Episode 019: Dr. Daria Oller Talks Tap Dance Injuries (Part 1)

Today’s episode is all about tap dance injuries, and I am joined by Dr. Daria Oller, a physical therapist and athletic trainer who is also a tap dancer! Dr, Daria Oller specializes in dance medicine and youth sports medicine. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Athletic Training from James Madison University in 2006. She then earned her doctorate in physical therapy from Seton Hall University in 2010. Following this, she conducted youth sports injury epidemiology research at Penn State University and she is currently a physical therapist at Foundations Physical Therapy in Washington Township in Bergen County New Jersey. She is also a tap dancer, and a performer and assistant director in the performing arts company Lady Grey’s Lovelies in central Pennsylvania. Daria is also one of my students, and one of the many amazing health care professionals who have helped me work through my own personal injuries in tap dance.

To start off, it’s important that we note that the majority of the injuries we are going to be discussing in this interview are applicable to those dancers who are in the studio many hours per week and not necessarily those taking one hour of tap class here and there.

HM: What are the benefits of tap dance? (2:30)

DO: It’s such a fun form of exercise! Tap dance is a fun way to get moving, it’s great for cardiovascular health, bone health, brain health, balance and body awareness. It also decreases stress. 

HM: What are the key muscle groups that we use in tap dance? (4:10)

– Tibialis Anterior (dorsiflexion): in regular life you use it when walking and controlling the toes decent after a dig, for example

– Soleus: helps to keep the heels lifted and only drop when intended (helps to stand on your toes while your knees are bent).

– Glutes & Hamstrings (hips and butt): help with stability, weight distribution and placement

– Abdominals (core): keeping you solid and takes stress off of your legs

– Shoulders: if you tend to slouch or lift your shoulders while tap dancing, it tends to point to another area of weakness such as needing to improve balance.

HM: What are some tools to prevent injury? (8:35)

DO: It’s important to wear the appropriate tap shoes, #SayNoToSplitSoles. Split soles are not designed to meet the physical demands of tap dance. There is no need to articulate your feet as there is in jazz or ballet. When wearing a shoe without the proper support, the force exerted in a stamp or stomp when wearing a split-sole shoe can start to take a toll on your arches and the little muscles in the bottom of your feet. They also allow dancers to do toe stands incorrectly! When a dancer says it is easier to execute a toe stand in a split-sole tap shoe, that tells me that the dancer does not have the strength or flexibility to execute the toe stand properly without relying on the shoe. Instead of plantar flexion, or bending from your ankle, you tend to bend at your toes and rolling over your arches. Split sole shoes also affect the execution of the steps and the approach to the floor.

HM: What about high heeled tap shoes? When does a dancer know when they are ready for them and what height is safe? (12:15)

DO: There are a couple things to look for before moving into high heeled tap shoes, like the range of motion and strength in your ankles as is indicated by how the dancer walks while wearing the shoes. Can they heel toe walk, with their knees bent without their knees buckling in or feet swiveling on the floor? The higher the heel gets, the harder it is to control your movement, the stronger your calves and shins have to be to maintain a position and the harder it is to control staying on your toes and keeping your heels off of the floor unless you intend to put them down… it’s all about the sounds!

HM: Why is a sprung floor so important? (14:09)

DO: Every time your foot hits the floor there’s a force, and a sprung floor takes some of that force. The bounce takes some of the force away from your joints so all the force does not come right back up through your body. Sprung floors can be expensive, but that should be a priority! Over time it may catch up to you and cause some pain and injuries. We’re talking about long-term effects.

*If you want to keep dancing comfortably long-term, having the appropriate floor and the appropriate shoes are things that you have control over! For more information on flooring, check out Episode 007 for in-studio and Episode 013 for portable options. Anyone who is an iTapOnline family member is eligible for a 10% discount on Fasfoot Floors!

HM: Why is Marley flooring so bad for tap dancers and what does it do to the body? (17:25)

DO: Marley floor tends to “eat” the sound causing tap dancers to work harder to make the same sound. It is also stickier and has more friction than a wood floor which doesn’t allow you to slide without getting stuck. The way your aluminum tap glides on a hardwood floor does not work the same when dancing on marley, and not necessarily in a safe way. This can create some bad habits. Marley makes us work overtime!

HM: What other tools can a tap dancer have in their dance bag and at home to continue to keep them in shape? (19:00)

DO: Bandaids and Second Skin to protect your skin from blisters which can lead to an infection. A spikey ball or foam roller can help you to feel better before or after dancing. Thera bands are great for movement (pointing into it, flexing against it), but when stretching, it’s better to use something that doesn’t have the same give as a band. There’s something called the Stretch-Out Strap that is basically a long rope with handles on it that is designed for stretching without the give. If foam rolling is not the most comfortable for you, there is a tool called a Thumbby that you suction to the wall and can use for a massage without putting your whole body weight into it.

Daria is also a big proponent of dancers having healthy snacks and water in their dance bags so they can keep themselves hydrated and healthy!

You can comment in the show notes of this episode or post in the iTapOnline Community Facebook group. Please comment and share your thoughts. I always write you back!  

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