Supporting the hypermobile young dancer

Being a hypermobile dancer can be frustrating. Dance Ambassador Beth draws on her personal experience as a hypermobile dancer to provide a small insight into what dance teachers and dance students should be aware of and how dancers can help manage their bodies.

What is hypermobility?

Hypermobility is when there is an increased range of motion beyond a joint beyond what is considered normal. Hypermobility can fall under two categories; Generalised Joint Hypermobility (GJH) and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS).

How can you test for hypermobility? 

The way you can tested for the GJH is by using the Brighton test which gives you a score between 0 and 9. The test for JHS considers the Beighton test along with the Brighton test. However, you need to be aware that the Beighton and Brighton tests are not completely accurate in measuring the hypermobility levels of dancers. These tests do not place consideration into joints such as ankles and shoulders, which dancers actively use.

Tips for hypermobile dancers

Be aware of hyperextension

If you know you are hypermobile, you need to be aware of any joints hyperextending. For example, if you have hypermobile arms and you place your arms in second position, they may naturally go too far back. Hyperextending can lead to an increased risk of injury so it is important to be aware of which positions may result in hyperextending. Increasing your proprioceptive awareness may help with this.

Just because you can hyperextend, it does not mean you should do it

As a hypermobile dancer, particularly when you are younger, it can be difficult to give in to temptations to show off what your body can do or stretch your body too far. Despite being hypermobile you should always warm up before stretching or dancing. Although hyperextension in joints can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye as a dancer, your own physical health needs to be prioritised.

Just because you may be flexible, it does not make you hypermobile

A common misconception among dancers is that because a large proportion of dancers may be able to complete areas of the Beighton score or are highly flexible, they may perceive themselves to be hypermobile. Flexibility and joint hypermobility are two separate entities. For example, you can have a 180 degree range of motion at the hip joint and not be hypermobile.

Strength is extremely important

If you are hypermobile, it can cause the ligaments in your body to become lax and therefore can make joints harder to control. Strengthening of the body is essential to be able to control your body when performing any dance movements. If you are hypermobile, it is important to add supplementary training exercises to your training regime which can help strengthen the muscles around your joints and ligaments. A good form of exercise to assist with core strength in particular is Pilates based work. If you are not confident using weights or going to the gym Pilates can be a good alternative.

What to do if you think you may be hypermobile

The Beighton and Brighton tests can be performed by physiotherapists or at screening sessions to give you an indication of how hyperextended your joints are. To be diagnosed with generalised joint hypermobility or joint hypermobility syndrome you need to be seen by a GP or specialist. As previously mentioned, supplementary training is very important for hypermobile dancers to perform. Take a look at some of the supplementary training options below you could do to support your dance training and reduce the risk of injury.

Supplementary training options

These supplementary training options may encourage greater strength and control. However, it is important to remember that everyone’s bodies are different. Some supplementary training may be more beneficial for some dancers than others.

  • Pilates
  • Plyometric training
  • Core strengthening exercises
  • Weight training

If you are a dancer looking to adopt supplementary training. Please remember look after your bodies. Rest, refuel and hydrate.

Resources

Kozai, S. (2012) Supplementary Muscular Fitness Training for Dancers. The IADMS Bulletin for Teachers, 4(1), 15-17. Available at: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/Public/Bull_4-1_pp15-17_Kozai.pdf

Rafferty, S. (2010). Considerations for integrating fitness into dance training. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science14(2), 45-49.

Ruemper, A., & Watkins, K. (2012). Correlations Between General Joint Hypermobility and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome and Injury in Contemporary Dance Students. Journal Of Dance Medicine & Science, 16(4), 161-166.

Simmonds, J. & Keer, R. (2007) Hypermobility and the Hypermobility Syndrome. Manual Theraphy, 12(4), 298-309. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1356689X07000823.