Managing Joint Hypermobility – A Guide for Dance Teachers

This new inforsheet produced from a collaboration between The Healthier Dancer programme and Foundations for Excellence is a welcome addition to the existing information that is available about joint hypermobility. On one hand, joint hypermobility is loved because it allows greater than the average range of movement in the joint. On the other hand, hypermobility in dancers needs careful attention and support when training to realise potential and also avoid injury.

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What is proprioception?

Dancers need a good sense of body awareness to feel or know where their body is in space so they can accurately place arm, foot, leg and whole body positions. They need to navigate around other dancers without bumping into them.

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Backstepping

In my competitive days, (a very long time ago), it took a long time to master the art of backstepping in Highland dancing.  The aim was to perform a very smooth backstepping action with all required positions reached at the right time.  Backstepping back then truly was a magnificent step to watch and a very demanding one to perform well.  But it was worth the effort it took to achieve some of the smoothest backsteps in town. When I see backsteps being danced today, I feel uncomfortable. Instead of a lovely smooth action, today’s backsteps are danced with such a staccato, jerky action that they no longer look like backsteps at all. And they do not have the aesthetic quality of the backsteps danced in my day.

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Free dance specific healthcare for dancers

On Monday evening (30 april 2012), after the conference on nutrition and disordered eating in dance, I was one of over 200 dance professionals celebrating the launch of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS). The aims of NIDMS include providing all dancers access to high quality, evidence-based, dance specific healthcare and dance science services.

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You are what you eat

I received a link to an online article that grabbed my attention as it discusses eating disorders in ballet companies and the perils of discussing it openly.

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Relaxation for Dancers – Tense and Release Technique

Relaxation

Something I have planned to do for a while is some short presentations about Relaxation for Dancers. And the first one is now available.

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Rita Hayworth – Stayin’ Alive

I received this link to a wonderful edited video that is so cleverly put together. It just goes to show that modern music and dancing greats from the past go together beautifully. Sit back and enjoy watching Rita Hayworth from the 1940s dancing with Fred Astaire and other great dancers of the 1940s and dancers of the mid 1970s. It is all brilliantly edited to the rhythms and lyrics of the Bee Gees music – we can learn a thing or two about timing and musicality here. Enjoy.

Rita Hayworth – Stayin’ Alive

 

Dancing in my head

I have always been a fan of dancing in my head. I was always encouraged to use imagery to help me to get the feel of a step or movement. And I find it helps me to clarify movements, steps or dances. In many ways it feels as if I am dancing it for real. And because it feels like this I can mark things through or do a full-blown performance in my head. What I find interesting about this is that studies in performance psychology show that  there is real value in mentally rehearsing as well as physically rehearsing. So when I feel as if I am dancing in my head it is because this process has a physical response too.

I might be dancing in my head but the muscles that I use to perform the movements fire up in a similar way when I am dancing for real. Professional athletes and sports people use this type of mental rehearsal a lot. Professional footballers, such as, will mentally rehearse taking a penalty and when they do this it is as if they are actually taking the penalty. They will go through the process in their head seeing and feeling it all as if they were on the pitch taking a real penalty. The connection between mental and physical rehearsal and performance is a valuable tool to have and to use.

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Valuing dancers for what they are and not just for what they can do

Dancers work hard to gain approval for what they do. And this can motivate them to work through physical and psychological pain and injury. I remember working through all sorts of injuries when I was training and when I was dancing professionally. Back then it was a case of the show must go on and all that. I know better now. I know that motivating dancers in this way is not desirable. We need to look after our students and dancers and help them to flourish as people as well as dancers.

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Where the movement begins

If you studied ballet as a young child do you remember being taught the positions of the feet? Do you recall begin told to put the heels together and turn the toes out? Many of us remember this and today many children will still be learning this way. We can help children to understand more about where movement begins right from the start by creating an awareness of where movement begins and what to focus on. So when teaching say, first position, we can focus on rotating the legs outwards in the hip joints (turning out) rather than focusing on the feet.

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Hypermobile joints – challenges for dance teachers

Hypermobile is how we describe the joints of people who, without any training have naturally, more (hyper) movement (mobility) in their joints than usual. Some call it being double jointed. The hypermobility comes from ligaments (the tough ban of connective tissue that links bones together across a joint) being too lax or stretchy. This means that they cannot stabilise the joints the way ligaments should. And an important point for teachers to consider is that dancers with hyper mobile joints cannot sense when they are at the end of their joint range. This results in a knee joint when straightened going beyond straight and produces what we refer to as swayback knees. With careful training a dancer can learn to avoid pushing the knees back by pulling up the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thighs and engaging the leg muscles to support and align the knees so that the legs appear straight – although they won’t feel straight to the dancer.

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When can I start pointe work?

Young dancers often want to know when they can start pointe work. And an answer of around 12 years of age is usually given. But really it is not the age of the dancer that we need to pay attention to but the kind of dance student that is asking.

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