Obviously, we at SiDI use those terms all the time, but what are we actually talking about? Are we the health and safety police? Do we want to spoil dancers’ fun? Do we want to stop people taking artistic and creative risk? Definitely not!
Lots of people think of “health and safety” as a set of policies that are put in place to protect workers – necessary but also maybe restrictive and stifling. But healthy and safe dance practice is so much more than industry rules and regulations. It’s the best way to reduce injury risk and to enhance performance.
There’s no getting round the fact that dancers get injured. Injury rates are high in our profession. So what can we do to minimise the risk of becoming injured without limiting the scope of what we want to do as creative, imaginative beings? How can we apply new knowledge to optimise performance and help dancers get the most out of their dancing? In the 21st century, there is now the research potential and the technology to move beyond tradition and thoroughly interrogate how we dance, looking at more effective ways to approach learning and practice.
This isn’t just about making sure that we have a safe, warm space to work in with a good, supportive floor and knowing where the first aid kit and the fire exits can be found. The principles of safe practice are more substantial than these simple fundamentals. They deal with the interplay of environmental, physical, and psychological factors that can have an impact on how effective our dancing can be and should be applied to all dance styles, all levels of ability or participation, and all age groups.
We can benefit from the greater understanding of different dancing bodies and how the needs of dancers change with their development, level of participation and the stylistic demands of an ever-growing range of genres.
If our own postural anomalies, or changes due to the specific demands of our dance style, result in deviations from anatomically effective alignment, we need to recognise this and address any possible negative effects.
We now know more about physiologically effective ways to warm-up and cool down, when and how best to stretch to recover and improve flexibility, and how to support our bodies with proper nutrition and hydration.
By understanding how to structure dance sessions from a physiological perspective, we can enhance dancers’ learning and experience, making it not only safer but more productive.
Communicating effectively will help to nurture a positive environment so that all dancers are respected and safeguards can be put in place.
Finally, those health and safety guidelines are important to protect people, including knowing how to prepare the environment in which we dance and to mediate risk with injury documentation and insurance.
The more we know about safe and healthy practice, the more we’ll know about how the body (and mind) works, understand how much to push, be aware of why and how we need to recover and ultimately promote enjoyment, satisfaction and longevity in dancing.
By considering safe and health dance practice principles, we will be able to:
- take into account the specific needs of different groups of dancing bodies
- include a physiologically sound warm-up and cool down in our practice
- recognise good functional alignment appropriate to our specific dance style and be able to strive towards it without pushing beyond individual capacity
- understand why, when and how the different types of stretching can be used productively
- encourage fit, well-nourished and healthy bodies that are ready to dance
- balance workload and rest in our classes, rehearsal and schedules
- foster mutually respectful relationships between dancers and dance leaders, using clear communication to ensure instruction and feedback is framed positively and appropriately.