From an article in the Clarion Ledger
Stretched to the limit
Dancers know injuries lurk at every turn
Shanderia K. Posey • email@example.com.
com • June 22, 2010
Injuries in ballet are inevitable. Dr. Dave Duddleston
vividly recalls the night in 2006 when a South
Korean ballet dancer did a kick that led to agony.
Early in her routine, one foot was above her head,
and her hip dislocated.
The dancer, Ji-A Kim, moaned and sank to the
“She literally couldn’t move her leg. She was in a
great deal of pain,” says Duddleston, who was on
duty as a medical volunteer for the USA International
Ballet Competition in Jackson.
Kim was transported to Baptist Medical Center’s
emergency room, where Duddleston says a doctor
moved the joint back into place.
Duddleston, medical director of Southern Farm
Bureau Life Insurance, is among about 20 physical
therapists, five nurses and 10 physicians who make
up the medical volunteer committee for this year’s
event. For the first time, a massage therapist was
added to the mix. Athletic trainers help, too.
Sam Lewis, a registered nurse and program director
of wound care at Baptist, and Mark Weber, Ph.D., a
physical therapist and professor at the University of
Mississippi Medical Center, are co-directors of the
Collectively they ensure all of the dancers’ medical
needs are met. Some of the healthcare providers stay
back stage during the competitions or sit in the
audience in case of emergencies. They also staff a
one-room clinic at Belhaven University from 4:30-6
p.m. daily for the dancers.
This marks the third time Lewis has volunteered. She
considers Kim’s injury the worst she’s seen.
“That hurt me,” Lewis says.
Most ailments involve sprains, strains and overuse
injuries, Weber says. Severe, career-ending injuries
These dancers in general have grueling schedules
with classes, rehearsals and performances that take
up their entire day.
“They beat their bodies up pretty hard,” Weber says.
Some arrive at the IBC with injuries and some
develop them after arrival. Nonacute injuries such
as bronchitis, strep throat and infections requiring
IV antibiotics are addressed as well.
Top injuries dancers face depend on their ages,
says Christopher Fleming, one of two IBC competitor
“Any place where there’s a joint because of the
unnaturalness of ballet, there’s going to be stress
on those joints – ankles, knees, backs,” says
Fleming, who now works in Philadelphia, Pa.
Men are prone to knee and back injuries and women
to feet and hip injuries. A bout of tendonitis can be
terribly debilitating, too.
Fleming says in order for these “artistic athletes” to
keep injuries at bay, they must constantly work to
keep their body conditioned.
“To avoid it (getting hurt) you take class every day,
or if you can’t take class on a day, you might go to
he gym and swim. Might do a pilates class,” he
says. “You’ll find most of these kids are pretty
Kevin Gael Thomas, 22, a senior competitor
representing France, knows what it takes to keep his
“Eight hours of sleep, no drugs, no alcohol,”
Thomas says. He does smoke, but says it doesn’t
affect his performance. He also relies on cold
showers in the morning to relax tense muscles.
His coach, Dmitri Trubchanov, 34, of Russia, is
proof that recovery after a major injury is possible.
It took Trubchanov two years to recover from an
Achilles rupture he suffered during a rehearsal.
“That’s probably one of the worst injuries for
dancers,” Trubchanov says, but “I’m back.”
Coach and student now work at the Colorado Ballet
Junior competitor Mimi Sai, 16, of Japan, follows a
She’s at school until 4 p.m. Ballet lessons are from
6-10 p.m. Homework is done for one hour at 11 p.m
. Then she takes a bath and has free time from 1-2
a.m., which allows her five hours of sleep.
“When I wake up, first I drink water. I like vegetables.
I do my stretch,” Sai says. Her scheduling is tiring
but she doesn’t complain.
“I like ballet, a lot.”
With rigorous schedules of students and those in
professional companies, at some point fatigue and
overwork take their toll, says David Keary, artistic
director of Ballet Mississippi.
“Another issue is that often one injury will create a
stress area in the body which brings on another
injury in another part of the body,” Keary said in an
e-mail to The Clarion-Ledger. “Often times, with
good preparation and the dancer paying attention to
his/her body, how it feels, how it responds and
reacts to stress, etc., one can foresee a potential
problem developing elsewhere, and then take
precautionary measures to help the body heal.”
He advises dancers to have a balanced and healthy
diet with lots of fruits and vegetables; protein is
essential and drink lots of water.
“Above all dancers need rest,” Keary says. “Our
bodies heal while we sleep.”
And all dancers should know their limitations and
have a good relationship with their doctor.
“A dancer recovering from a bad injury or surgery
will have to go slow; receive a lot of massage and
physical therapy and strength training before
getting back to 100 percent,” Keary says.
“When someone is really exhausted or tired from a
long day of rehearsal, you can’t just go in and do
crazy variations and try new tricks, possibility
you’re going to get hurt,” Trubchanov says.
But sometimes that’s easier said than done because
dancers tend to push themselves in spite of pain
particularly in big companies when the show must
The IBC is considered the Olympics of ballet, and
pressure to succeed is intense. In 1986, Vadim
Pisarev won a gold medal at the IBC despite a left
Dr. Penny Lawin, an orthopedic surgeon who
specializes in foot and ankle injuries at Mississippi
Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center, says her
office treated a few dancers during the IBC in 2006.
To keep their technique perfected, dancers must try
to prevent corns, calluses and blisters on the feet.
And with Wolff’s Law in mind, the younger a dancer
can start, the better. The theory states, “the body
forms bone in response to stress,” Lawin says.
“It’s all about conditioning and making sure that the
body is strong throughout,” says Angela Jackson, of
Houston, and president of Regional Dance America.
“And ballet is the science of movement and that
science is proven that if you go through these
exercises in repetition that your body will stay in
condition. Of course, there’s always the possibility
of injury but it’s not something that we’re afraid of.”
To comment on this story, contact Shanderia K.
Posey at (601) 961 7264.