In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. This blog post was originally written by Siobhan for her Safe Dance Column in the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand (MEDANZ) December 2017 Newsletter. You can join MEDANZ to access their newsletters and find out more about MEDANZ here. Photos thanks to love.vera.nz. You can read Part 2 of this blog series here.
Some injuries take a long time to develop and become painful. We call these chronic (or slow onset) injuries. This kind of injury could be the sharp pain in your shins that seems to come on suddenly, but is actually a result of dancing on a tiled floor for weeks without shoes. Or, it could be the low back pain that appears a couple of weeks after switching to a job where you’re seated all day.
Here are five quick tips to help catch these injuries and address them before they develop, or before they get too painful.
1. Keep a dance diary: How was your body feeling? Did anything hurt in this session? How long did you dance for and what did you do? Did you feel energized and ready to dance, or tired and unmotivated? Record both your physical and mental states in your practice, training or performance. It can be helpful to glance at your dance diary to get a big picture of what’s happening. If you’ve written “Tired, sore, wasn’t going to dance but I did,” for the last 7 sessions, it’s a sign you need to check in with your mind and body before starting your next session.
2. Compensate: With stretching and strengthening. Stretch both sides of the body equally at the end of your practice to make up for any one-sided movements in your dance. If one side of the body is prioritised all the time, it can lead to painful imbalances, which could then lead to other injuries. If you’re performing a lot of backbends, for example, you’ll want to make sure that not only your back is strong, but your chest and abs too. That way, the opposing muscles can support the spine and the muscles of the back during extension, and be strong enough to bring them back safely back to their neutral position.
Stretching can be easy to neglect, but makes up an important component of our dance training.
3. Take rest days: If you overtrain, you’re going to just head towards injury. This is where your dance diary will come in handy – when did you last take a break from dance? A rest day doesn’t need to mean absolutely no dance. Can you put the music on and close your eyes and visualize? Can you walk through it without the music slowly, so you’re not putting the same pressure through your body as when you’d do a high-energy run-through?
4. Don’t underestimate the activity: If you’re very fit, you might consider your belly dance practice to be low impact, and of much less stress to your body. But while you might have great bone density, strong muscles and ligaments, and a great aerobic capacity from running regularly outside of belly dance, you’re still putting body structures under load, often repetitively when you’re drilling or repeating a choreography. Rest days, stretching, and listening to your body still apply!
5. Wear the right gear: If you’re practising a lot on hard surfaces, there is no shame in wearing dance or sport shoes, and you’ll be glad you did when you’re still able to dance! Consider whether dance slippers would make turns easier on the surface you’re dancing on to reduce the twisting impact on your ligaments.
Chronic injuries can often be prevented if we take a step back and think about how we’re dancing. Use your dance diary to identify patterns that lead up to injury, take a look at whether you’re varying your sessions enough, consider how to compensate with stretching and strengthening, and whether you’re in need of a rest day.