Photo Credits: 16th Street Acupuncture and P3: Precision Physical Therapy and Pilates
For most people, an important aspect of a daily life is the maintenance of their body. For professional dancers, however, daily maintenance requires more than just going to the gym or class, it’s the physical maintenance of an instrument— their muscles, connective tissue, bones, and joints— and the harmony of their instrument’s function with mental and spiritual balance.
To maintain that balance, a trip to the massage therapist, the physical therapist, the acupuncturist, or the personal trainer— along with a steady diet of class and the gym— are all apart of a pro-dancer’s daily regiment. Since dancer’s bodies mandate special care from professionals and are prone to injuries throughout their career, the ability to have access to those necessary treatments is also imperative.
This week, we at Dance Network wanted to give you an inside view of what it takes to care for professional dancers from the perspective of those on the front lines of dance health. We spoke with two dance health and wellness practitioners about the importance of quality and consistent care.
We first spoke with Dr. Ashley Hodges, a physical therapy practitioner based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Hodges works with P3: Precision Physical Therapy and Pilates and provides care for dancers from companies like Nashville Ballet, Fall, and New Dialect. She spent five years with Neurosport— a physical therapy provider that’s a favorite of Broadway dancers— and toured with musicals like Billy Elliot and worked on dancers from numerous Broadway shows like The Lion King, Westside Story, The King And I and more. She holds a B.S. in Exercise Science and received her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Belmont University.
Ashely Hodges, DPT. Photo Credit: P3 Precision Physical Therapy and Pilates
DANCE NETWORK: Thanks for speaking with us Dr. Hodges. What’s your background with dance, and what made you want to work with dancers?
DR. HODGES: I was a dancer growing up, doing dance competitions through a studio. I had a few significant injuries in high school and went through physical therapy myself. The dance population has very specific demands on their body unlike any other group of people so I wanted to use my understanding of that to cater to them. They also have an amazing sense of body awareness and are extremely motivated which is fun.
DANCE NETWORK: Having been a dancer yourself and providing care for performers, what sort of preventative care do you wish you saw dancers do more of?
DR. HODGES: I wish that dancers did more warming up and cooling down. Properly warming up ensures good blood flow to all muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. This prepares those tissues to efficiently accept the load and tension placed on them while dancing, so it's a very important part of preventing injuries.
DANCE NETWORK: What is the most common injury you see?
DR. HODGES: In dancers, I would have to say that is between hip/low back injuries, and the foot/ankle. Whether that be a sprain, strain, or an overuse repetitive injury.
DANCE NETWORK: Being a Doctor of Physical Therapy and specializing in performing artists, how important do you think it is for dancers to have access to treatment while actively working? What about while they’re healing from injury?
DR. HODGES: I think it is very important for dancers to have access to treatment while working in a show. Preventative and maintenance treatments and exercise are an integral component in preventing injury. While healing from an injury, it's absolutely important to have consistent treatment to allow for efficient healing and prevent recurring injuries. Compliance with self treatment techniques, exercise, and mobilization are also importance while healing and resting.
DANCE NETWORK: What is it that you love most about your job?
DR. HODGES: My favorite part of my job is seeing a patient return to doing what they love— pain free!
Erika Weber, M.S. LAc. Photo Credit: 16th Street Acupuncture
Secondly, we spoke with Licensed Acupuncturist and owner of New York City based 16th Street Acupuncture, Erika Weber. According to Weber’s biography, she is a New York State licensed Acupuncturist, and a Nationally Board Certified NCCAOM Diplomat. She was trained at Tri-State College of Acupuncture (TSCA), the only college training in Acupuncture Physical Medicine (APM), Kiiko Matsumoto Style Acupuncture (KM―modern Japanese acupuncture), and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Erika has also studied in Japan with five Master Practitioners, and works on dancers and performers all over New York City.
DANCE NETWORK: Thank you Ms. Weber for taking the time to chat with us. You began as a dancer, right? Tell us little about your history with dance, and how you found you way to acupuncture.
WEBER: I started dancing when I was about three years old and kept it up all the way though college After graduating, I travelled for ten years doing a few national tours.
I initially started doing acupuncture for headaches on tour, and then for the numerous injuries I had from dancing. I couldn’t believe how much the acupuncture helped for my injuries! So, I knew after I stopped dancing I wanted to work with dancers— because it had been so beneficial to me. That’s when I went back to school.
DANCE NETWORK: Considering your background in dance, what would you like to see dancers doing more of in the vein of preventative care?
WEBER: I wish dancers incorporated more strength training to their exercise routines. Nothing too strenuous, but some stabilization exercises to support the joints and ligaments. I find a lot of times in my practice, people are tight in areas where they should be strong— like the glutes — which are huge stabilizers for the legs.
Another thing I wish dancers would do more of is foam rolling. Even rolling out everyday for ten minutes would be beneficial. Not only can this help keep the muscles loose, it can really provide the muscles with more blood-flow which can help tired, fatigued legs.
I also encourage epsom salt baths. Epsom salt is magnesium and magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer. The best way for our muscles to get the benefits of magnesium is through soaking.
DANCE NETWORK: That’s great advice! What sorts of injuries do you commonly see from dancers in your practice?
WEBER: I see a wide range of injuries from dancers— but the most common injury I see would have to be… anything from the low back on down! Mostly hips, hamstrings, knees, calves, ankles, and toes. Our legs take a beating and are the base foundation of our bodies, so if they are tight and not strong, then dancers usually will have issues in these areas.
DANCE NETWORK: So, how important and helpful is the practice of acupuncture for dancers and how do you think it helps heal injuries?
WEBER: Acupuncture helps reduce inflammation which can speed recovery. Also, it can bring new blood flow to the injured area which stimulates a faster recovery. There’s an acupuncture technique called trigger-point release which can also help with range of motion issues, pain, scar tissue, and the releasing of tight muscles— and can do it better and faster than any massage. Acupuncture can also be very beneficial for stress reduction, and stress can affect our sleep— which is SO beneficial for the recovery of our bodies.
Acupuncture not only helps with physical muscle issues but also digestion, gynecological issues, allergies, infertility, skin conditions just to name a few. It’s all about balancing the body.
DANCE NETWORK: The benefits of acupuncture seem pretty incredible. Sharing your practice must be very rewarding— what do you love most about what you do?
WEBER: My favorite part about my job is meeting amazing people and being able to help them. I meet so many incredible dancers and athletes and I feel so blessed and grateful to be apart of their journey.
What’s evidenced by these two dance health care practitioners is that a combination of preventative care— through strength building, proper warm-up and cool down techniques, and joint care— and the accessibility to receive professional treatment whenever needed are the best ways for dancers to find longevity and wellness in their careers. The value of physical health and well-being for a dancer seems also to balanced equally to that of their spiritual and mental fitness as well, and should be observed and cared for as such.
What’s also exceptionally obvious by these two
extremely accomplished practitioners— and healers, for that matter— is that
that the passion emanating from the healing hands on the health care side of
the dance world, rivals the vigor of the very