Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Psychology of the Injured Dancer

"A setback is a setup for a comeback" - T.D. Jakes

          Dancers spend so much time taking class, rehearsing and performing that experiencing an injury at some point in their training or their careers is almost inevitable.

          Injury rates among dancers have been reported to be as high as 97%, yet less than 50% of those injuries are treated by medical professionals.  Dancers tend to dance through any pain they feel because they worry about missing class and losing technique, losing their roles to other dancers and losing pay due to missed rehearsals and performances.

          However, injuries do occur, and there are times when dancers may be forced to stop dancing for a period of time. It is important for everyone in the dance field to know and understand that there are some psychological effects a dancer may likely experience when injured.

          A dancer may feel shocked and frustrated to discover that this body that he/she has spent year's training has betrayed him/her. If the injury forces the dancer to take time off, the frustration may soon turn to depression as the dancer begins to miss classes and/or rehearsals. It is important to note that this depression may not only be psychological but may have some of its roots in the fact that when we dance our bodies naturally release endorphins which promote a sense of euphoria. When dancers are forced to stop, the endorphins are not released, and they will not experience the sense of euphoria which is a normal state for them.

          Standard practice within the dance community is that injured dancers should attend classes and rehearsal when injured and observe. Although dancers can certainly learn by observing (see my post, about mental rehearsal), a 1996 study determined that watching class was related to an increase in  the injured dancer's feelings of guilt, anger and distress over being injured.

          As the injury begins to heal, the dancer will grow optimistic but may soon become pessimistic as he/she grows impatient with the amount of time necessary for the body to heal.

          Dance directors, educators and parents can help dancers cope with injuries in several ways. Very few dancers have enough anatomical knowledge to understand the nature of an injury and the body's recovery process. By educating dancers before injuries occur, we can eliminate the fear that often accompanies an injury.

          Dancers need to be reassured by everyone around them that injuries are temporary and that they will eventually be able to return to the technical level at which they were performing prior to the injury.

          It is equally important for an injured dancer to see a medical professional who understands the mentality of dancers. The doctor or physical therapist should understand that the primary goal is to get the dancer back in the studio as soon as possible and provide realistic rehabilitation exercises. Quite often, the rehabilitation exercises that are prescribed are less challenging than the exercises dancers do on a daily basis.

          Lastly, it is important that injured dancers who sit through class or rehearsals feel they have a purpose. A dancer with a leg injury can sit in a chair and perform all of the upper body movements, or the dancer may be asked to take notes for the teacher or rehearsal director so that he/she feels valued.

          While it is inevitable that injuries will occur in dance, psychological feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety may be avoidable or alleviated by the approaches of those surrounding the dancer. Their reassurances and kind gestures can help keep the injured dancer in a healthy psychological state while the body is given the chance to heal.


Bowling, A.  (1989) Injuries to dancers:  prevalence, treatment and perceptions of causes. BMJ. 298:731-34.

Kerr, G., Krasnow, D., Mainwaring, L.  (1992) The nature of dance injuries. Medical Problems of Performing Artists. 7:25-9.

Macchi R, Crossman J. (1996). After the Fall: Reflections of injured classical ballet dancers, Journal of Sport Behavior. 19(3): 221-234. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Perfectionist Adolescent Dancer and a Happy New Year Giveaway!

            "Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical..." - Brené Brown

          Adolescent dancers experience a growth spurt between the ages of 11 and 14 that can last from 1-2 years. As was discussed in the post Dancing Through the AdolescentGrowth Spurt, major physical changes affect how the body moves and can make dancing difficult. The body seems foreign to the dancer, and movements that were once performed easily may now seem impossible. It is also important for dancers, dance parents, and dance educators to understand and acknowledge the psychology of the adolescent dancer.

            Studies on dancers indicate that they tend to be perfectionists. Perfectionists are individuals who are overly critical of themselves, strive to achieve because they have an intense fear of failure, and look at most opportunities as risks for failure rather than chances for success.

            Perfectionism can be divided into three different categories:

                        self-oriented – An individual who wants to be perfect, 
                                    sets unrealistic/unattainable goals, focuses on flaws, is his/her worst 
                                    critic, and believes he/she is only as good as his/her performance.
                        other-oriented – An individual who judges others harshly, sets 
                                  unrealistic expectations for family, friends or peers, and has trouble 
                                  trusting others to follow-through with plans.

                                 socially-prescribed – An individual who becomes obsessed with
                                 trying to live up to others' standards or expectations.
          A 2014 study found that university age dancers showed significantly higher levels of self-oriented perfectionism than their peers. This tendency to be overly critical of themselves led them to feel negatively about themselves in general, made them feel they could not live up to the expectations of others, and resulted in high levels of socially prescribed perfectionism.
            If dancers are normally hard on themselves and display perfectionist tendencies, it seems logical that these feelings would be amplified during adolescence.

            As dancers experience changes in body mass and shape which lead to decreased flexibility and difficulties with coordination and balance, they begin to feel defeated. It is not uncommon for adolescent dancers to feel that they should quit studying dance because they cannot perform as well as they once did. Although the physical effects are temporary, the adolescent will still struggle with a decrease in self-confidence.

            It is important for dance educators and parents to provide emotional stability and support during this time. While corrections should still be given, the educator should acknowledge that there are some areas, like flexibility and coordination, over which the adolescent dancer may have little or no control.

            Letting the dancer know that people understand what is happening validates everything the dancer is experiencing and can help relieve some of the psychological pressure. Encouraging adolescent dancers to be patient with themselves will help them realize that once the growth spurt is over, they will soon feel in control of their bodies once again and will no longer feel frustrated with their dancing.
Eusanio, J., Thomson, P., & Jaque, S.V. (2014) Perfectionism, Shame and Self-Concept in Dancers as a Mediation Analysis. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 18:3.

Krasnow, D., Mainwaring, L., & Kerr, G. (1999) Injury, Stress & Perfectionism in Young Dancers and Gymnasts. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 3:2.


A new novel written by former ballerina and Pushcart Prize nominee Sari Wilson is a coming of age story that follows a young dancer on her quest for perfection in the cutthroat world of New York City Ballet.

It has been described as a cross between Black Swan and Lolita, and Harper Collins is offering one of our lucky readers a chance to win a copy of this book which will go on sale January 26 through the author’s website, To be entered for a chance to win between now and midnight on January 31, comment on this post letting us know what topics you'd like The Healthy Dancer to cover this year. You can also increase your chances of winning by tweeting about this blogpost.  Just follow the directions below!
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