By: Chrissy Papetti
A dancers injury can be hard on not just the dancer but the teacher as well. Learn how to comfort your student and help them in their time of need
Are you ready to hear something that’s equal parts alarming and devastating? You may want to take a seat.
Approximately 8 in 10 dancers have some type of injury every year. A shocking 80% of dancers. The prevalence of injury continues to rise each year, with dancers beginning training at a younger age and intensity of training rising with an increase in talent level. It’s a quiet, underlying epidemic in the dance world, and yet there is so much variation in how dance teachers, families, and peers are prepared to support the injured dancer throughout the recovery process.
In the spirit of preserving the dancers’ bodies (and everyone’s sanity!), here are 3 key ways dance teachers can support their injured dancers during the unpredictable course of the recovery process:
Injured dancers are often in a highly stressed and emotional state during their recovery process, anticipating the return to their dance lifestyle and training. They turn to their teachers, mentors, and peers during this process for guidance, as many dancers do not feel understood by a typical medical professional with the unique demands of a dancing career. It is essential to acknowledge and validate the mental and emotional distress that the injured dancer is going through, including high levels of frustration, anxiety, fear, and/or depression.
Dance teachers have the unique position to empower the injured dancer to look at this experience as an opportunity to learn about their body and the process of self-care. It is critical that the focus for an injured dancer remains on physical recovery, avoiding a premature return to dancing that intensifies the injury and possibly prolongs the recovery process. Many dancers feel a powerful internal pressure to return to dance that will only magnify if they’re experiencing external pressure to return before they are ready to.
It is important for dance teachers to reassure the dancer that injury is a common part of the dance experience and their healing is the number one priority. Dance teachers may provide resources and examples of dancers that have overcome significant injury or physical setbacks in their dance experience, as this simple gesture serves as a research-backed tool to expand the dancer’s sense of subconscious worth and ability to experience a successful recovery.
Injured dancers often experience a mild to severe identity crisis with the onset of injury, depending on the prognosis. Reinforcing the injured dancer as a valued part of their dance community and encouraging participation in the class environment is essential to their mental well-being during their recovery, which we know through research is just as influential in their recovery as physical healing.
Dance teachers can collaborate with the injured dancer at the start and throughout their rehabilitation process to determine the best approach to tailoring their participation level in the classroom. Depending on their level of injury, dancers may adapt their involvement in many ways from removing inflammation-inducing movement only, eliminating exercises with physical impact, and/or performing the movement in an anti-gravity position or on the floor to name a few. Ensure that the dancer knows they have options and are supported in modifying their involvement to maximize their recovery process.
If no movement is permitted, dance teachers can encourage injured dancers to participate through assistant teaching, visualization/mental practice of their routine or technique, reading written material on relevant dance information, and/or written reflections or observations. There is significant efficacy and neuroplastic change associated with mental practice of physical movement that can benefit a healing dancer’s mind and body. There is always an opportunity for dancers to learn in a new capacity.
This is the future of healthy dance environments that fuel resilient individuals. In the end, only 2-3% of dancers enter the professional dance world. Many dancers commit their lives and identities to dancing from a very early age and yet, they will go on to express their creativity, passion, and identity in many other forms throughout the course of their lives. Every injured dancer fears losing their identity and sense of self-worth. And the process of identity loss and reduced self-worth can often lead to maladaptive coping strategies that cause further harm, isolation, and mental distress. Dance teachers must prioritize reinforcing the dancers’ worth beyond the amount of pirouettes they can complete or how high their grande jeté is. Dancer teachers may create this environment through the example they set and encouragement of dancers to translate their gifts in the dance environment to other areas of their lives, providing a preventative approach to identity preservation in injured dancers. Monthly check-ins with the dancers for a small portion of class or rehearsal can go a long way to make the dancers feel cared for and supported as they’re navigating life within and beyond the dance room’s walls.
Chrissy Papetti is a former competitive dancer, appearing at the 2008 World Tap Championships to represent the USA, earning her BFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, and performing on the Michigan Dance Team at the D1 level of collegiate athletics. Following her dance career-ending injury of a hip labral tear, Chrissy went on to earn her Master's in Occupational Therapy, specializing in Life Redesign and Lifestyle Medicine. Throughout her prolonged injury recovery, she found a fascination with the brain/mind, the body, and health/wellness, exploring cutting-edge, evidence-based information related to medicine, neuroscience, psychology, and self-discovery. After 7 years of battling a debilitating injury with chronic pain, and trying nearly every option available through the traditional medical model, Chrissy found the process to heal her body and mind through a blending leading science with spirituality, and became pain-free within months. Today, Chrissy is fusing her personal and professional experiences to support athletes, performers, and high-achieving individuals who were sidelined from the life they thought they were meant to live so that they can find a fulfilling way forward with nothing holding them back.
Check out Chrissy’s website atwww.chrissypapetti.com to learn more.