The latest edition of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science (Volume 17, Number 4, 2013) includes three papers about Irish dancers. I am sure that these will be of interest to you if you teach Irish dance.
Injuries in Irish Dance (Stein et al) reviewed notes of Irish dance patients with dance-related injuries seen at their hospital at the sports medicine and orthopaedic clinics over an 11 year period. Survey data was also collected from study participants. The age range was from 4 years to 47 years with 95% being under the age of 19. So this is interesting for teachers as the injury results found probably relate to the usual age range of students in local Irish dance schools. The majority of injuries identified, 95%, involved the hip or lower extremity. The most common ones relating to the foot (33.2%), ankle (22.7%), knee (19.7%) and hip (14.4%). Overuse injury is not uncommon in athletic and artistic activities and the study acknowledges the risk of overuse injury due to the typical, rapid and precise movements found in this dance genre. The conclusion finds that majority of injuries are related to overuse and that there is often a delay of weeks to months before being evaluated in the clinic. The whole paper is well worth reading. It is also draws attention to the need for dance teachers to consider what to do to reduce risk and improve injury prevention. Risk and injury prevention are, as we know, aspects of dance teaching that we all need to address whatever dance genres we teach.
The other two papers relate to professional Irish dancers. Injury in Professional Irish Dancers and Job Satisfaction of Professional Irish Dancers: Implications for Performer Health and Well-being look at issues for those who go on to have a career as a professional Irish dancer. Interestingly it is pointed out that it is only really since the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest and subsequent shows such as Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and so on that Irish dancers can have a career dancing into their 30s and beyond. Previously Irish dancers would likely stop performing by late teens or early 20s. Along with the new career opportunities there are increasing numbers of Irish dance schools emerging across the world. As found with earlier research into dancer psychological wellbeing professional Irish dancers, like other professional dancers, can experience psychological problems as well as physical ones. On a positive note professional Irish dancers enjoy the world travel and associated benefits from being able to travel with one’s career. Injuries for professional Irish dancers were, as in the study with younger dancers, found to have an overuse aspect. Psychological distress was common with professional Irish dancers. Older and more experienced Irish dancers experienced greater levels of injury despite warming up and cooling down being practised widely. Physio and massage were also accessed widely.
From my first quick read of these three papers it is clear that more needs to be done to reduce overuse injuries in Irish dance students and professional performers. This is something that I believe will also benefit Highland dancing students as there is such a lot of repetition in this dance genre and from a very young age as in Irish. We need to consider how best to reduce the risk of injury and to encourage quicker access to evaluation of injuries when they occur. Overuse injuries by their nature, happen over time and as dance teachers we need to be aware of this so that we are sensitive to the niggles and discomforts that can become overuse injuries in dancers. These issues and others can be explored with other teachers during short safe dance practice workshops for teachers. Keep an eye on this blog and my websites for 2014 dates (coming soon) for SDP events.