Injuries are the chronic sabotage of dancers. As Vincent Walker, massage therapist at the Dance Therapy Centre (at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre), attests, dancers are the worst at taking care of themselves. They have no patience for healing and they don’t do their exercises.
Guess I’m not alone.
Lack of compensation for being unable to dance, plus the ethos of perfection (AKA self-punishment) contribute to this lack of respect for our bodies. Funny, since our bodies are all we’ve got.
Although we tend to wait until we can’t walk before seeking professional help, dancers certainly have come up with ingenious ways to prevent and treat their injuries. Here are my TOP FIVE:
- Cellophane. Alright, so this was in the 1970s, and now all anyone treats with it are animal wounds, but in the 70s cellophane was the new best thing to keep muscles warm. Wrap up that sore muscle with cellophane and feel the heat and sweat build – tasty! This one, needless to say, didn’t last.
- Red flower oil. Move over deep cold, forget tiger balm, in Vancouver red flower oil is the thing. When greeting a dancer you’ll notice a pungent cinnamon smell rising from their sore neck/back/entire body. The influence of Chinese medicine has popularized this one: it’s a soothing hot-cold (or cold-hot, depending on your perspective). See also white flower oil.
- Shmata. According to those who swear by them, a shmata is a piece of clothing, often cut from the bottom half of a sweater, that is worn around the hips to keep them warm. Think saggy mini skirt over pants. Dancers, unlike Jennifer Beals, aren’t that fashionable and definitely not that naked. This ain’t no hot yoga.
- RICE: Rest Immobilization Compression and Elevation. It’s kind of like a mantra. Except everyone always get the “I” wrong. According to chiropractor Dr. Robert Cannon, it does NOT stand for ice. Although ice is probably a dancers best friend, so…
- Ice. Every physio therapist has told me: on for 10-15 minutes and off for the same (alternate with heat only if there is no swelling). Gel packs are nicest and you can make your own: one part rubbing alcohol to three parts water in a strong freezer-weight (try doubled) ziplock bag. Ooh la la, DIY ballerina!
Despite these tricks of the trade, there is no substitute for taking the time off (doing your exercises) and letting the injury heal before you dance again.
Finding a way to make this possible without the revenue loss, depression or frustration is the hardest part.