India has a unique blend of culture. Classical dancing as well as western types of dancing are seen in different parts of the country. There are different dancing techniques - the 8 classical Indian dance forms namely Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Manipuri and Sattriya and many more non-classical forms. Western techniques include Ballet, Tap dance, Disco, Breakdancing, Latin/ native American, Spanish, Cheerleading, Cabaret and many more. Cheerleading and some forms of dancing are more of athletic sports than dance forms and are not for everybody. More recently a fusion of steps from all techniques is evolving, as seen in the movies, with steps emerging that are not traditionally tested and may be potentially harmful, if done by an amateur person.
Majority of injuries in most techniques occur in the lower limb and the back. Shoulder and neck injuries occur in dance forms where the upper limb use is predominant. Although the area injured varies between the type of dancing, injuries are similar between the types. For example, Bharatnatyam dancers tend to injure their knees commonly and Ballet dancers tend to injure their feet commonly. The injuries occurring in the foot in Bharatnatyam and Ballet are similar. There are certain poses in each dance form that are prone to injuries. For example - Pointe or Demi pointe in Ballet risks injury to foot, Aramandi and Kuttanam in Bharatanatyam risks injury to ankle.
Injuries can occur due to direct fall or indirectly due to stretching/ straining or excessive contraction of the muscles or repeated use of the same steps hundreds and thousands of times over a period of years causing Repetitive Strain Injuries. Occurrence of injuries depends on the physical fitness, psychological, emotional and physiological status of the person performing the steps. There are some people who are gifted dancers - the joints in these people are very flexible and are able to take any pose they want (extreme cases can be seen as party tricks with some videos circulating in social media). Others are not so lucky and have stiffer joints. When persons from the second group attempt highly flexible postures, invariably they strain another part of their body to achieve the posture and hence predispose that part to injury. Competition/ examinations, peer pressure, expectations from trainers and parents can push them to injure themselves during dancing.
The type of injuries differs between the techniques of dancing but the measures that can be taken to prevent the injuries are broadly similar. Injuries occur in the following scenarios:
- Natural loading of joints/ limbs with fatigued muscles
- Excessive loading of joints/ limbs with normal muscles
- Unnatural loading of joints/limbs with either fatigued or normal muscles
Fortunately, all the above scenarios are preventable. So majority of injuries in dancing are preventable if the person follows certain precautions. Usually, professional dancers or those training to be one are careful and aware of the problems and their preventive measures. It's the occasional party dancer who is at risk of injury since they may not have a set technique or training prior to an attempt.
- Wear proper fitting clothes and footwear. They should be comfortable and allow you to move your limbs freely without any restraints. Footwear preferably should have a soft sole to absorb the impacts on your feet.
- Avoid hard floors and uneven surfaces while dancing.
- Avoid extremes of temperatures especially for long performances.
- Good circulation of air is important. Well ventilated and illuminated stage is advisable.
- Regular practice is required to keep your joints flexible and supple. Avoid excessive training or too frequent intervals to allow your body to recover.
- Always warm up and stretch your muscles and joints before a performance. Also cool down after a performance. This is good for your muscles and tendons.
- If you have not danced for a long time, you need to train yourself before a performance to get your joints more flexible.
- Avoid the following aspects of training and performance- very intensive sessions, Long duration of training, very short intervals (breaks) between sessions, too little rest before a performance.
- Learn the correct technique before venturing into performances.
- One would be well advised to avoid any new techniques since these are not tested. Classical dance steps have been tested by generations of dancers and so they are safe if done in the right technique. So strict adherence to prescribed technique is advised.
- With widespread use of technology, one can record one’s performance on a video and make a self-assessment of their own performance.
- Each dance form will have certain dos and don’ts. Be aware of those to avoid injuries.
- Make sure the dance form you are taking up has been practised for a few years/ decades to know the benefits and problems associated with it.
- Drink lot of fluids to keep yourself hydrated.
- Keep yourself fit with good nutritious diet and regular exercises.
- Regular stretching, yoga or Pilates keeps your body flexible.
- Your body alignment is important. If you have any obvious alignment problems, its best to avoid certain forms of dancing. Some subtle problems may not be detected by you so its best to ask a professional if its best for you to go ahead with a training.
- Do not do complex/ difficult steps when you cross a certain age especially after 35-40 years.
- Do not attempt dancing tricks after alcohol or other inebriants. Risk of injury significantly increases if you do not have proper balance.
- If you have a medical condition or underwent an operative procedure, check with your medical professional before embarking on any training/ performance.
- Do not push yourself in pain.
- If you experience any problems, stop immediately and take advice from trainer/ medical professional.
- If you are getting in problems frequently with correct technique and have alignment issues, it’s probably best to give up this form of exercise and use another form after consultations with appropriate professionals.