You don’t have to be a ballet aficionado to recognize the discipline, strength, agility, and grace of a ballet dancer. Ballet dancers are artists and athletes. Like the greatest classical musicians, they spend their entire careers mastering the instrument that is their body. Like the most elite gymnasts, they never stop training and strengthening their bodies to perform acrobatic, gravity-defying, precise, and unbelievably beautiful athletic feats.
Ballet’s roots date back to the 15th century, when the Italian court hosted extravagant parties featuring music and dancing. In the 16th century, Italian Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France and brought the tradition with her; the French court’s festivals were legendary. A century later, King Louis XIV’s love of ballet helped it grow into a popular art form. By the 1800s, ballet had moved to the stage. As romantic ballets were created, dancing on the tips of the toes became the standard for ballerinas. Dancers started wearing tutus to showcase the complexity and footwork required.
Ballet is the most technically demanding discipline in dance. Superior physical conditioning and excellent technique can help prevent injuries; however, research shows that professional ballet dancers get hurt as seriously and as often as elite athletes in contact sports. The competition they face within their work environment adds to their physical stress. Those that struggle with maintaining a trim physique can develop eating disorders that further weaken bones and muscles.
Most ballet dancers have trained since they were children, especially the girls.
By their teens, they are undergoing progressive training that builds into hundreds of hours of executing repetitive moves. Dancing “en pointe” - on the tips of their toes – requires using and reusing muscles that strain from toes to back, as well as carrying the load of the dancer’s weight. 65-80 percent of all dancer injuries are lower-extremity. Ankle sprain is the most common; it usually happens from the landing after a jump. Like a gymnast, a ballet dancer cannot perform without complete ankle stability.
Ballet dancers suffer a score of other chronic overuse problems, like tendonitis, metatarsalgia, sesamoiditis, plantar fasciitis, ankle impingement, stress fractures, bunions, and degenerative arthritis. 70 percent of male dancers’ injuries are to the back and shoulder, caused by lifting their ballerina co-stars. There are so many injuries, in fact, that dance medicine is becoming a niche specialty.
Many other factors contribute to ballet dancers’ potentially career-ending injuries:
Dance surface - ballet dancers train and perform on hardwood surfaces
Training regimen – Practice is brutal, with a routine of 2-3 classes per day, 5 days per week, of barre work, floor exercises, technique, and role rehearsals
Footwear - ballet slippers and toe shoes break down quickly; the lack of support contributes to foot problems and injury
We should never underestimate what it takes to be a professional ballerina.
Their artistry and supreme athleticism are the result of years of hard work; they endure acute and chronic injuries. Seeking the proper medical care can keep them healthier and limit future disabilities.
Dr. O and her team at Podiatry Associates PC have been treating athletes for 25 years. Visit footdoctorscolorado.com or call 303-805-5156 for an appointment at our Aurora, Parker, Castle Pines, or Cherry Creek office.