Safe Dancing Tips

Middle Eastern Dance is very safe if done correctly.

However, there are some traps for dancers either working on their own or whose teachers may not be fully informed or trained.

Here are some general considerations:

I am not a physio. But over the years I have gathered knowledge from a number of physiotherapists in Australia who have specific knowledge of Middle Eastern Dance. In 2000 I was looking at over nine pages of notes which consolidated and expanded the previous three years work. I am not a physio. But in the land of the blind I suspect 20 hours training gives me some knowledge that is worth passing on.

[Since originally writing this in November 2000, I have continued working with physios - clocking up over 100 hours of small group training and achieved a high distnction in KDB198 (Safe Dance Practices) with QUT.]

Here goes; some pointers. Realistically you need hands on experience from someone who knows what they are doing to learn how to assess students' needs and to teach the required exercises in the correct manner. I am hoping every little drop of information, however, will make our dance safer and more enjoyable.

If any thing I feel even more strongly that teachers and dancers need to take this seriously.]

Warm up before stretching. Stretching is not a warm up. Stretching is not a warm up. Stretching is not a warm up. A warm up should raise the pulse rate and get blood flowing into the major muscle groups. Stretch a warm body muscles first, then joints, and only then nerves.

Target the problem if the problem is tight hamstrings then stretch just the hamstrings. Complex stretches are unlikely to be effective as the target area may not be stretched due to blockage in a tighter area or if the rest is flexible they'll do what they do best stretch - and the tight bit will stay tight.

The body cheats if you ask it to do something it usually tries the easiest way. For instance if you have poor rotation in the upper back, then you may still appear to be doing the move with the twist but now you are doing it with your lower back. This can cause pain and injury.

Range and Control for each part of the body one needs to examine both a dancer's range and control. It is usually clear when a student lacks flexibility. It is also obvious that such a student will be unable to do many of the moves required of them or will try, and as a result, injure themselves. What is sometimes overlooked is that flexibility without control is also asking for injury in the long run. Some students will need stretching, some strength and control, some both.

It takes time some people are not ready for some exercises. You need to build the basics first or find another exercise that achieves the same end while taking the student's current condition into account.

You cannot stretch in one class a week even if you spend the whole hour stretching. Stretching (and strength and control work) needs to be continued by the student at home if they want to improve.

Bell Curve each person's range of motion and control (for a particular area) fits on a bell curve. Most are much of a muchness. Some are very poor. Some are outstanding. One of our aims as teachers is to move our students to the 'better' end of the curve. But we are limited not only by the student's willingness and ability to work on problem areas but also their underlying physique.

In the same way, what some students (or teachers) can do safely may cause pain or injury in another student. We are not all the same.

Posture the first piece of information teachers can use to predict potential student problem areas is posture. How does the student stand out of class? That is what position is the body most often in?

If the student has lordosis, where they stand with the belly pushed forward and the pelvis tilted back, you can expect tight hip flexors and back muscles. Further their abs are long even when they are 'relaxed'. It will take a lot more work for such a student to strengthen their abs than one with a more neutral posture.

A student with a sway back (the lean back nothing to fill the jeans look) will have little if any glut muscle.

Those with desk jobs are likely to have poor ab strength and poor upper thoracic extension.

An easy one to check ab control is to get them to lift one leg off the floor. Can they do it without throwing their weight over to the other hip.

Watch how a move is executed - great back bend by where does it 'bend' if there is a sharp bend rather than a constant gentle curve there is going to be problems.

Some moves are not suitable for beginners much of our work requires ab control to protect the back backbends, undulations for example; veil work and snake arms need thoracic extension. Many students will get away with such moves due to age or luck for a period of time. But the constant repetition, increasing speed and ageing will get most of them. Problem is, it is hard to back fit safety into a move you have already 'got'.

As a rule of thumb, expect 12 months training for a motivated untrained person to be ready to think about undulations or back bends. Some people will never be able to do them safely.

No pain does not mean no damage repetition of an incorrect move can also cause damage over a period of time. (For a discussion on toe-touching click here)

Make it unconscious you haven't 'got it' until you do not have to think about it. You cannot be thinking about firing abs while doing an undulation and arm work. If you still need to consciously think about engaging your abs you are not ready for the next stage.

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