lumbar vertebrae it becomes clear why their capacity for rotation is so small and thus why rotation coming from the lower back isn't ideal. The slightly smaller size of the thoracic vertebrae however mean that they have a greater potential for rotation. This movement is however limited in many people due to immobility of the thoracic spine. That is why exercises that promote thoracic rotation are so beneficial.
For flexion/extension however, the lumbar vertebrae have a great capacity for movement! The thoracic vertebrae don't however due to the rib cage getting in the way. That is why when you look at those bendy contortionists you can see most of the bend comes from the lower back and the upper back stays relatively flat. The cervical spine has overall, the greatest potential for movement.
Bodies are unique
Of course there will always be exceptions as each particular body can move through a unique range of movement. Some of this will be structural (as we are all built slightly differently) and some will be environmental due to movement patterns we have picked up throughout life. As a result, as a movement coach what I do with each client will vary. For example, with someone who has major disk injuries or an older women with osteoporosis or osteopenia I will avoid excessive flexion of the spine to reduce compression of the anterior vertebrae. Also during strength training when the spine is loaded with weight having the spine in a flexed position can be very dangerous. On the other hand, anyone who suffers from spondylitis will want to limit any hyper extension in the lumbar spine. Special populations aside though, movement programmes should aim to incorporate all 4 directions of movement to promote healthy and balanced spines and bodies.
Lastly it's important to understand good training programmes are longitudinal and will likely span over multiple weeks months or even years. Throughout, periodised cycles will likely occur with an emphasis on different movements. If a strength session is working the back muscles on a particular day, the majority of the spinal movements will be in extension. However I believe a good session should, at least once, move the spine through ALL 4 spinal movements, even if it's just a cat and cow stretch or some thoracic rotation.
Take a look at your exercise routines and see which movements you might be lacking. If you find you are doing a LOT of flexion in your core work (crunches crunches and more crunches) see if you can incorporate some abdominal work in other planes, like plank (look Here for some ways to make your plank more dynamic!) or weighted side bends, knee hovers from quadruped position, or superman's! And remember, Your spine is your first priority. Always.
Hi, I'm Hannah. I'm a Registered Massage Therapist, Movement specialist and dance science consultant, I am a Registered Provider for Safe in Dance International and teach workshops and courses related to Safe Dance Practice. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.