Ballet: Ideal Body Type,
Injury Treatment, and Prevention

"Only the astronaut in our society is a more selected individual than the professional ballet dancer."
- Dr. William G. Hamilton

What is dance?
Dance is defined as a conscious effort to create visual designs in space by continuously moving the body through a series of poses and pattern tracings. The movements must also be in sync to a particular rhythm.

There are three basic dance genres:

Professional dancers may create artistic and beautiful movements but, compared to the 61 common sports, only professional football is more physically demanding than ballet. Like football, dance is not an endurance sport. Dancers will experience short bursts (1-2 minutes) of high cardiac output followed by a period of rest or less intense dance. Because of the extremely high level of natural physical and artistic ability needed, only a small number of aspiring dancers will have the body type required to reach the level of professional ballet dancer.

What defines the ballet dancer's body?
There are specific body shapes and characteristics that naturally determine which dancers have what it takes to become professional ballet dancers. However, dancing can still be a rewarding experience for the amateur with an "imperfect body." The amateur can gain poise, improve posture, balance, and self-discipline, as well as concentration, flexibility, endurance, speed, strength, and power.

Some physical imperfections can be overcome with talent, but a perfect body without talent will not make it as a professional. The professional ballet dancer's ideal body is identified by the following:

What are the different stages of ballet? What are the health concerns at each stage?
There are three fundamental stages in the development of a ballet dancer. Children generally begin training at 8 years old.

How are dancing injuries evaluated?
The age, sex, number of years dancing, amount of time practicing, and history of similar injuries all help determine proper treatment or behavior modifications required to heal and/or prevent the recurrence of an injury. The following is additional information your orthopaedist will need to know to ensure proper diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment:

What injuries commonly affect dancers?
Injuries in the amateur ranks are often caused by dancers trying to do things with their bodies that they are poorly suited to do. Injuries to professional dancers are usually related to the background and training of the dancer, choreography (dance routine) tour schedule, type of stage or pattern, and length of layoffs.

The following are common injuries suffered by ballet dancers:

Spine

Hip

Knee

Leg

Ankle

Foot

Skin

Toenails

How are dancer's injuries cared for?
Care for professional dancers is usually a team approach. The goal is prevention as well as treatment of injuries. The team may consist of a primary care physician, orthopedic specialist, sports medicine doctor, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, athletic trainer, massotherapist, dance teacher, technique coach, director, and psychologist.

The following are common treatments for chronic and acute injuries and preventive techniques:

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on: 1/12/2004

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