Dance Mom Survival Guide: Growing a Great Dancer Without Losing Your Mind (4 page)

BOOK: Dance Mom Survival Guide: Growing a Great Dancer Without Losing Your Mind
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And speaking of moms, what should we wear to these things? Is there a rule? A dress code? We thought we’d have some fun with this one.

Mom Attire

Twinkie Dance Moms
dress like their dancers. Sure, some may also be the choreographer or studio owner, but we see lots of dance moms who “twinkie” dress like the girls, including sparkly ribbons and matching tracksuit.

Shirt Says So Dance Moms
. If walking around with a girl in a dance costume isn’t obvious enough, your shirt, hat or jacket telling us you are a dance mom should make it clear. See – like us!

Studio Junkie Moms
. It’s nice to be supportive of the studio you are representing – team spirit! – and if you don’t want the same shirts the dancers are wearing, there may be a more conservative option for you that lets you show studio pride without looking like you’re going to leap down the lobby.

Boob Bling Moms.
We couldn’t resist pointing out the number of sparkly busts we see roaming the convention centers. We know the dancers like to add sparkle to everything, but we were surprised by the amount of bling on the headlights. We see your girls, and you know which girls we’re talking about. (Related: Booty Bling and Cap Bling)

Stiletto Moms.
These moms aren’t about to let five-inch heels slow them down. They put fashion above practicality and bring their shoe collection with them at competitions.

Come-As-You-Are Moms.
And there are mamas who look like they just rolled out of bed and barely made it on time. Some moms wait and “get ready” at the convention hall or along with their dancers in the dressing room. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

Most importantly, we want you to be happy and comfortable. If that means wearing boob bling or stilettos or comfy sweatpants, more power to you.



Chapter 4

The Healthy Dancer


How fit does my child need to be to dance?

How fit will it make her/him?

Most common dance injuries and how to prevent them.

What if my child gets hurt? Can they still dance?

What about diet and exercise outside of dance class?

How old does my child need to be to dance on Pointe?

Health and fitness is a primary concern when it involves an activity as physically intense as dance.

Dr. Jeff Russell, dance medicine and science professor and researcher at Ohio University, who has more credentials than we can shake a baton at (B.A. Sports Medicine, Rice University; M.S. Sports Medicine, University of Arizona; Ph.D. Dance Medicine & Science, University of Wolverhampton, UK, and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science) created Choreohealth, a curriculum which provides dance health information to studio owners, dancers, schools with dance programs, and parents.  The Choreohealth seminar provides to young dancers and their parents much of the same information he taught in a college course at the University of California, Irvine. All kinds of information on dance health can be found on his website Another great source for dance health information is the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science website

Dr. Russell provided us with some in-depth information that can help dance moms understand the scope of health concerns and injuries for dancers. Not to scare us, of course, but to prepare us and to help them on their journey.

Before we get to the injuries related to dancing, we think it’s important to stress how healthy dancing can be. Dancing provides amazing cardiovascular workouts as well as endurance, strength and flexibility. Our favorite online resource for calories burned by dancing is

Calories burned varies
by your dancer’s size, but according to the site, for dancers 120-190 pounds, hip hop burns 370-690 calories per hour.

Ballet can burn from 380-450 calories per hour, and it also works to improve the core, which is important for posture and strength. (Which is why football players have been known to do ballet strength exercises!)

Depending on pace, tells us tap dancing can burn approximately 316 calories per hour.


An Interview with Dr. Jeff Russell

According to Dr. Jeff Russell of Ohio University, many in the medical profession do not know how to deal with dancers, a research topic he presented at the 2012 International Association for Dance Medicine & Science Annual Meeting in Singapore.

Typically, doctors say, “Just stop dancing if it hurts.” Many doctors lack an understanding of the physical requirements of dance, so dancers get frustrated and storm out of the doctor’s office and go back to dancing and deal with the pain. Sometimes stopping is appropriate (such as with a stress fracture), and a support system is key at this point.


What injuries are dancers most susceptible to?

Dancers are most susceptible to lower extremity injuries. The most common injuries are ankle sprains, and overuse injuries (especially in the feet) such as tendon pains (flexor
hallucis longus and Achilles’) and stress fractures in the feet. Dancers can also experience knee pain under the kneecap and snapping hips. Sometimes discomfort is not a big deal, but when there is pain it can be a big deal and needs to be looked after.


What symptoms should parents be looking for?

Pain – a signal in the body that tells the dancer there is something going on that needs attention. “Dancing through pain” never works.

The difference between discomfort and pain is critical. When discomfort turns into pain then something needs to be done. A qualified professional needs to look at the injury. This is difficult because dancers (high-school and upward) often wear a badge of courage and endure the pain.

Parents should teach young dancers to know it is okay to alert others when they are in pain. When problems arise things can actually be done to help with the pain and enable the dancer to improve.


Ways to Avoid Injury

“What we tell the dancers is you need to be engaging in physical training in addition to your technical training. There is always such an emphasis on technical training. What is dance? It is a beautiful art form, and you get better at it by doing it again and again and again. Unfortunately, that much repetition causes the body to break down, and the body is not able to withstand the demands that you are putting on it.”

“If you would spend a little bit of the time you are spending on technical training and instead spend it on physical training, on strengthening, on musculoskeletal endurance, on cardiovascular endurance, then actually the body works better, and the technical aspects of the dance become a whole lot better.”

“Your body as a tuned machine, if you will, is able to perform at a higher level and do the things that you want it to do aesthetically because you are in better physical condition in addition to technical condition. It is definitely important for dancers to engage in cross training.”

We’re piping in here to add that this is why good dance studios spend a good portion of the class on warm-ups, stretches and exercises. If your dancer is getting good workouts outside of dance class they’ll have the physical endurance and stretching required in dance. The 20-minutes of cardio rule for every day they aren’t in class is a baseline that could help you set up a physical fitness regiment for them outside of class. They’ll be that much more ahead. Some young dance stars spend as much as two hours a day stretching before they begin their routines. Wow!

Is there an age that is too early to start dancing?

“Early on, dancing needs to be fun. Little kids need to just have fun with it and enjoy it so that they are not burned out on it when they get older. But as they progress, what you need are people who are wise about what they are doing with their dancers. When
 you put a dancer on Pointe and she’s not strong enough and her skeleton cannot support her, you’re asking for a lot of trouble. You can’t just say, ‘It’s an age thing.’ If you start them too early there can be a problem because the strength that is most important is not there. In addition, bones are trying to grow and growth plates are trying to close; if you don’t have the strength to support the feet and the ankles and the legs, you are going to end up with a real problem. There are a number of cases where dancers have had to quit Pointe altogether because they started too early and were injured.”

Note: Dr. Russell does a pre-Pointe evaluation, which evaluates strength, range of motion, and amount of time spent dancing. He won’t even consider someone before they are at least 11-years-old, but once a dancer reaches age
11, she must be evaluated on a variety of factors that are related to successful Pointe work.


Time in class. Limit time per day?

“There is no easy answer. There are a lot of factors to consider, but, as a rule of thumb, if a dancer is going more than 3 hours a day, he/she may need to think about backing off a bit. There are more important things than dance, namely family and school.” Dr. Russell takes a “whole-person” view of wellness and life activities, but it’s an individual question for families. “Physically, more than three hours a day can wear a person out and you have to have rest, sleep, eat well and drink lots of water.”


Diet and Nutrition

Good quality nutrition is important for all of us, but it’s especially important to make sure our dancers are eating healthily. Instead of simple carbs, dancers need complex carbs. Dr. Russell recommends restricting white potatoes, pasta, rice, and especially sugar.  Simple carbs aren’t good for fuel or weight control, and they turn on molecular and genetic keys that addict people to simple carbs. Several smaller, high quality meals throughout the day are better than the typical three (or sometimes fewer) daily meals.  In the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, nuts and raisins or other dried fruit (not trail mix with M&M’s) is a good choice.  Dancers also need plenty of protein. (Also visit for our Dance Forever Mix. You’ll want to eat it, too!)

Water – 500 ml (down a half dozen of these a day)

Fruits and veggies

A good breakfast (whole grain), mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack (nuts, dried fruit, but not a lot of dried fruit b/c of sugar)

PBJ is not too bad because of the peanut butter’s protein, but the sugar content is high. Use whole-grain bread and natural peanut butter without added sugar.

Read labels because so many foods are loaded with sugar and other
undesirable  ingredients. Note that foods labeled “healthy” do not necessarily contain healthy ingredients. It is critical for dancers and dance parents to be good nutrition consumers.

Parents need to take a leadership role.

Dr. Russell suggests a sample script for parents regarding their child’s healthy eating: “We’re eating this. When you get hungry enough, I’m sure you’ll learn to like it. This is good for you, and it will fuel your body for the activity that you love to do.”

“If nutrition is right, so many other things go right -- weight, brain function, relationships, and school work. So much hinges on nutrition.”

Foods or drinks may appear to be healthy, but have hidden sugars. Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s website at He’s a functional-medicine physician in Boston who helps people through nutrition and has even changed the diabetic state of patients through healthy eating. Dr. Hyman also has an emergency food pack that may give beneficial ideas for dancers and dance parents who are committed to good health.


Advice from a Dance Professor

Dance professor Kathleen
Redwine who teaches at the University of Oklahoma gave this advice. “Dancers need to take care of themselves, on many levels. Physically, the basics are very important: stay hydrated, eat healthy foods in healthy amounts and get enough rest. Other exercise is also important, like walking, yoga, pilates, and so on.  Staying positive and happy helps a lot, and that’s where moms and dads can offer so much support.”

Dance instructor Gretchen adds that her favorite health/fitness product for dancers for resistance training is
Therabands also known as Resistabands. “They are stretchy bands of rubber of various densities that are a great tool for resistance training.  I love to use them in my classes!” says Gretchen.

BOOK: Dance Mom Survival Guide: Growing a Great Dancer Without Losing Your Mind
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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