Tap Dance Injuries

Published on March 7th 2019 by Hillary-Marie

Today we are talking about a dirty word: Injuries! I’ll be telling you about injuries I’ve experienced, how they’ve affected my work, and the changes I’ve made in my lifestyle to prevent injuries.

Injuries I’ve faced: (2:10)

Injuries are an unfortunate but very real part of the tap dancer’s journey. My previous injuries include a swollen rotator cuff, dropped bone in my foot, IT Band Syndrome, and a herniated disc. 

My first injury was the herniated disc, suffered while swing dancing one night. I was fortunate enough to find a Sports Injury Facility that offered chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy and acupuncture. They worked with me to create a rehabilitation schedule that suited the needs of my injury and the need of my career. 

This facility was my lifeline for the years that I lived in New York City, especially because I was getting injured every year in July. It wasn’t a coincidence that I was finding myself injured at the same time every year. Our dance season in the NorthEast part of the United States runs September through June and Summer is its own type of season. I was running non-stop, year after year, never giving myself a break. I never gave myself a good warm-up or cool down, always carried a heavy backpack, didn’t wear good sneakers and danced 7 days a week nonstop! My lifestyle was a big invitation for injuries to infiltrate my life and take over. 

So there I was, back in the Sports Injury Facility, where my chiropractor told me, “for every hour you dance, is another hour you need to sit and rest and do nothing!” As dancers we have been raised to think that for every hour you are not practicing, someone else is, and they are getting better than you! And this guy was telling me to sit on the couch and chill? I couldn’t believe it!

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I decided to learn the art of relaxation and preventative care. Like any new habit, it took time to develop and become part of my life’s routine. Since learning this lesson, I have made a large number of changes over the years that have set me on a pain-free, injury-free path.

Preventative/Healthy Changes I’ve Made to my Life: (9:26)

  1. I only dance on sprung wood floors (check out Episode 007 and Episode 013 for my recommendations on in-studio and portable floors!)
  2. I do a proper warm-up in every single class and warm myself up before every rehearsal and performance (visit the 10+ Free Tap Dance Resources page for FREE Progressive Warm-ups). 
  3. I stretch both during and after every rehearsal, class, jam, and performance.
  4. I only wear supportive sneakers. All the time.
  5. I receive routine chiropractic adjustments. 
  6. I get a massage every two weeks. I will also book additional massages for when I fly on an airplane, or after an intense rehearsal or performance schedule that has me working harder than normal.
  7. I go to PT, and continue regularly doing my exercises! (This was a hard one for me to learn)
  8. I have a very healthy diet.
  9. I love to sleep! 8-10 hours a night. 
  10. I shed my technique regularly to keep strong. 
  11. I cross-train with Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  12. The most important change I have made is listening to my body and giving it what it needs, especially when what it is asking for is a break!

After an Injury: (14:30)

Of course accidents and injuries happen, but when they do, I don’t delay. I immediately seek care so that I can get the healing process started right away. 

If you are injured, you are not alone, you don’t have to be ashamed of it, and you don’t have to buck up, push through and ignore the pain. The pain is real and you need to seek care when you need to seek care. 

I know that insurance and money are big issues for a lot of dancers. I built a personal relationship with my chiropractor who sees me for a flat cash fee per visit. I pay out of pocket for my acupuncturist and my massages. I have a certain group of Physical Therapy doctors that I see when I have health insurance coverage that allows it, and another group that accepts a flat cash payment when my insurance doesn’t allow. As you search for healthcare, be open and honest with your doctors and see who is willing to work with you. There are so many doctors and healers out there who truly live their lives to help provide care to those who need it. I am certain that you can find someone to work with you and your finances if you are truly in a time of need.

Finances aside… Many of the lifestyle changes I mentioned do not require money. Warm-up, cool down, get enough sleep, hydrate and fuel your body properly. Those things are free! If you are a professional tap dancer, there are no excuses. Find the money and find the money. If you skip Starbucks and put that money into your savings account: $6 for coffee and a bagel 4 days a week for 52 weeks is over $1200 in savings.

Hazards of Not Practicing Good Body Maintenance: (17:00)

By not caring for yourself in the long run, it will cost you more money to surgically repair whatever damage you’ve done to yourself by ignoring and pushing through your injuries. You may also lose money by having to cancel gigs while you’re injured and unable to fulfil your contract because you weren’t practicing good body maintenance. Or you will lose future work because you weren’t able to function at your highest capacity while you were injured.

Don’t think of it as spending, think of it as investing in preventative care. Take care of yourself and your instrument. Tap dance is such a physically demanding art form. We stand for hours on end, beat the hell out of our bodies, get on airplanes and sit hunched over at the computer. Our body is our instrument, and considering we only get one in this lifetime, the best thing that we can do is take care of it to our greatest ability. 

Announcement: (18:15)

Next week’s podcast is going to be an interview with a Physical Therapist, who is also a tap dancer! This is the ultimate person to answer our very curious questions, someone who has a solid understanding of our art form and the human body, and I’m really looking forward to sharing this conversation with you!

I Want to Hear from You! (18:44)

Are you currently maintaining your instruments to the best of your ability? Have you ever had an injury? What did your recovery entail? What have you been doing to stay healthy, or are you one of the lucky ones who has never been injured before? 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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