Is Ballet Hurting Your Children’s Future?

It was an ordinary day of ballet rehearsal. Class began with its usual stretching, followed by group exercises across the floor. I winced in pain as I tried to keep time and perform with the rest of my line. Every motion, every step, kick, jump, twisted the imaginary knife that I could feel digging deep inside my hip. It was unclear what the problem was at the time, but I was certain my future as a dancer would never be the same.

Ballet serves as an outlet for children to express themselves in an artistic manner while gaining self-confidence and developing bonds. I was two years old when I walked into my first ballet class. I’ll never forget feeling like a princess dressed up in my pink leotard with my flowing tulle wrap-around skirt, and crown. Ballet provides a number of benefits for children that an article featured on, a leader in the distribution of health information, has discussed more in depth. The article says that “ballet promotes physical strength and agility, can boost concentration, develops an understanding of music and rhythm and generates a love of movement.”

Particularly the article discusses how the art of dance provides three types of benefits to a child’s development: educational, emotional and social. Educational benefits that children gain from participating in dance include cognitive training by combining combinations of movements, music and instructions for a performance. Skills required to successfully complete such activities include memory, focus, and attention. Socially, ballet classes bring together students with a similar interest in ballet. Friendships are formed and long lasting friends are found in dance classes. Emotionally, ballet helps students gain confidence and control over their own bodies which boosts their self-esteem.

Sept. 14, 2014 — Ballet dancers pose in line. Photo by: Zaimoku_Woodpile. Creative Commons.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

Although ballet has many positive aspects, do the future negative consequences for ballerinas outweigh the temporary benefits? Ballet is a very demanding form of dance that requires strenuous, repetitive movements that put a great deal of stress on dancers’ hips, knees, and ankles. The motion of turning your hip in and out while transitioning your foot turnout can be extremely strenuous on the hip joint. In fact, from personal experience, I know that labral tears are a common ballet-related injury that occur in the hip, causing searing pain accompanied with a clicking motion when you turn your leg in and out. When this occurs, as it did for me, the sharp pain will increase with continued use to the point of instability.

Jodi Farrin has been a physical therapist for 28 years and has previously worked with the Boston Ballet. She’s treated many patients with leg, hip and foot problems that have stemmed specifically from dance. According to Farrin, the impact that dance has can be damaging to the body, particularly on the hip itself.

“The hip is in its most unstable position with the foot turned out and performing a ‘plié’” she explained to me through an email interview.

A “plié” is a very common dance move in which a dancer bends at the knees with their feet turned out before straightening their knees again.

According to statistics listed by Nationwide Children’s of all the injuries to occur with dancers, 58 percent of them occur in the hips, legs, ankles or feet. Of all the dancers to be injured throughout their career as a dancer, 41 percent of them were between the ages of 15 and 19.

I was 16 years old when I found out I had torn the labrum in my hip joint. My mother had two surgeons look at my MRI before accepting the fact that surgery was the only solution to my problem. After failed attempts at cortisone shots, and many shots into the hip joint later, I had arthroscopic surgery during where the tear in my labrum was smoothed out so it would no longer “catch” when my leg would move. The pain of the surgery was not nearly as bad as the pain once the surgery was done, when I was told my future in dance was extremely unlikely.

The Children’s Hospital Colorado has an orthopedics division that specializes in working with athletes. According to Children’s Hospital Colorado “up to 90% of all dancers experience some type of injury in their lifetime.”

The most common dance injury, according to the hospital, is a direct result of overuse due to the repetitive nature of training and performing. Overuse can cause injuries to the knee, foot, ankle, back, and also the hip.

“Excessive hours of training with the body in poor unstable postures leads to pre-mature wear and tear of the joints and tendons,” said Farrin.

Jan. 4, 2013 — Leah strikes a ballet pose. Photo by: Melissa Dooley,. Creative Commons

How can injuries be prevented?

Johns Hopkins Medical Center suggests that by limiting the amount of dance practice to a maximum of five hours per day could prevent dance-related, specifically overuse, injuries from occurring. It’s crucial for you to allow your body, or in parents’ cases your child’s body, to have time to heal before continuing to put strain on the same muscles and parts of the body. The constant jumping, turning, arching and lifting that dancers are constantly engaged in are the movements that will cause over-use injuries in the future.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve performed or participated in a dance class, but I miss it everyday. I sometimes wonder if I would support participation in dance classes for my own daughter, reliving the wonderful memories I’ve shared over the years. My injury still bothers me to this day, and probably will, at least emotionally, for the rest of my life.

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