Athleticism in Artistry: Dance

The category of dance is broad. Taking a general perceptive, dancers each have strength, precision, flexibility, and musicality with special requirements for individual dance styles. For example, ballet dancers require increased flexibility, break dancers need extra upper body strength, modern dancers benefit from remarkable isolation of muscles and precision, and ballroom dancers bring the music to life while staying balanced and graceful across the floor. The list goes on and on, this article is going to focus on the role physical therapy can have as a partner in keeping dancers moving through brief examples.

Physical therapy helps educate a person on their unique musculoskeletal system and neural patterns. Pain and discomfort are frequently the body signaling the brain that something is not working optimally or potentially on the path to structural damage. Pain can be a positive when seen as a warning sign. Joints move or are stabilized when muscles pull on bones. Think of the body as a system of levers! Dance requires these levers to be working at high and accurate levels. The body will generally achieve the movement pattern requested but that strategy may or may not be sustainable.

A ballet dancer performs an arabesque (leg to the back). This motion requires remarkable rotation at the hip with trunk and pelvic stabilization and hip and back extension. The hip bone rotates in the pelvis, the pelvis tilts forward, and the spine stays stabilized. If the hip bone does not have adequate rotation there can be pressure on the front of the hip capsule. Problem solving the cause of hip or back pain and re-training specific muscles could help this dancer move into this position without pain.

A break dancer performs spin movements on the hands which requires incredible shoulder stability. The shoulder blade sits on the rib cage and is supported by an intricate muscular system. If one muscle is compensating for a weaker muscle this can lead to injury. With proper training, strength, and body awareness this dancer should be able to perform their movements will less risk of injury.

A modern dancers performs a segmental roll on the floor. A solid trunk assists this process. The core muscles are a detailed and amazing group. Deep, middle, and superficial layers each have special roles for stability and mobility. Training these muscles to work can help this dancer specifically isolate each movement and perform safe transitions rolling.

A ballroom dancer performs the waltz gliding backwards across the floor. The foot provides proprioception to help inform them on balance and body position. Thinking of the foot as a tripod can optimize balance and proprioception. If the toes are gripping for support this is a clue that the body is working perhaps slightly more than required to maintain an upright position. Training foot muscles and lower body can assist in balance and accuracy.

Each person is unique in muscle patterning and pain symptoms. The examples in this article are demonstrative. If you are a performing artist and are experiencing pain or decreased function please seek medical care to assess the symptoms. Core Physio is offering monthly performing artist injury screens, please call us at 360-752-0271 or visit to learn more.

Katie Schaner, DPT. Katie’s love and amazement for human movement began at a young age while watching professional dancers. Her interest in dance expanded to include many years of dance training, performance and choreography. When not dancing, she enjoys moving outdoors through hiking, backpacking, cross country skiing and biking.

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