Caring for the dancer's body factsheet #16

In This Article

Prevention and care

All parts of the body are interrelated and each is affected by physical or mechanical stresses, chemical or biological reactions, social or psychological pressures.

Get a medical checkup

At least once a year or before increasing your workload, i.e. intensive courses, full time dancing or dance education programs, pre-season, performances or tours.

Physical conditioning

Some of the components of conditioning are

  • cardiovascular endurance
  • strength
  • anthropometry (body measurements)
  • alignment

You could be tested before increasing your work load. Knowing your physical condition could help

  • reduce the possibility of injuries.
  • set  guidelines for the amount/type of training best suited for the strength, power and endurance needed.
  • enhance body composition and correct muscle imbalances.

Cardiovascular endurance

Research shows that a high Maximum Aerobic Capacity (V02max: the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilise to produce the energy required for work) is a positive factor in injury prevention. One of the possibilities in dance would be to structure the training class to increase V02 max. For example:

  • barre/floor work: 30 mins. (sub maximum work load)
  • centre work: 20 mins.
  • jumping/running combinations: 30 mins. ( load  - a physical work intensity taxing between 80% and 100% of V02 max

The pulse rate (heart beat per minute) rarely exceeds 120 during the first 50 minutes of a dance training class, so you need to make sure that during the last 30 minutes the pulse rate (equivalent to the work load) is enough to increase the V02 max. (rest pulse plus 75% of the difference between rest pulse and maximum pulse). This will enhance cardiovascular workload.

All jumping/running combinations could be 32 or 48 bars long. The groups could be divided equally so that everyone works and rests at planned intervals, so that part of the class becomes interval training, as used by many professional athletes. This length of combination was already common in dance training as early as the 19th century, seen in the Bournonville and Cecchetti classes from that period. In this case, traditional classical training is validated by modern sports medicine. The length of combination in some jazz  classes is already a step in the right direction.


To avoid injury, you should try to balance flexibility and strength. High loads (like holding your leg in extension) will increase your strength, not the number of repetitions. In the dance world, endurance is often confused with strength (i.e. how many, instead of how much). When you are strengthening, you should aim to balance muscle groups. You can find specific equipment to measure and increase streng in sports medicine and dance medicine clinics. They can be used as an add-on to dance training.

Anthropometry (body measurements)

Some techniques can be damaging to the hips and knees if a dancer is carrying too much weight. But how much and what type of weight is too much and who decides? The ‘O’ scale system used at the Australian Institute of Sport and nutritionists or physiologists in most large cities can give the dancer an indication of the ratio of lean muscle to adipose (fat) tissue. Responsible dancers can use this to regularly assess the effects of training and diet on their physiology.


Impaired postural balance affects your ability to perceive what is happening (your kinaesthetic sense). Although many experienced teachers can recognise alignment problems, the grid, the plumb line, the pedograph and the podioscope are techniques to screen posture alignment. Dance Injuries. Their Prevention and Care, by David Arnheim (Pub.Dance Books, 1986), includes a description of these techniques.

Avoid ‘too much too soon’

Listen to your body—particularly after an injury. Take the advice of a dance medicine specialist before you return to class after a break, and again when you plan to increase your workload. Start slowly and progress gradually with each new dance class. You need to be aware of your tolerance level and never work through pain, fatigue, illness or injury.

Warm up/cool down

You must warm up properly before each dance class and stretch all major muscle groups (not beyond the pleasure/pain barrier) before doing any fast, full range of movement techniques. Do not stand still immediately after dynamic physical steps, cool down gradually and stretch (not beyond the pleasure/pain barrier).

Fluid replacement

Particularly in Australian climatic conditions fluid replacement is of utmost importance. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping, exhaustion, nausea and injury due to fatigue. A good general rule is to drink a glass of water for every 20 minutes of vigorous dancing.

Consumption of low fat, low GI foods

Foods with a high GIycemic Index (GI)—i.e. the simple carbohydrates—are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body. This causes a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods—i.e. the complex carbohydrates—are broken down and absorbed slowly into the body, and result in steady rises in blood sugar and insulin levels.

The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruit, and vegetables should form 60% of daily calorie intake. Fat should be less than 25%  and protein should be 12 – 15% of daily calorie intake.

Safe dance environment

Consider floor structure, floor surface texture, ceiling height and ventilation. Don't use concrete surfaces and crowded or poorly ventilated studios (need a link to the spaces factsheet)

Health and self-esteem

Do you have a history of, or a problem with, substance abuse? A drug is any substance that, when taken into the system of a living organism, can modify one or more of its functions. That includes nicotine, alcohol, stimulants, appetite suppressants, sedatives, tranquillisers and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Further reading


Safe Dance Project Report 1990—A report on dance injury prevention and management in Australia by Tony Geeves. Commissioned and published by Australian Dance Council—Ausdance Inc. in association with CREAT Australia. (Ed.Hilary Trotter).