Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dance and the Aging Body

As we age, how can we adapt our bodies to keep dancing?

Some of the greatest dancers in all genres have learned to adapt their bodies as they pursue their craft over a lifetime. It's only natural to do so. Every day we grow older. When it comes to our muscles and bones; we deal with atrophy, reduced mass, and longer recovery times after injury. Hip hop dance is one of the few genres where the original generation have been doing it for about thirty-something years. Most likely, they're in their 40s or 50s. This hip hop generation is still young enough to not have experienced the onset of advanced age. What will it be like in ten to twenty years when they're older? How can the younger generation take better care of their bodies with some foresight?

To adapt our bodies, we'll have to draw from many sources. First, we can learn a lot from our doctors and physical therapists. The state of healthcare is a controversial issue nowadays. But that only underlies the great importance of health in our national population. Physical therapists can teach us a lot about our bodies, muscle and bone structures, and ways to strengthen ourselves. They can inform our training. Therapists can guide us to watch out for high-impact movements in bboying that might take their toll on our wrists, ankles, and knees. They can inform us of daily exercises we can perform to increase our muscle flexibility in popping without tearing ourselves apart. Ballet dancers are aware of this so why aren't we? Our regular training regimen should include these exercises to protect our bodies along with the development of our muscle memory. Sometimes we get caught up in the exhilaration of performing a routine but then forget about protecting our bodies for the long-term.

Long-term thinking needs to be on our minds. As a second crucial step, our doctors can play a role in helping us to learn more about our bodies over time. Dancers should understand the human anatomy. Maybe we all should have a crash course in anatomy for starters. If professional athletes have on-staff physicians to help them train, then we should foster more collaboration between dancers and doctors. Doctors will gain more knowledge about how our specific movements and training regimen develop the body over time. And we as dancers will have the medical support needed to give us more longevity. Currently, there's little financial support for this kind of relationship, but it would be powerful to start a medical movement towards such an initiative. More formalized research studies on the effects of hip hop dancing on the human body would be eye-opening. Perhaps this will come from individuals branching out from the field of sports medicine. It just takes a few serious efforts to bring greater information to our community.

Finally, as a diet-crazy nation, we can embrace stronger measures in what we take into our bodies. Whether it's food or drink, maintaining a healthy diet for a lifetime seems to be one of the strongest strategies we can employ. Along with this concern comes the need for mental and emotional well-being, which can affect any dancer. When we're stressed out, it's easier to get injured. We make shortcuts and pay the consequences for it. Our diets can also waver with our emotional states. So attention paid to our diets and well-being should be on every dancer's mind. Medical expertise should play a role in this as we build stronger relationships with our doctors and physical therapists.

Perhaps we can also look at cultures outside of ourselves and ponder how their aging population maintained their health. Whether it's through the practice of Tai Chi or yoga or the embracing of an organic lifestyle, finding solutions for the aging dancer is going to be a growing field of study. There are no easy answers in the short term. But if we start looking for answers, or even just good ideas, we can lay the groundwork for the next generation.

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