Ballerina’s appear weightless as they dance across the stage so elegantly. The movements portray soft swiftness as if they’re gliding. Their coordination, strength, and flexibility make the dance seem effortless. But although it is lovely to watch, the public eye doesn’t really notice the damaging effects dance has.
Dancers spend 25 to 35 hours per week rehearsing. Competitions can last for days and shows can go on for weeks. Needless to say, this is physically taxing. Shin splints, tendonitis, fractures, and dislocation are just some of the many injuries that can occur. Shin splints often happen to dancers because of the constant pressure dance puts onto their lower legs. This causes the muscle to swell and can lead to inflammation between the knee and ankle. Tendonitis is when a tendon becomes swollen, hot and red and a fracture is a crack in a bone. Dislocation occurs when two of your bones are out of place, which can injure nerves and blood vessels.
Taking time away from training is necessary for injuries to heal properly; however, the financial cost of treatment can be significant. Some injuries may even require surgery, braces or casts. When taking the time off, it can reduce flexibility and strength as well as make it hard to get back in formation. Yet even when dancers may feel discouraged experiencing such a great amount of pain, many still push themselves to pursue the activity.
Their need for success adds onto their stress, can affect their mental health and could lead to depression. Dancers often feel pressured to be the best dancer in their class and to look a certain way. Many have a desire to be as thin as their peers because of the constant reminder that this thin figure is expected of them. With this influence to be “perfect,” some dancers struggle with bulimia. Purging oneself by forcing to vomit can lead to low blood sugar, loss of bone density, and slow heart rate.
Mikayla (not her real name) is a 14-year-old dancer who has been working tirelessly since she was three years old to perfect her dancing. Mikayla stated that she has put aside her social life and personal problems for the team. She had also experienced an eating disorder that lasted for a few months. In order to make sure she had all the required qualities for the profession, she would restrain herself from eating. “I was basically starving myself to be thin enough. I was on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. However on Saturday’s, it was a 100-calorie day and I would just drink coffee and water,” she reported. Mikayla was nowhere near healthy and became very sick. She stated, “I wanted to fit in but it was so tiring.” Her dance performance became weak and was lacking the ability to exceed which could have put her career at risk. She had already suffered so much for dance–losing it entirely would have been too much. She said, “I understand the consequences for certain things, but I couldn’t face the thought of getting kicked off the team. It would be heartbreaking. I have sacrificed so much and have put everything I had on hold for this profession.”
Dancers are encouraged to pursue their goals in life. Mikayla believes that it is “passion” that allows many dancers including herself, to dance freely and get lost in the music. Mikayla says, “I felt fantastic, I was told by my teacher that I was the best in the class and that is what fuelled me to keep dancing.” She thought of dancing as a way for dancers to escape from a reality which may not always be so perfect. “When things get rough at home or if I had a bad day at school, I would go to dance and feel happy. I would dance with the three dance mates I consider my sisters. We look up to each other and became family through all the hardships and victories we go through,” she reported. This gave her a reason to continue doing what she loves to do as well as determination to improve. “I have always been an incredibly competitive person so I thrive off of being on top.” Letting go of the world and immersing herself in dance makes Mikayla feel free. She lives by the saying, “When you fall, you always get back up.”
The love and dedication she and other dancers has for this form of art tends to blur out the consequences. Feeling a hint of pain or getting injured may not always stop them from dancing. Most of their injuries are able to heal. And even if pins and needles are all dancers feel, the show must go on. Their drive to work hard and to keep pushing themselves to top their best, inspires others to do the same and may allow them to face their challenges. Dance is rigorous, but if one has the devotion for it, it can be incredibly gratifying.
Dance can provide pleasure and a sense of pride in one’s accomplishments. If it weren’t for dance, they might never would have received such great benefits as travelling across the world and meeting their idols. Even though many dancers are constantly in fear of having a tragic injury, they persevere. As Mikayla says, “they learn to love the pain.”