We spend a lot of time discussing the importance of strength of the feet and legs in dancers. It makes sense – the feet are what connect us to the ground, and especially in a young dancer contemplating commencing pointe work for the first time, the focus is very much on the lower limb. What is often overlooked is the importance of the upper limb – the hands, arms, and shoulders and their connection into the upper back.
To begin to understand the interaction of the upper body with the rest body, let’s take a look at the anatomy:
The picture on the right shows the posterior view, and the large latissimus dorsi connecting the upper arm, through the upper back and attaching into the fascia of the lower back. We can also see the large trapezius muscles spanning from the back of the head, across the shoulders and down into the mid back. The picture on the left shows us the pectoralis major muscles connecting the arm anteriorly to the chest. What is not so easily seen in this picture are the sneakier, hidden muscles which connect the shoulder blades to the rib cage, the serratus anterior and posterior muscles, or the deep muscles of the shoulder, the rotator cuff, which act to stabilise the shoulder joint throughout movement.
What I hope you can take from these diagrams is how complex the human muscle system is, and the interrelationship of the upper body, trunk and lower body; strength and stability in one area of the body directly directly influences the strength and stability in other areas of the body.
An arm in second position with a droopy elbow means a weaker transfer of force through the body into the legs. An arabesque with a head hanging back weakens the back sling of muscles so the leg will not reach its full height potential. A sloppy shoulder blade posture and arm strength in a pas de deux hold will limit the capacity of the partnership.
The demands on the dancer are ever increasing. Wherever the perceived expectations are coming from, the requirement for dancers to be more flexible, more powerful, more athletic, more artistic in more genres and at a younger age is real. As a dance physio, I see many young dancers attempting advanced gymnastic and acrobatic skills, which necessitates supreme upper body control, strength and power. In my experience, many of these dancers have not taken the time to address the individual components of each skill not established a comprehensive strength regime to prepare their body for these extreme forces and reduce the risk of injury developing.
Strength and conditioning for dancers is vital, especially as they expand their repertoire and acquire new skills. As dancers progress through their grades, regardless of the style or syllabus, dance classes alone are not enough to keep up with the physical demands; cross training is key. Just like a footballer needs to build strength and power in the gym.
As a dance physio, I look at the whole body. I assess technique and analyse movement to determine a dancer’s strengths, and establish areas of weakness which may detract from their strength, limit their capacity to optimise their skills, or lead to injury. I then work with the dancer, the parent and the teacher to develop goals and a plan to achieve them. If you’d like more information or to discuss making an appointment for you or your dancer, please get in touch by filling in the form below: