When you work with young dancers, you are probably used to the usual complaints of popping hips and sore muscles. Dance teachers hear about it on the regular and rightly so. We want our dancers to verbalize, with full transparency when something feels amiss and/or they are in pain. The question is, how we teach our dancers to recognize the difference (on their own bodies) between pain/injury and discomfort.
I preface this by saying that dance teachers should never be dismissive of a dancer communicating something, whether it be physical, mentally or emotionally going on. However, dancers do need to recognize when something is really wrong and when something is just uncomfortable. This takes practice and somatic awareness. This is another lesson we should be imparting to our young dancers, so they develop their own intuitive sense.
Recognition can be kept very simple - until further evaluated by a physician. Speaking specifically of physical pain- it is usually something that prevents us from dancing- a broken bone, a torn muscle, often a clearly visible change, etc. It might even stop the dancer in their tracks and is obvious and cannot go unnoticed. It persists. Pain can also certainly persist over time. It can also prevent the dancer from dancing fully and is noticeable, chronic and undeniable.
Discomfort is a little trickier to explain to a dancer without it seeming dismissive, which we never want to be. But, it may be something a dancer can in fact work through. Is it a sore muscle from yesterday’s challenging class? Is it a new sensation because you’re using muscles in a correct way you’ve recently discovered? Is it a growth spurt? A bruise? Do you need to increase your stretching? Your strength? Is it anatomical makeup? Something that you need to learn to adapt your own body to and make necessary adjustments? Is it something that subsides with ice, heat, rest, etc.?
Here is another difference- sometimes working through mild-moderate discomfort is necessary to propel us to the next level, when done safely and accurately. Working in pain, however is never necessary or suggested. This is something we can teach our dancers over time. The more keen their awareness becomes, the more apt they are to safely monitor and assess themselves. This also goes for their mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Safety first, dance teachers.
See you in the dance studio,
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