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)
Hi! I'm a dance science educator, Pilates instructor and Personal Trainer residing in Toronto. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.