INJURY PREVENTION AND DANCER NUTRITION
Ballet Virginia is proud to have formed a partnership with CHKD’s Sports Medicine/Dance Medicine Department to ensure our students have access to injury prevention education, screenings for possible injuries and pointe readiness, proper nutrition education, and physical therapists should injuries occur at performances. CHKD physical therapists are at our studio every other Wednesday evening to be available for Level 4 dancers and above to address injuries and discuss nutrition. They are also available by appointment to screen for pointe readiness. It is critical that a dancer’s foot, ankle, and muscular anatomy be at an appropriate stage of adolescent growth development to handle the rigors of use and training necessary for dancing on pointe. Ensuring your dancer’s safety is essential to us and, while a dancer may be technically-ready to advance onto pointe, she may not be ready physically. Advancing onto pointe before a proper assessment renders such readiness can lead to damage to growth plates and debilitating or recurring injuries that may prevent the dancer from fully participating in and enjoying their dance training. Unattended injuries can lead to the same.
Dancers are athletes who require a great deal of strength, flexibility, and endurance. The goal of the CHKD Dance Medicine practice is to treat and prevent injury, and to provide a complete, multidisciplinary care to dancers. CHKD services by physician referral and appointment include:
- Comprehensive medical evaluations
- Injury prevention programs
- Physical therapy for dance injuries
- Pilates-based conditioning and rehabilitation
- Pointe readiness assessment
- Health and injury screenings at area dance schools
- Injury prevention and nutrition clinics
CHKD is also home to the region’s only comprehensive pediatric sports medicine program offering:
- Primary care pediatric sports medicine physicians
- Fellowship-trained sports medicine pediatric orthopedic surgeons
- Sports-certified physical therapists
- Certified athletic trainers
- Sports nutritionists
CHKD understands that dancers have unique needs. Most injuries in dance are due to overuse, and more than 90 percent of these injuries can be successfully treated with conservative rehabilitation and a minimal amount of time away from training. CHKD offers sports medicine physicians, surgeons, and professional therapists with backgrounds in dance and experience treating dancers and performers who understand the range of motion, strength, and stability required for a successful return to dance. A team approach is taken to treating dance-related injuries. A program has been developed that has been specifically designed for the demands placed on dancers’ young bodies. The goal is to get the dancer back into the studio as quickly as possible.2
Ballet dancers have a significantly higher risk of developing eating disorders than their non-dancing peers, so much so that the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London, England publishes an Eating Disorder Policy online. This policy suggests that students are more likely to become eating disordered because of a tendency “to conform to the stereotype of the ‘perfect dancer’” and explains that students are “compelled to spend several hours a day in front of large mirrors and are inclined to compare themselves to their peer group.” The policy responds to this challenge with protocols for identifying students with disordered eating and for helping to rehabilitate them.3
Much has been made of the ballet school environment as a weight-obsessed subculture; however, ballet school matriculation is also associated with a family history of eating disorders. This suggests that the high rate of eating disorders among ballet students is due to the interplay of environmental and genetic factors. Furthermore, the likelihood of a dancer developing an eating disorder can depend on how and where they choose to train.
This may be due in part to intrinsic levels of perfectionism – a trait which correlates highly with anorexia in particular – being higher in girls who attain the standards necessary to enter the more competitive schools.4
Though few dancers develop a clinically defined eating disorder (ED), many engage in some form of dysfunctional eating due to the physical aesthetic woven into the fabric of much of the dance world, especially in ballet. Quite simply, many choreographers, dance masters and mistresses, and dancers themselves expect dancers to look a certain way.5
Although this aesthetic is changing in some parts of the dance world—for example, both at the Royal Ballet School as noted above and under the influence of noted choreographer Mark Morris—the perceived need to sculpt a certain type of body drives many dancers to eat in unhealthy ways. For a significant number of those dancers, this change in eating behavior results in clinically diagnosable eating disorders with dangerous implications for their physical, psychological, and emotional health. Moreover, in some cases, this harmful eating causes severe health problems and even death.
We encourage the dancers with whom we work at Ballet Virginia to become informed about their eating habits and, most important, to make good choices about their diet and health. The CHKD Dance Medicine Program is an excellent resource for families and dancers to discuss nutrition concerns and receive guidance on proper nutrition to ensure a long, healthy relationship with dance.
2 CHKD Sports Medicine – Dance Medicine Program pamphlet, 2016.
3 McConville, Sharon, MB, BCh, BAO. Excerpt from article contributed to Eating Disorder Hope by Sharon McConville, MB, BCh, BAO. Published on EatingDisorderHope.com.
5 Excerpt from Dance Psychology for Artistic and Performance Excellence by Jim Taylor and Elena Estanol. Published on HumanKinetics.com.