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Dance and health

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Dance and health

Dance and health has been subject of a number of research studies which show dance to be a very healthy exercise. However there are a number of health risks of professional dance which require careful attention. As part of courtship dance is a reliable indicator of the dancer's health and intelligence.

Folk dancing couple.

Benefits of dance

Being in general an aerobic exercise, dance brings well known benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, weight control and other ones commonly associated with physical fitness. In addition, a considerable effect of dancing on psychological well-being is noted.

A large amount of governmental, health and educational information is available extolling the benefits of dance for health.[1]

Dance pads have proven useful in tackling obesity in young people and are welcomed in many schools for that reason.[2]

A report by Professor Tim Watson and Dr Andrew Garrett of the University of Hertfordshire compared members of the Royal Ballet with a squad of British national and international swimmers. The dancers scored higher than the swimmers in seven out of ten areas of fitness.[3]

An Italian study in 2006 has shown that dance is a very good exercise for heart patients compared to other aerobic exercises like cycling. This may be partly because the patients enjoyed it much more.[4][5]

A study in New York in 2003 has shown that cognitive activities like crosswords help ward off dementia but, except for ballroom dancing, most physical activities do not.[6][7]

A recent study done in Perth Western Australia by Debbie Duignan (WA Alzheimers Association) explored the use of Wu Tao Dance as a therapy for people with dementia. It was shown that Wu Tao, dance therapy that works to balance energy in the body, similar to T'ai chi, helped to reduce symptoms of agitation in people with dementia.[8]

A study at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine in 2007 showed Argentine tango was better at improving the mobility of Parkinson's disease sufferers than an exercise class[9] (a later study showed similar benefits from T'ai chi). Because of the level of interest a permanent tango class was set up after the study ended.

A study by Dr Paul Dougall at Strathclyde University in 2010 concentrating on older women found that Scottish country dancers were more agile, have stronger legs and can walk more briskly than people of the same age who took part in exercises such as swimming, walking, golf and keep-fit classes.[10]

Another gain of dancing is for those who have high cholesterol, plus drugs and adequate food, dancing can draw. As an aerobic exercise abridged levels of total blood cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, acknowledged as bad and helps boost levels of HDL or good cholesterol.[11]

Risks of dance

There are various health risks of professional dance, as it can be very demanding. As well as sports injuries, repetitive strain injury, and chronic workplace stress, dancers have a higher than average risk of body image problems and eating disorders.[12] Dancers risk injury within the course of their career, many retiring from active performance in their mid to late 30s. Since dance is a performance art with emphasis on aesthetics, dancers are also at a higher risk of body image problems and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.


Many dance movements, and particularly ballet techniques, such as the turnout of the hips and rising on the toes (en pointe), test the limits of the range of movement of the human body. Dance movements can place stress on the body when not performed correctly; even if perfect form is used, over-repetition can cause repetitive strain injury. Examined in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, dancers often put off consultation from doctors or physical therapists in the effort to stay employed by a dance company or to stay in rehearsals. When in fact those dancers that "work through" their pain more often than not end up worsening their symptoms and prolonging their recovery. Eighty percent of professional dancers will be injured in some way during their careers; 50 percent of dancers from large ballet companies and 40 percent from small companies will miss performances due to injury.[14] The practice of "plieing" (bending one's knees deeply) after landing each jump may seem innocuous, but failing to do so may result in shin splints or knee injuries. Overwork and poor occupational health and safety conditions, a (non-sprung) hard floor, a cold studio or theater, or dancing without sufficient warm up also increase risk of injury.

To minimize injury, dance training emphasizes strength building and forming appropriate habits. Choreographers and dance instructors will often put certain demands on their students and dancers without taking into consideration, each dancer is face with different anatomical limitations. Dancers will strive to achieve the ideal aesthetic in their respective dance technique by over compensating for their limitations and thus presenting themselves with a higher risk for injury. Also damage may result from having a student perform movements for which they are not prepared, care must be taken that the student is not "pushed" inappropriately. A dancer put en pointe at an age where his or her bones have not completely ossified may develop permanent damage; even past the point of ossification, ankle injuries can result if a dancer goes en pointe without sufficient strength.


Professional dancers may experience chronic workplace stress with an uncertain work situation. The average income for a ballet dancer is low,[15] and competition for jobs is very high. In addition to the stress that may be caused by this, dancers also may experience the psychological distress from technical and physical "perfectionism".

As with other activities (such as horse jockeying) where weight is a factor, dancers are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.[16] Many young dancers, believing that the ideal dancer must be thin, may begin controlling their diets, sometimes obsessively.[17] Such dancers may be unaware of or may choose to ignore the fact that an emaciated dancer will not have the strength required for ballet. It is also highly relevant that inadequate nutrition in adolescent females has been linked to development of scoliosis, due to decreased oestrogen production and subsequent reduced bone density. A dancer with poor nutrition is at a higher risk for injuries and long-term health problems. A malnourished dancer’s performance will be altered and weaken as his or her body starts to break down muscle and bone in order to fuel itself. This puts the dancer at risk for injury and slows the healing of chronic injuries.[18]

In a survey of 300 professional dancers, 40% were tobacco smokers in contrast with the Center for Disease Control average of 24% of American women and 29% of American men aged 18–34.[19]

Avoiding injury

Even for social dance the use of a sprung floor is highly recommended.[20] Because a dance injury can ruin a career professional dancers are increasingly refusing to dance on anything else.

In ballet good plieing (bending the knees) on landing helps protect against knee injuries and shin splints. Many types of dance, especially folk dances, have hops in the steps where the impact of landing can be reduced by slightly bending the knee.

Warming up and cooling down exercises are recommended before and after exercises to avoid strain, muscle pains, and possible injury.[21]

Conditioning is a good way to prevent dance injuries.[22]

Treatment after injury

RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is generally regarded as a good first aid therapy for most dance injuries before the ambulance comes, or even for what may be thought of as minor injuries.[23] For minor injuries light exercises should be started after two days, if it is not definitely on the mend by this time then see a doctor.[24] Pain and inflammation can be reduced using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in a gel applied to the affected area (not on broken skin), note however that masking a pain to continue dancing is dangerous as it can easily make an injury very much worse.[20]

Dance and courtship

Dance has long been recognised as a way for prospective partners to select each other. Isadora Duncan said of dance that it needed 'the highest intelligence in the freest body'. Recent studies show how much can be conveyed by dance:

An article in Nature 'Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men' shows that dance in Jamaica seems to show evidence of sexual selection and to reveal important information about the dancer.[25][26] Professor Lee Cronk at Rutgers says: "More symmetrical men put on a better show, and women notice." Symmetry is a strong indicator of fitness as it shows developmental stability.

A Swedish study shows that people who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time.[27][28]

Scientific study of dance

Dance science is the scientific study of dance and dancers, as well as the practical application of scientific principles to dance. Its aims are the enhancement of performance, the reduction of injury, and the improvement of well-being and health.

Dance requires a high degree of interpersonal and motor skills, and yet seems built into humans. It has therefore increasingly become the subject of neurological studies. The July 2008 edition of Scientific American contains a summary of recent studies and further questions.[29]

Related occupations

Dance therapy or dance movement therapy is a form of expressive therapy, the psychotherapeutic use of movement (and dance) for treating emotional, cognitive, social, behavioural and physical conditions.

Many professionals specialize in dancer's health such as in providing complementary or remedial training or improving mental discipline.[30] Mental discipline is achieved from dancing when you are learning a dance or choreographing a dance. And also when you need to recall a dance.


Tangolates (a portmanteau word of Tango and Pilates), also known as Tango-Pilates and Pilates-Tango, is a method of conscious, mind-body exercises that combines the core stability of Pilates with the concentration, coordination and fluid movement of Tango, designed in 2004 by Tamara Di Tella. Utilizing a partner-method and incorporating the aerobic or cardio element of music, it started as a rehabilitation technique for patients with severe dysfunctions of the nervous system, and is now a fashionable workout for healthy people.

See also


  1. ^ [1] Dance and health: The benefits for people of all ages. Jointly from the British National Health Service and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  2. ^ Games on Deck Games For Health 2006: Dance Dance… Revolution in Fitness!
  3. ^ The Times: Breakthroughs, tips and trends: October 25th Stronger swan
  4. ^ America Heart Association Heart failure patients can waltz their way to healthier hearts
  5. ^ Heart Care -February 2007 Waltzing Your Way to a Stronger Heart
  6. ^ Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly Joe Verghese, M.D., Richard B. Lipton, M.D., Mindy J. Katz, M.P.H., Charles B. Hall, Ph.D., Carol A. Derby, Ph.D., Gail Kuslansky, Ph.D., Anne F. Ambrose, M.D., Martin Sliwinski, Ph.D., and Herman Buschke, M.D. New England Journal of Medicine, 2003, Volume 348, No. 25, 2508-2516
  7. ^ BUPA investigative news How to reduce dementia risk
  8. ^ "Exploring dance as a therapy for symptoms and social interaction in a dementia care unit". 30 July 2009. 
  9. ^ A study on the effects of Argentine tango as a form of partnered dance for those with Parkinson disease and healthy elderly.Hackney, M., Kantorovich S., Earhart, G.M. 2007, J Neurol Phys Ther, 31(4): 173-179
  10. ^ "Dancers reel their way to fitness". University of Strathclyde Glasgow. 6 August 2010. 
  11. ^ "Ten biggest benefits of dancing". What is USA News. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  12. ^ Wan Nar Wong, Margaret; William Wing Kee To; Kai Ming Chan (2001). "Chapter 16: Dance Medicine". In Nicola Maffulli, K. M. Chan, Robert M. Malina, Tony Parker. Sports Medicine for Specific Ages and Abilities (2nd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 161–168.  
  13. ^ The Cleveland Clinic Foundation (2004-01-12). "Ballet: Ideal Body Type". Archived from the original on 2006-08-26. Retrieved 2006-10-05. 
  14. ^ Machleder, Elaine (2000). "Avoiding Injury: It’s A Science". Dance Spirit Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-03-19. Retrieved 2006-05-23. 
  15. ^ "Occupational Overview for Dancers and Choreographers". College Compass. 
  16. ^ Maloney MJ (November 1983). "Anorexia nervosa and bulimia in dancers. Accurate diagnosis and treatment planning". Clin Sports Med 2 (3): 549–55.  
  17. ^ Bettle N, Bettle O, Neumärker U, Neumärker KJ (1998). "Adolescent ballet school students: their quest for body weight change". Psychopathology 31 (3): 153–9.  
  18. ^ "Dance". Children's Hospital of Colorado: Orthopedics Institute. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  19. ^ Lalith Munasinghe, Nachum Sicherman (February 2005). "Why Do Dancers Smoke?" ( 
  20. ^ a b Harkness Centre for Dance Injuries Common Dance Injuries
  21. ^ Adapted Physical Education and Sport By Joseph P. Winnick 2005 ISBN 0-7360-5216-X Chapter 15 Science behind Accurate Exercise Programs
  22. ^ Daniel D. Arnheim (1991). Dance injuries: their prevention and care. Princeton Book Co. p. 8.  
  23. ^ Dance Magazine April, 2005 by Linda Hamilton Ouch! Five common dance injuries & how to treat them
  24. ^ NHS Direct Sports Injuries
  25. ^ Dance Symmetry Project
  26. ^ Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men. Brown, William M., Lee Cronk, Amy Jacobson, Keith Grochow, C. Karen Liu, Zoran Popovic, and Robert Trivers. 2005. Nature 438: 1148-1150
  27. ^ Intelligence and rhythmic accuracy go hand in hand
  28. ^ Fredrik Ullén, Lea Forsman, Örjan Blom, Anke Karabanov och Guy Madison. Intelligence and variability in a simple timing task share neural substrates in the prefrontal white matter. The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 April 2008
  29. ^ [2] So You Think You Can Dance?: PET Scans Reveal Your Brain's Inner Choreography. Stephen Brown and Lawrence M. Parsons Scientific American July 2008 vol 299 No. 1 58-63
  30. ^ [3] Dancers Health

External links

  • Harkness Centre for Dance Injuries Common Dance Injuries
  • Overview of Ballet Injuries
  • Ouch! Five common dance injuries & how to treat them
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