More than footwork

Farm Forum

Spurred by myriad television shows and recent hit movies, the popularity of dance is rising.

“Across the nation, interest is up because all of the dance shows like ‘Dance Moms,’ ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ” said Vicki Stuchl, owner of Living Art Dance Studio in Aberdeen and Watertown. “All have brought popularity to dance and interest in new types of dancing.”

Young dancers and adults looking to take classes are at risk for injuries while dancing and can take several precautions to avoid it.

“Dancers put their body through a lot more rigorous strain than people realize,” said ARCC ballet, pointe and clogging instructor Robin O’Neill. “A good dancer is going to make it all look easy, but what people don’t realize is that just about every muscle is working in your body to stabilize a movement.”

Brigette Weisenburger, dance coordinator for the Aberdeen Recreation and Cultural Center, believes there hasn’t been a year since the program started where there wasn’t an increase in enrollment.

About 700 students are enrolled in the program’s various classes, including some as young as age 2 who are taking “Mommy and Me” class.

The program also offers classes for advanced dancers.

“There’s been an increase in people getting back into dance who haven’t in awhile,” O’Neill said.

For 17 years, the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at the number of dance-related injuries that were treated in emergency rooms. The organization witnessed a 37 percent increase in dance injuries during the period studied, which ended in 2007.

Sprains and strains make up more than half of dance injuries encountered.

“It is easy to pull something, twist something or tear something even while just doing slow, controlled dance,” O’Neill said.

Teens, who generally take the most difficult classes, are more likely to be injured due to the more advanced moves being taught. Adult dancers who have previous experience are welcome in the program’s upper-level classes, Weisenburger said.

Stuchl, who has been teaching for 28 years, said dance as an art is progressing and becoming more challenging.

“Because of the stunts and other things now, it can be more dangerous,” she said. “Some of that stuntwork can be very damaging if you don’t properly warm up for class.”

There are ways to avoid injury, though.

Weisenburger said the most important thing is to be properly warmed up, which allows for more effective stretching.

“Think about a piece of fruit leather,” she said. “If it’s warm, it will stretch, but it will otherwise just snap.”

O’Neill said it’s known, especially among dancers, that stretching is important. There’s a warm-up and stretch component in virtually every dance class, but students need to remember to stretch all the time.

“Everyone knows you have to stretch ahead of time, but you can’t forget to stretch afterwards, either the next day or even later in the same day,” she said.

That’s especially true for those who might take fewer weekly classes.

During a one-hour class at Living Art, dancers spend more than a third of the time warming up, Stuchl said.

“I can’t say that it’s their favorite part, but it’s the most important part of class,” she said. “All those warm-ups lead into the technical work like leaping, jumping and rolling around on the floor.”

There are other things to consider, too. Like other physical activities, proper nutrition and hydration are important in dance, O’Neill and Weisenburger said.

“Offer the kids water often,” Weisenburger said. “Encourage them to eat vegetables.”

Both are important at all levels to promote muscle and bone development. Falls are the most common cause of dance injuries.

In those cases, learning proper form can go a long way.

“A slight difference in form can make a big difference in the probability of getting injured,” Weisenburger said.

This summer, Zumba, the popular Latin dance workout program, will be offered at the ARCC. It’s yet another way to get involved with dance.

There will also be a belly dance class for adults as well.

Dancers at all levels should not ignore an injury, O’Neill said. She recommends getting it checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.

“There’s the cliche of, ‘no pain, no gain,’ ” she said. “That holds true to a certain degree when it comes to soreness, but not when there’s real pain.”