Safe Dance Practices

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Safe Dance Practices
Dance is an art form in which the body is the instrument of expression. When it comes to seeking movement perfection, no physical endeavour can compare with dance. Arnheim, 1991 p. 3

A recent study by medical researchers, of over sixty different athletic activities, ranked ballet second to only football in terms of physical, mental and environmental demands.

Today’s teacher of dance has an integral role to play in both creating a safe environment for dance education to take place, and ensuring the knowledge, skill and attitudinal development necessary for healthy dancers. The Australian Code of Ethics for Dance Teachers, emphasises a safe dance environment in which, both studio principals and individual teacher will ensure that facilities provided, conform to minimum safety and space requirements and have suitable flooring, with a safe surface designed and constructed to minimise risk of injury. Ausdance industry committee (as cited on Ausdance website)

Dance injuries are those injuries resulting from all dance related activities, whether at home, in the studio or the workplace (for the professional dancer). The causes of these injuries, for the main part, fall into two distinct categories – firstly, faulty technique and/or physical limitations and secondly, environmental factors. For the purpose of this assignment, I will be discussing two common injuries from each of these two categories.

Temperature is an important environmental factor. Although a degree of warmth is needed to prevent muscle injuries, a studio that is too hot can also result in serious problems, something that is particularly relevant in the Australian climate. Heat stress is one injury factor that can easily be overlooked. Regardless of age, physical development and ability, a dancer’s reaction to heat is a very important consideration for teachers. Like any athletes, individual dancers start sweating at different temperatures, and at different rates, according to their own metabolism. This can lead to rapid dehydration, which causes muscle cramping, exhaustion, nausea, and otherwise preventable injuries due to fatigue. Any dancer, who is dieting, is at particular risk from dehydration. “When the dancer continues to work on cramped muscles, the results are muscle pulls and perhaps even tears.” (Arnheim, 1991 page 17)

In order to ensure a safe environment, in the hot weather that is so common to some parts of Australia, the teacher must be flexible and prepared to change a lesson plan if it is too taxing in high temperatures. Encouraging students to bring drink bottles and taking regular drink breaks is essential. When air-conditioning is not available, the use of fans and opening of windows and doors to create airflow, are very important. Being in tune with the level of tiredness of the students, and providing rest periods when needed is an excellent prevention strategy. Teachers can incorporate into the lesson, the reasons for these preventative strategies so students can relate this to other activities in their lives.

Justin Howse and Shirley Hancock refer to the practice floor as an extremely important factor in environmental cause of injury. “The actual floor construction is of greatest importance to the dancer.” (Howse, 1988, p. 75.) This is extremely significant, as not all suburban, Australian, ballet studios have the recommended purpose built floor. Some studio floors are reinforced concrete and where there is a timber floor, it may not be sprung. Sometimes the timber flooring is laid straight over the concrete and has practically no ‘give’ in it at all. This “lack of spring can cause many injuries.” (House, 1988, p. 75.) Lack of spring from the floor can not only cause foot problems, but is a major cause of injury to lumbar spine, muscles and bones - with the tibia and metatarsals subject to stress fractures. Howse and Hancock speak of covering unsuitable concrete floors with layers of vinyl as...
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