Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton,
Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the
author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass) and
co-author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York
City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St.
Martin’s Griffin). Her website is drlindahamilton.com.
Dr. Linda Hamilton
2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023
I’m finding it difficult to switch gears and go from one technique to another
in my ballet company’s rep. I’ve performed pieces by Tharp, Balanchine and
Petipa in one season, but the physical pain afterwards bothers me. Why
does this happen when I’m in excellent shape?
—Sarah, New York, NY
Performing different dance techniques taxes even the most physically
fit performer by stressing unfamiliar areas of the body. For example, a
Balanchine ballet like Theme and Variations requires you to land a jump on
demi-pointe first, before putting the heel down. In contrast, a traditional
company class doesn’t emphasize this transition. Landing on the ball of your
foot in a Balanchine ballet, along with his renowned fast footwork, can be a
recipe for calf pain and possible pulls if you don’t do it on a regular basis.
In this case, it would pay to take a weekly Balanchine class to prepare for
an upcoming ballet. This approach applies to other techniques as well. It’s
also crucial to work out those residual aches and pains from a varied rep
(which is becoming increasingly popular) through weekly massages and/or
acupuncture. Being proactive is key!
How do I care for my body on my own? I’m freelancing in Las Vegas,
juggling three jobs a night: bartending, performing in a show and doing a
go-go gig that ends at 2 am. I love the show, but dancing in 6-inch stilettos
on a metal floor is giving me horrible tendinitis in my ankles and knees. I
can’t afford to be injured or I’ll lose my spot. Help!
—Crippled Showgirl, Las Vegas, NV
Working three jobs until the wee hours of the morning is not the best way
to protect your body, given that fatigue is the primary cause of injuries.
Instead, concentrate on one good survival job and one dance job that will
enable you to pay the bills and prevent sleep deprivation. Remember: As a
freelance dancer, you have control over your schedule, so use that to your
advantage. Take downtime during the day to rest, go to the gym or dance
class, and visit an orthopedist if you are in pain.
Showgirls who perform the same steps every night are at risk for repetitive stress injuries, like tendinitis, similar to performers in a Broadway show
or those doing 50 runs of The Nutcracker. Why? Unlike dancers who perform
a varied rep (whose injury risk is tied to the use of underused muscles or
unfamiliar movement patterns), you are stressing the same body parts, leading to microscopic tears in the tendon fibers. Dancing in high heels, which
can shorten the Achilles tendon, and performing on hard floors designed to
support heavy props—not dancers’ bodies—only add further strain. Ask your
doctor to refer you to a physical therapist who can work on your injury and
address underlying causes, like a tight ankle tendon or weak leg muscles.
Meanwhile, healthy work habits, which include warming up, stretching and
strengthening exercises (often with weights), can help prevent further prob-
lems. Tendinitis is not a career-ending injury, but it can become debilitating if
you ignore the pain.
My fear of terrorism went through the roof after another attack hit France
while I was touring there. As an American, what precautions do I need to
take here and when traveling to Europe?
—Terrorist Fears, Brooklyn, NY
As a touring dancer, it helps to know that while there have been recent
attacks, the risk of being involved in one is still very low. You can check the
U.S. Department of State website for travel alerts and warnings, though it’s
unlikely that your company would continue touring if there was an imminent
threat. In France, the country is operating under a state of emergency that
was extended for six months after the July attacks in Nice. Security advisors
recommend staying away from “soft targets” open to the public, like large
gatherings of people that have limited, if any, protection. Similarly, be alert
in public transportation areas, concerts, clubs, restaurants, shopping malls
and other tourist destinations. It’s equally important to educate yourself
about risks at home, as well as in any other country you’re traveling to.
Finally, be aware that heightened security measures can mean delays at
airports and train stations, so arrive early. While it’s understandable that
you might want to avoid overseas travel for the foreseeable future, the
government suggests the risks are infinitesimal and to simply proceed with
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
How to deal with the challenges of
dancing a varied repertoire—or the
same show night after night Dancing in high heels can shorten
the Achilles tendon and puts
performers at risk for tendinitis.