Land Softly: Improve the Power of Your Dance Jumps

“Land Softly!” “Put your heels down!”

“Land soft” and “put your heels down” are two typical corrections a dancer may hear in any standard dance class (i.e. ballet, contemporary, jazz, etc). These corrections are not only for aesthetic, but are also important to decrease the risk of injury. Depending on the type/style of jump, 6-10 times the dancers body weight can be placed on the achilles tendon. Besides injury to the the achilles tendon, improper jumping technique can also lead to injury of other tendons, stress fractures, sprains, strains, or impingement issues. Proper technique with jumping can also increase the power of jumps and improve overall jumping performance.

When initiating any jump, that beginning plie is important. Sometimes, I’ll have dancers that say “well, I don’t have a deep plie, that’s why I don’t use it.” This is not the right mind set. Regardless of the depth of the plie, it’s still important to use it in order to engage the correct muscles while jumping. Another important factor during the plie is to make sure the knees are aligned over the toes. This is very important in landing as well. Also, make sure the core muscles are engaged and are being utilized to maintain correct hip and spine alignment.

Following that plie, dancers should feel their heels pushing into the ground. This leads to an appropriate amount of stretch to allow that jump to happen. I always tell dancers to use their entire  leg to complete the jump. Although dancers often think that jumping happens only at the knees and ankles, the hips (glutes) should provide a lot of the power for jumping.

When landing, dancers have to utilize their legs for ultimate shock absorption in order to decrease the risk of all earlier listed potential injuries. Dancers land “softly” by rolling through the foot to place, placing the heel down, and then allowing knees and hips to bend. I always tell dancers to keep their plie continuous. This allows them to continue that shock absorption instead of landing abruptly. During the landing, dancers should make sure knees are aligned with toes to prevent undue stress at both the knees and ankles.

If all of these steps and corrections seem difficult to think about during combinations or choreography, it would be worth setting aside time to practice jumping on your own or during private lessons or coaching. It would be beneficial to practice double and single leg jumps in both turned in and turned out positions. Once all corrections are mastered with basic jumping, the dancer can progress to those bigger jumps and jumps across the floor.

Flexibility and Stress Fractures in the Spine (Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis)

Flexible backs are a highly popular asset for dancers. Check any social media site and you can find extreme positions of that back extension. Many dance moves (port de bras/cambres, arabesques, needles, scorpions, and more acrobatic type poses like chin stands and elbow stands) require extreme ranges of motion in the lumbar spine.

Repetitive and constant hyperextension in combination with rotation (occurring in dance with one leg front and one leg back) of the lumbar spine can lead to weakening of the pars interarticularis, which is part of the facet joints of the vertebrae. Genetics and bone structure may also increase the probability of injury as some people have thinner shaped bones.

Spondylolysis is the term that describes when a fracture occurs in pars interarticularis of the facet joints (connecting hinge-like joints) of the vertebrae. It can occur on one side of the vertebrae or both sides.

Spondylolisthesis can occur if spondyloysis (occurring on both sides of the vertebrea) is left untreated. Spondylolisthesis is when the fracture separates allowing the vertebrae to shift forward.

Symptoms

With spondylolysis, some people do not experience any pain or symptoms or will only experience pain when going into that hyperextended position. Some people experience pain in the low back and/or radiating symptoms to the buttock or thigh. With spondylolisthesis, dancers may experience muscle spasms, tight hamstrings, or difficulty walking. More serious, or high level spondylolisthesis, may involve numbness and tingling and/or weakness which is due to the nerve root being compressed by the shifted vertebrae.

*It’s important to note that no pain does not equal no problem. It’s also important to note that there are many other potential causes of pain, radiating pain, and weakness besides fracture.

Treatment

Typically, treatment involves resting to allow the fracture to heal, physical therapy for strengthening and flexibility, then slowly returning to regular activities. If the injury is very serious, it may require surgery.

Prevention

The best way to treat a spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis would be to prevent it all together or to at least prevent re-occurrence. The best option would be to work with a healthcare professional who has experience with dancers. It’s important work on gaining and maintaining good core, back, and hip strength; improving mobility of upper back and the hips in order to make sure flexibility is not only occurring at the low back to hit those positions but along the entire body; and checking or correcting technique in order to make sure it will not be a contributing factor.

Summer Intensive Survival Guide

Summer is around the corner and recitals, rehearsals, and competitions are winding down. The school year is ending and dancers everywhere are preparing for summer intensives, classes, workshops, etc. Typically over the summer, many dancers increase the number of days per week and hours per day they are dancing… hence the word “intensive.”

 

In order to get the most out of your summer intensive, here are some tips to get you prepared:

 

  • Try to gradually increase the amount of dance classes you are taking per day or per week. For example, going from five 1.5hr classes per week to 8-10hours of dancing per day can lead to muscle fatigue impacting technique in class and ultimately lead to injury.  Even if you have to take a few classes below your level, it can help increase your stamina and help prepare you for the workload of your summer intensive. Taking multiple genres of dance classes can be helpful as well!

 

  • Another great option would be to partake in cross-training. Try to find either a class or, better yet, private coaching that can work on improving strength, alignment, and flexibility which will ultimately compliment your dance classes to help ensure you are maintaining optimal technique. This can decrease your risk of injury.  Also, make sure cardio is included to increase your endurance with higher workloads.

 

  • Get in the habit of incorporating a good warm-up. Often dancers think static stretching is enough to warm-up before class. The truth is, a good warm-up incorporates dynamic movement. This means, you need to get moving in order to properly and truly warm-up. A good warm-up ensures your body will be ready to get the most benefit out of your classes and it will decrease your risk for injury. Save the static stretching for after class, or at least after your warm-up.

 

  • Make sure you get plenty of rest. Although it may be tempting to stay up late with friends, it is essential that you get plenty of sleep before trying to tackle a full day of dancing.

 

  • Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet. Proper hydration and nutrition also play a large part in how well you will be able to perform in class.

 

Follow these tips and you will be well prepared for tackling your summer intensive. Summer intensive programs are wonderful experiences. Have fun and soak in all of the knowledge, perspective, and opportunities presented!

 

Are Dance Private Lessons/Coaching Sessions Worth It?

As a ballet teacher and coach for dancers, I find private lessons are often the most rewarding to teach.  In a group setting, corrections should always be given and explained. However, 100% of the teacher’s attention has to be split between the number of students in that class. In a private lesson, 100% of the teacher’s attention is on the individual student. Private dance lessons should always be tailored to the individual dancer. When teaching a private lesson or private coaching session, I always focus specifically on what the dancer needs, what the dancer is having difficulty with in class, and whatever the dancer has as a personal goal.


Benefits:

Faster progress. Since these lessons and sessions are tailored to the individual dancer, more time can be spent on specific corrections that dancer may need to progress to the next level or reach his/her personal goals.

Decreased risk of injury. One-on-one attention should involve breaking down combinations and dance steps to emphasize technique and proper body placement/alignment. Generally speaking, this emphasis on improving technique will carry over to class work which is often fast paced. This will decrease the likelihood that a dancer will perform with faulty technique which is often a source of injury.

Variety. Taking private lessons from different instructors provides a variety of corrections and allows different perspectives. It will help the dancer become versatile and increase the dancer’s ability to take and apply corrections in a variety of different settings. The dancer may also find instructors that explain corrections and movements in a manner that the dancer better understands and can apply easier.

 


Other considerations:

What are the dancer’s future goals? This can apply to long-term or short-term goals. Does the dancer have career goals? If so, private lessons can be the fundamental stepping stone to reach that goal.  If the dancer does not have dance career goals, private lessons are beneficial in the short-term (for example: preparing for summer intensives, competitions, auditions, performances/shows).

The dancer’s love of dancing.  Some dancers partake in classes, shows, competitions solely for the socialization. This is absolutely fine. However, some dancers truly and honestly love the art and cannot get enough dancing. For these dancers, private lessons can be a way to allow them increased time to perfect their dancing and to allow them that creative outlet.

Price. A  lot of times, it all comes down to price. There is such a wide range of prices for private lessons depending on a variety of factors. If interested in private lessons, the best option would be to inquire.

Os Trigonum Syndrome

Os Trigonum Syndrome

In the “dance world,” it seems that there is a lot of talk about os trigonum syndrome. Os trigonum is fairly rare in the general population, but seems to be more discussed and noticed in dancers, specifically those that do ballet and pointe work.

What is Os Trigonum?

Os trigonum refers to a extra boney structure in the ankle joint. It may occur at birth, following trauma or acute injury to the ankle, or with repeated forceful plantar flexion (pointing the foot) or jumping. When this bone and surrounding soft tissue becomes pinched between the bone of the leg and the ankle bones, it causes irritation, inflammation, and pain. Pain is often felt in the back of the ankle especially with pointing the foot, with releve, and/or with jumping.

Is Surgery the Only Option?

Although for some it may be the only relief, in most of the population os trigonum does not cause any symptoms or pain. Thus, surgery is not always a necessity. Also, just having an os trigonum doesn’t mean that it’s the cause of your pain. If the pain was more so due to tendonitis of one of the tendons around the ankle, removing the bone may not actually alleviate the symptoms.

What to do?

As with any injury, it is important to not “self diagnose.” If you are experiencing pain in the back of the ankle that is impacting your ability to perform, contact a medical professional. If an os trigonum is present and is the cause of pain and limitation, strengthening surrounding musculature, working on ankle flexibility, and improving joint mobility may help reposition the ankle to change how it is taking and providing force which could decrease symptoms and prevent the need for surgery. At Elite PT, a physical therapist experienced in working with dancers would evaluate technique, evaluate any limitations in strength or flexibility, and determine a plan to decrease pain in order to return to full function.

Achilles Tendon Injuries In Dancers

When working with dancers, achilles tendonitis is definitely one of the most common issues I have seen. It is also one of the most common reoccurring injuries I have seen dancers experience. The achilles tendon attaches the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus). The importance of these structures for dancers is evident as they are involved with relevés, pliés, all jumps, pointing the foot, dancing on pointe, etc.

Typically, I see dancers with the diagnosis of achilles tendonitis do either one of two things:

1. The dancer takes time off or rests then returns to dance only to have the injury return.

2. The dancer continues to dance while the pain continues to worsen until it becomes so

excruciating the dancer is forced to stop.

Potential Causes and Factors that Can Contribute to Achilles Tendonitis:

  •  Flaws in technique and biomechanices. For example, over pronation (rolling the foot in) or not allowing the heels to touch the floor during jumping combinations/exercises.
  • Imbalances of muscle/tendon length and strength, not only at and around the ankle but throughout the entire leg including the hip.
  • A sudden increase or change in intensity or amount of activity. There seems to be an increased occurrence of injury for dancers during competition season or right before shows/recitals/performances.
  • Genetic bone structure that predisposes the dancer to alignment issues.
  •  Improper footwear. Dancers do not typically wear supportive footwear. However, elastics or ribbons that are too tight may irritate structures around the ankle.
  •  Differences in flooring (Sprung versus non-sprung floors).

Risk of Going Untreated

Repeated episodes of tendonitis and chronic achilles pain can lead to tendonosis which is when chronic deterioration of the tendon can occur without inflammation. This increases the risk of the dancer experiencing a tendon rupture.

What to Do

Any injury, especially a reoccurring injury, should be evaluated by a health care professional. At Elite PT, a physical therapist experienced in working with dancers would evaluate technique, evaluate any limitations in strength or flexibility, and determine a plan to decrease pain and decrease the re-occurrence of injury in order to return to full function.

Dancers Snapping Hip Syndrome

Many dancers experience “popping” sensations in their hips. Although it is very common and sometimes even referred to as “dancer’s hip,” it’s not necessarily “normal” or something to be ignored.

Causes of Snapping Hip:

Snapping hip is often due to weakness or tightness in hip musculature, fatigue or inflammation of involved structures, or repetitive use of improper biomechanics with dance technique.

Different Spots Where the Snapping/Popping May Occur:

Side of the hip: This is often due to the IT-band or muscle tendons on the side of the hip rubbing over the side of the thigh bone. This can also impact the bursa on the side of the hip causing it to become inflamed and painful. The popping may be felt when weight is pushed to the side of the hip. Many dancers believe this is their hip dislocating which is untrue.

Front of the hip: This is often due to the iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscle rubbing over the bones of the pelvis or thigh. The popping may be felt when lifting and/or lowering the leg to the front and to the side.

Inside the hip: This may be due to the boney arrangement of the hip or tears of the cartilage within the hip joint (labrum). The popping may be felt with all movements especially turnout and jumps.

What to do:

If the popping is painless, it is still worth checking technique to help decrease the occurrence of the popping because, often, painless popping can eventually lead to painful popping or other issues.

If the popping is painful, involves swelling, or is accompanied by decreased strength, it is worth seeking out medical attention.

At Elite, a physical therapist experienced in working with dancers would evaluate any weaknesses or tightness as well as assess technique in order to decrease pain, return full function, and decrease the chance of it reoccurring. Check out all of our Dance Elite services!

Turn Off The Quads? Lift With The Hamstrings?

In dance, especially in ballet, it’s fairly common to hear corrections to lift the leg to the front or to the side by using the hamstrings in an attempt to “turn-off” or inhibit the quads from over compensating. Although dancers can sometimes over utilize their quads, it is physiologically impossible to “turn-off” the quads and it is physiologically impossible to lift the leg forward using the hamstrings. This correction is often a huge frustration for many dancers to say they can’t “feel” the hamstrings lifting their leg forward like they are told they should. First of all, let’s go over the muscles that flex the hip and lift the leg forward. The two muscles that primarily lift the leg forward are often called the “hip flexors”. These muscles run from the spine and pelvis and attach on the femur (large thigh bone).

  • Iiacus and psoas (aka iliopsoas)

There are also a few muscles that assist in this motion. These muscles have their own primary function but also help the hip flexors:

  •  Adductor longus, adductor brevis and gracilis (or inner thigh muscles)
  • Pectineus, which also “turns out” or externally rotates the leg
  • Tensor fascia lata (TFL), which connects to the IT-band
  • Rectus femoris, which is one of the quad muscles
  •  Sartorius, which is another muscle that runs across the top of the thigh
incorrect hip alignment and muscle use

Incorrect Hip Alignment And Muscle Use

The main function of the quads is to extend, or straighten, the knee. Therefore, if you are performing a grand battement, extending into a develope, or doing any type of kick or lift to the front, the quadscannot be “turned off” if the knee is straight. The three hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh generally have two functions, bending the knee and extending the hip (lifting the leg to the back).

Now dancers can stop worrying about trying to “feel” their hamstrings working or “turning off their quads” when lifting the leg to the front. However, the correction to try to lift with the back of the leg may not be useless. The idea behind it can very well be an attempt to maintain correct alignment and decrease compensation in order to increase the correct use of the hip flexors while lifting the leg. Both the core and the back should be straight and “lifted” and the leg should lift from a right angle. To train correct alignment while lifting the leg to the front, practice while lying flat or sitting with legs out in front and lift the leg making sure to not let the back arch or the hips tilt.

Correct Hip Alignment And Muscle Use

Correct Hip Alignment And Muscle Use

When Can I Start Pointe?

Learning to dance “en pointe” is a major highlight in a ballet dancer’s life, but beginning too early can result in frustration and injury. Every dancer has different musculoskeletal maturity, talent, and future dance related goals. Dancers, parents, and ballet instructors should pay special attention to each dancer when deciding whether or not to initiate pointe work.

Considerations for Beginning Pointe

  • Frequency of classes the dancer takes per week
  • Number of years the dancer has been dancing
  • Age of the dancer: approximately 9-15 years (musculoskeletal maturity and motor skill ability varies from dancer to dancer)
  • Core and lower extremity strength
  • Balance/stability on two legs and on one leg while on flat and while on releve
  • Adequate flexibility/range of motion of the ankle and foot: the top of the forefoot should be in line with the top of the shin when the foot is pointed.
    • When a dancer has hyperextension of the knees, more range of motion in the foot and ankle is needed to assure adequate alignment on pointe.
  • Ability to maintain adequate alignment of the hips, knees, and ankles while dancing.
    • Avoiding “rolling-in,” or over-pronation, of the feet with plies and changing position; avoiding letting the knees fall inward, or having poor valgus control, especially when landing jumps; and avoiding “sickling” the foot when pointing foot or when performing releves.
  • Coordination and ability to perform different steps in different arrangements of combinations with adequate technique.

If a dancer is believed to be lacking in any of the above considerations and still is hopeful to eventually begin pointe work, Elite has a pointe-readiness program individualized to each dancer’s specific needs in order to safely begin pointe with reduced risk of injury.

Proper Posture and Optimal Dance Performance

“Hold in your stomach!” “Pull up!” “Engage your core!”

Every dancer has been given these types of corrections… but why? What is the purpose?

If not explained properly, many dancers (especially young or new dancers) may believe this correction is merely to provide the look of a slim or strong dancer. However, “engaging the core” or “pulling up” provides many functional benefits. Read more