Whether it’s physical or mental, dancers just sometimes need to take a break. Personally, I have had to take a break from dance due to injury, depression, anxiety, and even pregnancy. Never ONCE has returning to class been an easy transition. However, as a professional personal trainer of dancers, former physical therapist assistant, and professional dancer, I have learned some crucial things along the way.
1. Don’t be afraid to start back with beginner level classes! As a teen dancer, I would have cringed at this but, now at 31, I realize how important it is to move slow.
Most of the injuries I see with dancers occur due to poor technique and compensations. Sometimes when we move so fast and our minds are preoccupied with difficult combinations, we lose sight of our technique. When you return to class at a lower level, it frees up your mind to focus on alignment & proper technique which lowers your chance for a return injury. Even if you’re returning from a break due to mental health, this is a great idea. Anxiety/depression can often be triggered by mental overwhelm. In this case, taking a slower paced class isn’t something to shame yourself for, you’ll move back up in pace once you feel comfortable again!
2. Start integrating a strength, mobility, and flexibility program
Strength training should be done in order to stabilize the joints that are essential for dancers to gain technique and decrease wear and tear on joints.
Mobility training is that KEY ingredient that most dancers miss out on or don’t know exists. Most dancers will train their flexibility more than enough but they lack strength in the higher ranges of motion. This is where mobility training comes in. It’s to mobilize and move the joint into those greater ranges while also gaining strength and flexibility. So, in simple terms it’s a two in one strength and stretch exercise.
Flexibility training: while important, most dancers overdo it with static stretching. Too much of this can cause instability in the joint which will cause the muscle to tighten up in attempts to stabilize the joint from injury. This is why the former, mobility training, is so much more important than static stretching. Static stretches should be gently applied after classes and never before. Mobility training however, can be done integrated into a warm-up routine to help with range of motion throughout class.
3. Rest & recovery days are no joke.
Training to get back to dance can be intimidating but too much can be a bad thing. Training daily can lead to muscle failure and overuse injuries. I recommend 2-3 days of rest a week to a dancer who is newly returning to the dance floor. This will ensure the muscle fibers repair and decrease the lactic acid in the muscle belly.
If the dancer forces themselves to continue to train multiple days in a row without rest, they will be at risk of injuries. Active rest days can include activities such as walking, gentle swimming, restorative yoga, or any other light activity. It just means do not do strenuous exercise or dance on these days.
4. Not knowing how much or how often to participate in cross-training or dance class when you return.
Training depends on what your goal is. If you were previously a once a week dancer, you can resume once a week of dance while complimenting with 2 days of cross-training. If your schedule is more intense like a competition/collegiate/professional level dancer, then you may want to work your way back to your full schedule gently.
If at all possible, discuss a gradual return to dance with your instructors and recommend that you do 50-75% of the classwork you did prior to your break for about 2-3 weeks. Then after 2-3 weeks, gradually increase the amount of classes.
I would recommend a dancer at this level perform 3-4 days of cross-training a week focusing on their weakest areas in technique.
5. Seek out a professional to perform a movement analysis
Something I never had was someone to look at my technique and say “Your abductors are weak, your pelvic floor isn’t engaged, your X, Y, Z weakness/tightness is causing your ballet technique to decline.”
Some dance teachers are well educated enough to provide this insight to their students and customize an exercise regime for them; however, others are not.
I offer private 1-1 evaluation to dancers to give them this insight. So, if they’re not getting this attention or education from their teachers, it is readily available to them.
What I do is examine the dancer from head to toe and point out any compensations or weaknesses that could lead to future or recurring injuries. Then I design a custom dance cross-training program for them.
Getting to know your body and how to train properly may be the MOST important ingredient I have learned over the years.
If you’re ready to book a private lesson and get your movement analysis today go to www.veronicakballet.com/privatetraining/ and choose a spot on the calendar.
Above all, remember, be kind to your mind and body and let yourself gradually return to dance without shame for where you are right now.