Rethinking Injury: Dance UK’s Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers Conference

by Laura Erwin, Freelance Dance Artist

Attending Dance UK’s Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers conference on 7 April offered a great challenge to me as a practitioner. I will outline how three of the speakers provoked a rethink surrounding my approach to dance injury.

Dan Edwardes at Dance UK’s Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers conference. Photo: Rick Senley.

“Injury is a change in the body which means you have to learn to move in a different way.”

Within his discussion on eating disorders, Professor Jon Arcelus made specific reference to the ‘pie of life’ arguing that there are different components that shape identity such as family, friends and job, which should be evenly distributed. His research showed that for dancers and athletes, body image and technical skills can constitute an unhelpful majority of the pie, such that when life is disrupted – perhaps by injury or poor performance – an individual’s sense of identity and value are similarly affected. Practitioners should therefore be aware of the importance of developing a balanced ‘pie of life’, to lessen the impact of any training problems on core identity and self worth.

Lauren Bradshaw discussed performance profiling, advocating its untapped usefulness for physiotherapists to provide psychological support for athletes and dancers recovering from injury. In performance profiling, key constructs of focus – physical, technical or artistic – are chosen, then rated out of ten and split into smaller goals by both the dancer and their coach(es), to be reviewed weekly. Such a model takes a more holistic approach to training, offering the opportunity for many facets of the performer’s rehabilitation to be identified and monitored by all interested parties.

Lastly, Dan Edwardes challenged even the way I look at injury, describing injury as an inevitable consequence of taking measured risks for any period of time. He described injury as a change in the body which means you have to learn to move in a different way. It occurs because you didn’t do something as well as you could have, and therefore it is a learning opportunity to adapt practice.

Attendees at Dance UK’s Aesthetic Athletes and Dancers conference. Photo: Rick Senley.

Edwardes also mentioned that in Parkour, movements are only performed when the individual is ready both mentally and physically (with equal weighting on each). These views challenge the idea that an injured dancer is ‘out of action’ and the overwhelmingly negative feelings attached to injury.

Reflecting on my own injury experience, I notice that I generally put practical plans in place very quickly without acknowledging the psychological feelings of distress, anxiety and shock that need to be dealt with. It also now seems clear that the causes of my injuries were a lack of psychological readiness to perform a movement, which were dismissed and substituted in the moment to ‘get on with it’.

In summary, the various speakers at Dance UK’s conference have instilled in me a greater consideration of the holistic nature of injury, particularly in terms of psychological causes and emotional components of rehabilitation.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 88 – Autumn 2014