By: Jenna Calo
As a Physical Therapist, hip pain in dancers is one of the top complaints that I see. When we examine common movements in dance, we can see that the hip joint has high demands placed on it regardless of the genre. Turnout and height of leg as well as the power required for jumps all put variable loads on the dancer’s hip. Hip pain can present itself in a few different areas but most commonly in the front or outside of the hip. Dancers may also state “my hip is popping or snapping”. A dance medicine health professional can evaluate whether or not the pain is coming from INSIDE the hip joint or OUTSIDE the hip joint with the latter being more related to the muscles. Regardless of the source of pain, it is not uncommon to find that dancers with hip pain have an imbalance between the muscles in the front of the hip compared to the back/side of the hip and also from right to left. As we know, dancers need to have both a strong gesture leg that can hold turnout and maintain the height of leg as well as have a strong stable leg to stand on.
Turnout has varying degrees of emphasis depending on the style of dance. We often see dancers trying to strive for more turnout specifically with classical ballet. The reality is the amount of available turnout is influenced both by body structure (shape of the hip socket/shape of the ball that fits into the socket as well as tautness of ligaments) and by proper muscle recruitment (how a dancer is using their muscles as well as strength). Unfortunately, we cannot change the shape of our bones and how we were made, BUT we can change how a dancer is using their muscles and their strength so the individual dancer can maximize the freedom of movement within the hip joint.
Here are some exercises you can incorporate into your warm-up to help target key muscles of the hip. The first three exercises are intentionally slow, controlled, and should be executed with very low intensity and effort. This allows the dancer to find freedom of motion and the image of “spinning” in the hip socket so they can begin to explore isolated hip rotation. A good way to think about these three movements is an effort to “grease” up the hip joint with repetition. Often times, we see dancers trying to muscle through their turnout but instead of having more available turnout, this can lead to tightness and inhibits the dancer from accessing their full range of motion. The last two exercises aim to fire the muscles on the outside and backside of the hip to take the load off the front in preparation to be a good standing leg. Think of these 5 exercises as “phase I” for your dancers which are foundational and begin explore some key parts of how the hip works.
* Note: If there is any pain with these movements checking in with a healthcare professional who specializes in treating dancers is a good idea *
Jenna M. Calo, PT, DPT, OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Jenna Calo is the Director of Program Management and Performing Arts Medicine at Body Dynamics Inc. (BDI) in Falls Church, Virginia. She completed her Doctor of Physical Therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Diego, CA and her Bachelors of Fine Arts from Mason Gross School of the Arts (MGSA) at Rutgers University. While attending PT School, she had a strong desire to combine her new knowledge of the body with her dance background by learning to work with dancers to recover and manage injuries. Jenna teaches specialty graduate level coursework in
performing arts medicine at Shenandoah University. She enjoys working with dancers of all levels from recreational to professional and of all styles and genres. She has especially valued the opportunities she’s had working backstage with performers at Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre, and Ford’s Theatre as well as with dancers of Suzanne Farrell Dance Company and The Washington Ballet/The Washington School of Ballet in the DC metro area.