Lately I’ve come across a fair bit of discussion in the online dance world – mostly via twitter, about the role of a dance teacher in dealing with students who have injuries, and it’s got me thinking.
As Lauren Warnecke writes in her Dance Advantage article on the topic, the diagnosis of injuries and treatment is definitely not up to me as a teacher. Grier Cooper adds that there are many places to go to when looking at treatment options. All of this is of course completely true, but it leaves us asking the question, well, what is our role as teachers when dealing with injured students?
As a dance teacher in a middle school I see my dance students often – usually several times a week, more if those students are in my class or syndicate, and I’m often present when the are taking part in other physical activity and education during the course of the day, so I have a pretty good idea of the physical demands my dancers face and in a busy middle school like ours, they’re not small. I also teach an age where students face the some of the biggest physical changes as they encounter adolescence. They’re also desperate to try new things and test out their limits (particularly their flexibility). Put all these things together and you’ve definitely upped the risk of injury.
So what can I do? Well, for me it’s twofold – prevention and awareness.
In the dance classroom, I aim to do all that I can to prevent injuries by taking time to warm up with 5 -10 minutes of aerobic activity and 5 minutes of dynamic moving stretches – usually focused on waking up the muscles in the legs, hips and shoulders. We also talk a lot about why we warm up and the effect this on the body, so that my students understand the benefits. I try to keep the warm ups fairly easy and straight forward, starting with large gross movements and then moving to more intricate movements as they get warmer. I usually follow a fairly systematic pattern, and repeat this with the occasional change for a month or two. The benefit of this is that my students have learnt the pattern, and are now running the warm ups themselves, building not only their leadership skills but also their ownership of the warm up process. They can also take this warm up and easily warm themselves up when at performance venues when I’m not able to take them through it as a group.
The second thing that comes under prevention is reminding my students, and discussing with them why it is important to eat after physical activity to replace energy used and help maintain a healthy body – especially important when they all seem to being going through growth spurts.
Awareness for me is really important and it goes both ways. I need to be aware of safe dance practice as a teacher, but also away of the physical changes my students are experiencing and the temporary limitations this can have on their bodies – there’s not much I can do about it, but I need to be aware.
Likewise I encourage my students to let me know if they have injuries, but my response is usually the same – do what you can even if it’s only watching or doing the arms ( I actually had a student audition for a hip hop crew sitting in a chair as she was on crutches – successfully too I might add). I encourage my students to take responsibility for managing their own injuries as this helps to build their self-awareness.
The second part of awareness is encouraging a dialogue where my students can talk about how their bodies are feeling. Often it is just the usual feeling a bit stiff or tired that comes up, but sometimes my students will talk about feeling a sore muscle or ache or pain for a several days or even a couple of weeks. At this point I usually ask the question – ‘have you talked to your parent about this?’. To give them the credit they deserve, my students are great at doing this, but sometimes they haven’t and it’s then that I will gently suggest that they might like to talk to their parent about seeing a doctor or physio about it.
It’s not my place to tell them what’s wrong, or tell them what to do. But as a teacher it is my job to guide them to the necessary resources they need to solve problems, and sometimes they just need to have their awareness raised – to realise that there are easy things they can do – like seeing a qualified professional – to help them feel better.
Are there specific things that you do to support students with injuries or help them build awareness?