Dance medicine
Medical Care for Dancers

Specific physio in the GYROTONIC-Method at the Pulley Tower Combination Unit. photo: Bernd Gahlen
Specific physio in the GYROTONIC-Method at the Pulley Tower Combination Unit | Photo (detail): Bernd Gahlen

In the Kompetenzzentrum Tanzmedizin “medicos.AufSchalke” in Gelsenkirchen medical care, prevention and rehabilitation are geared entirely to the special needs of dancers.

Dancers enrich us with their art. They give expression to strong emotions, drama, intimacy and beauty. But what we spectators – and all too often the dancers themselves – overlook is the fact that dancers are also high-performance athletes. For professional athletes needs-related medical and therapeutic support has long been a matter of course. Yet dancers are perceived first and foremost as artists. Here both the high performance aspect as well as the need for sufficient relaxation phases tends to be disregarded. Only too frequently dancers and instructors lack awareness of the enormous physical stress and overstress. Their bodies deserve and need the same attention, the same rest periods and, above all, the same needs-related medical care as with all other sportspersons. Dance medicine has established itself as a special field in medicine and focuses on the prevention, recognition and treatment of specifically dance-related illnesses.

Statistics confirm that occupational accidents in dance are increasing continuously. In the course of their career 72 percent of professional dancers suffer permanent physical impairment due to a high rate of occupational accidents and injuries caused by overstrain. Not only in the acute treatment and rehabilitation, but also in prevention, there is an urgent need for action in the medical and therapeutic care for professional dancers in Germany. Since 2009 the Kompetenzzentrum Tanzmedizin has been affiliated to the ambulant rehabilitation centre medicos.AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen. A team of experts consisting of medical specialists and specially trained therapists work together here in the medical dance rehabilitation centre.

Optimal therapy and preservation of physical fitness

Due to injuries dancers are not only unable to work for weeks and months but during this time they often lose their physical fitness and muscle mass. During a four-week period of immobilization the muscle mass already regresses by 25 percent. Moreover, the mental pressure that a dancer suffers during an injury period is extremely high. There is always great competitive pressure among dancers. Anyone who gets a role in a production again has a steady income for a few months. Contracts for a whole year are a rare luxury, particularly in the free dance scene to which nowadays about two thirds of Germany’s dancers belong. If these contracts are then endangered due to injury, the pressure increases. And then after injury – despite the really high self-motivation of the dancers – it is often not certain whether dancers can regain complete fitness and return to their accustomed working routine and stage performance.

Rehabilitation measures geared to the specific needs of dancers such as, for example, Pilates equipment training or the “Gyrotonic” training method, have shown that with the appropriate support dancers are able to return to the stage within a much shorter time. “The medical care of professional dancers in Germany can be improved considerably. We are experiencing a visible shortening of the therapy time,” confirms Dr. Elisabeth Exner-Grave, head of the Kompetenzzentrum Tanzmedizin in Gelsenkirchen. “This shortening also reduces the costs for the health care system,” says the specialist for dance medicine. For years she has been campaigning to grant dancers the status of high-performance athletes in the health care system. Dance medical rehabilitation involves not only an optimal therapy for the injured parties, it also takes care of physical fitness outside the injury area and investigates possible mistakes in dance technique. These specific and comprehensive measures are, however, not yet or only to a limited amount paid for by the health care service since dancers still do not enjoy the status of professional athletes. There is also a lack of interdisciplinary competence for qualified medical care for dancers in Germany. As a consequence the dancers’ periods of inactivity due to injury are prolonged and endanger their professional reintegration. Moreover, a comprehensive rehabilitation programme is also a mental support for the injured dancers.

Health in dance needs a voice

An organisation that unites the concerns of dance and medicine has set itself the aim of effecting a long-term change in the dancers’ situation. For years now Tanzmedizin Deutschland e. V., abbreviated as tamed, has been working to create an awareness of the day-to-day reality of dancers and to improve their medical and therapeutic care. Hence tamed addresses the general public as well as the dance world. The organisation, which coined the term dance medicine, wishes to shed light on the dancers’ situation. tamed’s highest priority is the preservation of dancers’ health. Only when dancers themselves and their audiences are aware of the enormous strains and risks to which dancers expose themselves day by day can their health be preserved at an early stage and on a sustainable basis. Many renowned dancers and pedagogues support the work of tamed and are actively involved in this network for dance medicine.