Effective Communication with a Dancer

23 Jul 2021

Dorine Mugisha by Dani Bower Photography

The International Association for Dance Medicine (IADMS) have released Medical Committee webinars that aim to highlight dance communication concerns with medical providers. A particular webinar named ‘Effective Communication with a Dancer,’ explores the strategy in which medical professionals, dancers, and artistic directors view injury and how communication is positively maintained during a clinical encounter. The panel consisted of David Popoli (Medical Committee Chair), Kathleen Davenport (IADMS Board Member), Lyle Micheli (Doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital), Heather Southwick (Physiotherapist, Chyrstyn Fentroy (Dancer at Boston Ballet) and Russel Kaiser (Artistic Director at Boston Ballet).

During the webinar, the term injury can be perceived with different meanings by the medical professionals and dancers as we hear from the panel that a dance injury to a dancer is when they are unable to perform their artform as they would on a daily basis. We can apply Heather Southwick’s mantra when she is diagnosing a dancer, ‘If you cannot walk, you cannot dance,’ and on occasions, this has to be reinforced to a dancer. Dancers often continue to push through their injuries which sometimes can be more harmful than the initial pain.

We learn from the webinar the importance of communication as a key element during the diagnosis of the injury in which the dancer and the doctor must be on the same wavelength. It may be difficult to navigate the pain in a specific part of the body, and in many scenarios, it might be hard to recreate the pain when you are with a medical doctor or physiotherapist.  The key is to be as specific as possible to maintain a healthy communication which is a collaboration of understanding of what the ultimate goal is in terms of medical support. Whilst we as dancers must have confidence in the doctor and their practice, it is helpful for the medical professional to have an understanding of dance theory to a. aid their knowledge of the dance language, and b. aid communication between themselves and the dancer. The same concept of communication applies to an artistic director when they have to take the right decision in terms of a dancer’s health, as pushing the dancer on stage could result in further complications.

Important advice that we are given from a doctor’s point of view is to take a dance injury as a learning opportunity. An injury can allow us to take time out that we might not do so otherwise, to work on things such as the theoretical side; to look over biomechanics and training. This makes us feel better as dancers when we return back to regular training. We have recharged our brain by learning and our body by resting, allowing us to achieve the heights of dancing.

As important as it is to rest during an injury, we are also advised to avoid complete bed rest unless required. It might be that we feel down and thus keep ourselves in bed all day, but movement of the body can help the healing process, and we are told how water therapy and Pilates can be beneficial during these hard times. It is vital that we allow as much movement as rest to maintain a healthy relationship between the injury and the healing.

As we take this webinar to be significant to our practice, I hope we learn the different ways of communication with our bodies, doctors, and artistic directors. Injuries will always be a part of life but we must all remember that it is just a way of our bodies telling us to enjoy this phase, so we are able to pick ourselves up and dance much stronger than ever.

Written by Dipika Chitroda