The general public sees dance as a form of exercise, improving cardio and toning our bodies, or a recreational past-time. But what about those of us who train, choreograph, compete and focus our whole lives to pursue dance professionally?
You may have heard about the “10,000-hour rule.” This is a general principle that has been influential in sports psychology, asserting that the key to achieving expertise in a certain field is a matter of practising and putting in the hours (10,000, to be exact). By this measure, the busy schedule of any dancer over a couple of years definitely qualifies them as a master – but can we call them an athlete?
Is dance a sport?
A sport refers to an organized competitive activity that uses and improves the physical abilities and skills of participants while often including an element of entertainment and spectatorship. Dance fulfills many of these requirements but has only recently begun to gain recognition as a sport, with breakdancing (or breaking) being featured for the first time in the Olympic program in Paris 2024. Professional dancers are some of the most athletic and skilled people in the world, and dancing requires hard work and consistency. Sometimes, dancers must be able to perform for an extended period, even if they are physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. Consequently, dancing at a high level requires physical strength, stamina, flexibility and co-ordination – and levels of practice comparable to the work of professional athletes.
What does dance lack that other sports have?
The approach taken to physical and mental well-being ultimately affects performance in both dance and sport. Organized sports such as football and basketball have pre planned training schedules reasonably spaced out by periods of active rest, along with fully equipped paramedical teams, sometimes even on-site, for proper training and recovery. These schedules include researched training protocols that improve skills while preventing common injuries.
This regime of training and rest is less developed in dance, especially in certain styles of street dance. Proper recovery times are commonly compromised leading up to a performance event, making the body more vulnerable to injuries. In addition, due to industry-wide financial instability and limited budgets across the performance sectors, dancers typically work within precarious freelance models, often preparing and performing for multiple gigs in condensed amounts of time. Such contexts give way to flare-ups of old injuries, while rehearsing and pushing past one’s limit can cause new, multiple or complex injuries throughout the body. Imagine, furthermore, the mental effort involved in “pushing” through multiple injuries while trying to perform a show like nothing’s happened! Simply put, it is the perfect recipe for physical and mental burnout.
How can we make dance more sustainable?
As a health-care practitioner, I handle sports injuries with a combination of proper diagnosis and treatment, including manual therapy, active rest techniques such as yin yoga (which I have written of previously in “The Subtle but Mind-Blowing Effects of Yin Yoga”) and rehabilitative strengthening protocols. Normalizing such care in dance requires recognizing the importance of recovery. Rest does not make you any less of a dancer; in fact, just as with athletes, rest is what allows dancers to continue dancing and improve over time. In my practice, I offer financial relief specifically for active movers, including dancers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your own provider to inquire about options available to you!
Beyond health care, education about acute, chronic and preventative body care should be a minimum standard for dancers and dance instructors. Proper rehearsal scheduling by directors, actively incorporating rest days reflecting the duration and intensity of rehearsals, would also allow our athletes to achieve greater balance and help to prevent burnout. “Pushing through the pain” is not a long-term, sustainable solution. Let’s take the time to honour our bodies as vehicles that allow us to create, dream and connect to our communities.
The body column is sponsored by JFu Chiropractic and was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue. jfuchiropractic.com
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