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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Dance medicine in action
Animated, Winter 1998. Rachel-Anne Rist reflects on the final day of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science's (IADMS) annual conference held for the first time in Europe at the Arts Educational School, Tring Park and specifically aimed at dance teachers
The teacher's day focused on the growth spurt phenomenon and the implications this has to dance training. The main style of dance discussed was classical but the ideas and adaptations to training apply to anyone studying dance at any level during the vulnerable growth spurt years of adolescence. The approximate age of this varies from person to person but tends to be between 13 and 15 years for girls and 14 and 16 years for boys. Marika Molnar from New York discussed the importance of correct walking patterns during these changing years and how the hip and shoulder rotation in gait can affect the use of the spine. It was also pointed out that habitual scoliosis, a sideways deviation of the spine, can result in poor use of the arms and upper back.

My personal contribution to the day was to explore ways of making the dance class less physically stressful during the growth spurt. It is important to reduce the strain of some parts of the body that are vulnerable during this time, most especially the knees. Repetitions of deep knee bends should come with a caution not to exceed a maximum dose. Experience shows that many dancers lose all sense of their kinesthetic awareness as well as their strength as they go through phases of rapid growth and some sections of class become very challenging particularly slow, sustained adage movements, balances, pirouettes and big travelling steps. This can be a time for the teacher to re-examine the class structure and find ways of decreasing the impact of stressful sections of class and replace them with non-weight bearing strengthening exercises. The amount of repetitions of movements could also be decreased during this period and replaced with time spent on basic proprioceptive skills; balancing with the eyes closed and working in parallel to check the alignment of the hip, knee and foot. However, most important of all is an understanding of how self-esteem can plummet during the growth spurt and how necessary it is to give the students much moral support and understanding. They need to be comforted that a perceived loss of ability is transient and will pass once the muscles have caught up with the skeletal growth.

Craig Phillips from Australia (an ex-professional dancer who became a physiotherapist) looked at 'proximal stability' and the use of 'pull up'. This was a most interesting and illuminating discussion on the correct use of abdominal support for a stable dance posture. The main feature of the discussion was the need for a constant but low level presence of muscular abdominal support. These muscles are the stabilisers of the pelvis - not the high powered 'sit up' muscles but the obliques and transverse abdominal muscles. The key phrase was 'stability not strength'. It was pointed out that these low level stabiliser muscles need to be activated by effective daily use rather than a programme of abdominal curls. The strength of the muscles is less important than their activation. This is a rather subtle thing for dancers and teachers to think about as we prefer a positive instruction to perform certain exercises regularly to build up strength. Thinking about the activation of muscles is more mentally challenging but in the long-term is very beneficial in the acquisition of a stable centre.

The day finished with Donna Krasnow from Canada showing a practical application of the suggestions with Conditioning with Imagery. This is a series of exercises performed with a given image to help the dancer visualise the muscle action. Studies show that this form of conditioning is more effective than just exercising alone.

The aim of IADMS is to promote a better understating of the care of dancers from both the medical profession and the teacher and dancer's perspective. 'Coach' education for teachers of athletics and sports is very good and the dance teaching profession could benefit from a similar high level of knowledge.

Throughout the whole of the conference it was most pleasing to see the integration of dancers and teachers talking to physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons. The best care for dancers comes from a team approach which involves everyone who looks after the dancers working towards the same goals. The demonstrations of Body Conditioning equipment with the opportunity to try out the Reformers and see them in action made most delegates keen to have access to this equipment in their own studios as it can be so useful in body maintenance, rehabilitation and on-going training.

The theme of 'training during the growth spurt' was an important one as participants in dance education, either for recreation or vocational training, are a young population and therefore vulnerable. With better understanding of the physiological and psychological implications of teaching dance during this time, we are fulfilling an important role in the life of our adolescent dance students.

Rachel-Anne Rist, Head of Dance, The Arts Educational School, Tring Park. Contact +44 (0)1442 824255.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001