It is observed that studies on health, fitness, and injuries of dancers are conducted mainly on professional adult dancers especially dancers from the western countries, pursuing western dance forms like Ballet, Jazz and Contemporary Dance. Data on adolescent dancers, from South Asian countries like India, pursuing Indian classical dance, is in dearth.
I have been teaching dance to female students of age 7 years and above for last 25 years. It has always been a pleasure to teach this age group which is full of innocence, energy, excitement and enthusiasm. Also over the period I realized various challenges involved in dance training for this age bracket which is addressed as ‘Adolescence’.
‘Adolescence’ is defined by WHO (World Health Organization) as a period of human growth and development after the childhood and before the adulthood i.e. from age 10 to 19. This is considered as the second complex transition period of human life span after the infancy involving fast pace of growth and change. This growth is marked by many aspects of biological processes including puberty playing major role in connecting childhood to adulthood. Along with physical and sexual maturation, many experience mental health and behavioral problems during this period. The support and appropriate intervention of the family, school, and community becomes vital to make this transition successful.
With this background I would like to draw attention to dance training scenario in India. Generally students join dance classes as a hobby at a young age. There could be few exceptions though. It is also observed that many a time’s parents are keen on training their children into classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam or Kathak for various reasons. In the urban spaces like Pune or Mumbai students undergo lot of physical as well as psychological pressure while maintaining balance between the academic education and co-curricular activities due to traffic issues, long distances, pollution and fast pace of life. In such situation, pursuing classical dance which involves a rigorous physical activity becomes tough for an adolescent dancer.
A paper produced by IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine and Science)Education Committee clearly states following areas of problems faced by adolescent dancers –
It is necessary to understand what physiological changes exactly take place during this period. They are as followed:
Due to above changes in body there could be an overall decrease in technical skill and control of the young dancer.
According to studies, injuries occur when the adolescent dancers increase the rigor in training. Most of the times the problems surfaces when dancer starts engaging with more intensity into the dance practice than before. The adolescent growth usually happens between the ages of 11 – 14 years and can last up to 18 to 24 months. It occurs differently with different individuals. Studies conducted in this regard divides the injuries in to four broad categories i.e. knee, foot/ankle, back and other injuries.
Dramatic hormonal changes and decrease in ability to dance can put a young dancer into emotional stress. This situation naturally affects the adolescent dancer psychologically. She is then not able to perform at par with other dancers in the class. No longer is she able to execute the part of technique efficiently that she was able to execute comfortably prior to these changes. This leads to decrease in confidence and low self esteem. Providing psychological support is necessary by the teacher and the family. She should be informed that this situation is just a temporary phase which would end when the growth would be complete.
It is observed that dancers assume low body weight or slender shape of body as the prerequisite of successful career as a dancer. This notion can lead to disordered eating habits causing loss of energy, loss of bone density and absence of menstruation. Malnutrition due to lack of awareness and eating disorders in adolescent dancers can have long lasting effects also affecting their dance career. Therefore adolescent dancers should be educated about healthy eating habits.
It is necessary to create awareness at various levels regarding challenges faced by adolescent dancers. Awareness among parents regarding level of physical activity involved in the young dancer’s dance, fitness and nutritional requirements would be necessary. It is also necessary to pay attention towards health problems occurred, if any, to maintain continuity in his/her dance training during adolescent phase. Dancers and parents should not hesitate to seek medical care at any point required.
Dance instructors with knowledge of anatomy, physiology and with awareness regarding different requirements of Adolescent students can ably guide vulnerable students through this transition phase. It is recommended to avoid overtraining at this phase where bones have grown but not the muscles to provide enough support to the joints and bones. It is important to avoid or minimize injuries at this point which can further affect the pursuance of dance and morale of a student. A well informed dance teacher can accommodate adolescent students in the class using alternate ways. It will be appropriate to reduce rigor, jumps and increase basic skill development, attention to the theoretical understanding.
Thus, adolescent dancers should be explained about the changes that occur physiologically and psychologically. It is beneficial once they accept the changes and cope with it with trust to regain their original capacity once the growth period is over.
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