Adult ballet: injury risks and reality checks

When  I took up ballet as an adult and as a beginner there was a common protest from my friends:

You’ll wreck your body.

Ballet has developed a reputation, deserved or otherwise, of being an injury-prone activity. We accept this blindly without taking into account who is being injured and how.

A recent article in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, barely more than 100 words in length, carried the headline “Ballet hazards high.”

The headline alone invites justification of pre-determined perceptions of ballet.

 “New research from Sports Medicine Australia has found young dancers are at a higher risk of injury than other athletes, with 75 per cent risk.”

That’s a worrying statistic – but read on.

In a quote from the study’s researcher, Monash University’s Christina Ekegren, we learn more about the who, rather than the what, they were studying,

“We found that the majority of the dancers monitored danced six days per week, with each participant dancing an average of 30 hours per week.

This was on top of their normal school work.”

The sample is a very specific demographic.

In fact, as Christina Ekegren tells the ABC, the dancers they looked at were between the ages of 16 and 18 years of age and were at a pre-professional level of dance; studying at the Royal Ballet School, the Central School of Ballet or the English National Ballet School.

When asked if her findings could be extrapolated to the adult beginner demographic, Christina Ekegren says no.

“Í don’t think my results could be generalised to the population you’re interested in,” she explains. “many of the dancers’ injuries were the result of overuse due to high training loads.”

As previously mentioned, the dancers are aspiring professionals who were dancing an average of 30 hours per week and doing school work on top of that. Christina Ekegren also notes to the ABC that there are also potentially getting less sleep than necessary.

“Relative to the number of hours that they’re dancing, the injury rate is actually quite low,” she says. ” The activity itself is quite low risk but what makes it high risk is the fact that they’re dancing for so many hours.”

When it comes to adult beginner ballet classes taken for fun, fitness or even fashion, it would be the exception to dance more than a few hours per week. If you were to dance every ballet class at my studio, you’d only be dancing five and a half hours per week.

Yes, injuries are possible in any physical activity – whether from poor technique, lack of warm up, exerting yourself beyond your capability, or otherwise.

Netball, one of the most popular sports in Australia can lead to broken fingers and even has an injury with its name on it: netball knee.

Likewise, tennis elbow. But would your friends show concern for your new-found interest in tennis or netball?

Pre-existing concerns about ballet-related injuries generally assume a professional, or a pre-professional dancer, but when taking into account sensible measures, there’s no reason adult beginner ballet should be particularly dangerous.

If you select a studio that uses qualified teachers, follow the instructions given and dance to your own level, then there is no reason to fear embracing a new pastime.

This post was originally published here.

The Nouns and Adjectives of Adult Ballet



A female ballet dancer.

Origin: late 18th century: from Italian, feminine of ballerino ‘dancing master’, from ballare ‘to dance’, from late Latin.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if you are a female who dances ballet you are a ballerina. Yet for so long I would protest when my boyfriend called me a ballerina. For two years I would make excuses as to why I wasn’t a ballerina.

Ballerinas are women like Lucinda Dunn and Darcey Bussell. Ballerinas are at the top of their art. Ballerinas started dancing as a child and now as an adult they perform with a company, or are in a school. They have buns in their hair and tights on their legs. They don’t stumble around in football shorts and Bonds singlets. They’re not people in their late 20s who slipped on their first pair of ballet shoes two years previously.

But it says it right there in the OED: a ballerina is a female ballet dancer. A noun for a woman who dances ballet. I’m a woman who dances ballet: I’m a ballerina.

I am a ballerina.

I may be a beginner ballerina or an adult ballerina but I am still a ballerina.

The adjective may change but the noun does not. An aspiring ballerina can become a prima ballerina and finally a retired ballerina. A beginner ballerina can become an intermediate ballerina, maybe even an advanced ballerina. ‘Ballerina’ is the constant.

By choosing to adopt ballerina as the noun, as the core identity, you are free to modify the adjective in front of it.

You are also able to accept or reject the adjectives others place in front of it. A ‘terrible ballerina’ is still a ballerina. And you can elect to change that ‘terrible’ into whatever you choose, whether through words or hard work.

The tendency to put ourselves down, for whatever reason, can hold us back. If we insist that we aren’t ballerinas because of pre-conceived notions of who or what a ballerina is, then we can prevent ourselves from progressing. If we don’t embrace the noun, the identity, ‘ballerina’ then we can’t change the adjective in front of it.

It’s awkward and lacks an identity to refer to yourself as ‘just someone who does adult ballet.’ And it lacks self confidence. Self confidence we need to grow and improve.

In accepting that as a woman who dances ballet you are a ballerina, the same noun that is used by women on stage, you raise your self esteem. The difference between you and the people you look up to becomes only the adjective.

Yes, the adjectives differ greatly but you still share the noun. No matter how negative that adjective is, you still have the noun to hold onto. You still have the noun to turn to when you’re struggling with older, inflexible joints at the barre. You can aspire to change that adjective as you progress in your classes.

Maybe you already call yourself an adult ballerina. The noun is already there so just play around with the adjective from time to time.

Embrace the noun. Accept it as the default identity. Change the adjective to suit the moment.

Go from a beginner ballerina to a better ballerina. Be a ballerina.