Understanding the Performing Artist

Blessyl D. Buan, BKin (Hons), DC
January 04, 2008
Written by Blessyl D. Buan, BKin (Hons), DC
Tips from a dancing chiropractor.
18Dancers move their bodies to the tune of their music.  Chiropractors, through treatment, assist the body to come into tune.  These are art forms I understand first-hand as both a dancer and a chiropractor. My first encounter with chiropractic was the result of a dance injury.  That experience inspired me to become a chiropractor. 

It is important to understand the expectations of the dancer in order to provide the treatment that he or she needs to succeed.

The annual incidence of injury in professional dancers is reportedly as high as 67 to 95 per cent.  Unfortunately, it is difficult for dancers to obtain treatment that caters to their specific needs, as there has been little research on dance injuries in comparison to the considerable amount that exists on sports.

Like athletes, dancers must comply with strenuous training schedules that take a toll on their bodies.  The distinction is that dancers are also artists who must make the choreography appear to be graceful and effortless.  This imposes increased stress on their bodies and contributes to abnormal body perception issues.  Dancers are thus highly prone to injury.

A chiropractor treating a dancer must be knowledgeable in the art form or at least know the right questions to ask. When taking a dancer’s history, inquire about occupational demands in training, touring and performing.

Investigate ergonomic issues, including the temperature of the performing space, costumes, footwear, flooring and constraints to movement. Become familiar with the performer’s skill and experience level, health status, and the impact of psychosocial factors such as performance anxiety, performance organization politics, and body perception relative to esthetic demands.

The physical examination should include specific functional tests that determine the dancer’s readiness to return to performance-specific demands.  Also notice abnormal muscle activation patterns as well as alignment and posture while performing specific motions.  For example, a ballet dancer with weak technique will turn en pointe with the scapulae elevated and protracted; the axis of rotation will deviate from an imaginary plumb line running from the top of the head to the midpoint of the supporting foot.  The chiropractor must thoroughly understand the biomechanics of dance in order to customize injury prevention recommendations.

Your prognosis should determine the dancer’s ability to perform without further injury. Should the dancer continue, modify or discontinue training or performing?  What are the criteria necessary for the dancer to return to maximum performance, and what is the amount of time needed to reach that level?

Chiropractors should also be aware of a dancer’s schedule.  Dancers do not have “9 to 5” jobs.  Since audition notices are put up at the last minute, and casting directors select dancers largely on the look that they need for the production at hand, securing a professional contract is tough.  A job can last from a few hours to more than one year. The instability inherent in being a contract worker makes compliance with a treatment plan difficult for this population.

Clearly, dancers’ needs must be addressed to ensure their optimal performance. It is very important that dancers receive proper care in order to prolong their dance careers.  You do not have to be a performing artist to understand this unique group.  Just ask the right questions and enjoy working as a member of the team that helps them to achieve their individual goals.•
More in this category: « The Soft Tissue Issue  |  Pain »

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