Week 6: On The Matter Of Healthcare
Welcome back to the blog! I am so sorry for the delayed post, but I hope you enjoy this longer-than-usual entry as an apology for the wait. Dance competition season is in full swing, so I thought that it’d be a fitting time to address one particular important topic.
“If it hurts that bad, just quit dancing.” This is a phrase I’ve heard many times now from people close to me who don’t know too much about dance. However, from what I’ve learned more recently, more dancers hear this type of sentiment than I would have thought. More surprisingly (to me), anecdotes regarding this idea seem to commonly revolve around healthcare professionals saying it.
I get it– pain and injury should not be taken lightly in dance, and I am in no way expressing support for the idea of dancing through pain and injury. Despite that, as I’ve discussed before in a previous blog post, dancers tend to be more aware of pain signals and their bodies’ responses to pain compared to matched controls.1 Developing as a dancer means better understanding the limits of one’s own body, the instrument in which the art form of dance is expressed.
When injured dancers receive care for an injury, the limited understanding of the nature of dance and dancers’ needs that many healthcare providers have can be harmful even with the intention of good care and treatment.2 Stopping or quitting dance is a common suggestion that may be given to the injured dancer by these professionals, but this is rarely a feasible option to the dancer who needs to continue training to progress and keep up with performances, rehearsals, or competitions.
Dancers who are aware of their body and its limits at least to some extent through their experience in dance training can adapt incredibly to their own needs, and often understand what they can modify in their training in order to support these needs while still progressing through working on what they can at that moment work on. Although stopping training altogether is necessary with certain serious injuries, many injuries dancers get do not affect their entire body to an extent to which they are not able to continue other aspects of their training and performance that do not involve the injured body part.
It is easy to say that it is cruel to make dancers “dance through pain,” but at the same time it is cruel to dismiss the problems of encouraging dancers to stop dancing when they are experiencing pain without understanding the full context. It is necessary for dancers with injuries to rest and recover, but it is not necessary to cause even more distress to dancers by telling them to stop dancing, something that they love doing on top of having other obligations to train and perform well. Athletes can continue playing with an injured ankle after taping it, artists can continue drawing even with carpal tunnel (I’ve even recently seen a digital artist with severe carpal tunnel in both hands adapt to drawing using their feet), so why are dancers treated differently (particularly by healthcare providers) when it comes to pain and injuries?
My point is, improving understanding of dancers and their needs is important, especially when it comes to the healthcare professionals who treat these injured dancers. Pain and injury are never pleasant, but having the proper care for them can be more beneficial to dancers’ overall health, including mental health, than being told to simply “stop dancing.” Although my project is intended to help better inform adolescent competition dancers regarding injury and wellness, I hope that it’ll help us also take a step closer towards better informing healthcare providers of dancers’ needs as well.
- Tajet-Foxell B, Rose FD. Pain And Pain Tolerance In Professional Ballet Dancers. Br J Sports Med. 1995;29(1):31-34. Doi:10.1136/Bjsm.29.1.3.
- Walters DJ. Dancer Blog: Why Telling Dancers To Stop Doesn’t Work. Pinnacle Hill Chiropractic. Published May 11, 2020. Accessed May 2, 2023. Https://Pinnaclehillchiropractic.Com/2020/05/Dancer-Blog-Why-Telling-Dancers-To-Stop-Doesnt-Work/