David Mead looks at Dancer Wellness, a new book edited by Mary Virginia Wilmerding and Donna Krasnow that helps dancers learn and apply important wellness concepts, and in doing so get more out of the dance experience.
It is undoubtedly true that today’s dancers, at whatever level, are more knowledgeable and more inquisitive about how to look after their bodies. They ask questions, not only about their health, but about the floors they dance on, the spaces they dance in, what complementary activities might benefit their dance, the clothes they wear, and much, much more.
‘Wellness’ is a bit of an in-vogue term these days, but what exactly does it mean. Dancer Wellness editors Mary Virginia Wilmerding, a former professional dancer and now research professor on both the exercise science and dance programmes at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and Donna Krasnow, professor emeritus in the Department of Dance at York University, Toronto and specialist in dance kinesiology, and injury prevention and care, sum it up rather neatly by saying that it’s “the state of being healthy in both mind and body through conscious and intentional choices and efforts.” It’s multidimensional and holistic, and includes lifestyle and spiritual aspects. That takes it way beyond mere health, “the general condition of both the body and mind in terms of vitality, energy, and ability to adapt to challenges,” although that is part of it, of course.
The editors divide dancer wellness into three main areas, each served by three chapters, each well set out, with learning objectives clearly defined at the beginning. Typical of Human Kinetics books, each is also clearly set out with subheadings signposting topics and easy to read with plenty of relevant illustrations and diagrams along the way. Teachers and students will no doubt find the review questions at the end most useful as a way of recalling what has been learned.
The opening three chapters explore the foundations of dancer wellness including the physical environment, dance training and technique, and the science behind them, and cross-training and conditioning. Next, the chapters on mental components of dancer wellness look at the psychological aspects of training: imagery, somatic practices, and the way rest, fatigue, and burnout all affect learning and technique, risk of injury and recovery. The third section looks at the physical aspects of dancer wellness, including nutrition and the challenges that many dancers face in maintaining good eating and drinking habits, bone health and injury prevention. A fourth section looks at assessing dancer wellness and the design of personal wellness plans, including ways of assessing abilities, and offering guidance establishing goals and dancer screening programmes.
Throughout, the authors, all experts in their fields, neatly straddle the theoretical and the practical. They never make the former too complex or overly difficult to grasp and always keep an eye on making them relevant to dancers’ daily practice, which after all is what most are interested in.
Sidebars within each chapter focus on self-awareness, empowerment, goal setting, and diversity in dance. Self-awareness is the ability for introspection and the skill to recognize oneself as an individual separate from others. Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of independence and self-determination in your life in order to enable you to support your interests in a responsible and self-determined way. Goal setting is an important method of deciding what you want to achieve in your life, determining what is important versus what is a distraction, and learning how to motivate yourself. Diversity is the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, and even personalities. Each of the sidebars provides activities that you can do as you read the book to help you develop personal approaches to the material.
The editors claim the book is for dancers in any setting and at any level, from local dance studios through high schools, colleges and universities to dance companies. Meeting the needs of such disparate groups is difficult, however, and while is true that anyone interested in dancer health and wellness is likely to find the book interesting, it is really a textbook for college and university students.
Some of the statements are extremely basic, although sometimes the obvious does need stating. Even so, I would hope that no experienced dancer needs telling that, “Shoes and costumes can greatly influence the way a dancer moves” or that, “Footwear and clothing both have the potential to influence dance performance and dancer health,” although with dancewear being ever more fashion-oriented, perhaps some things do need flagging up. Having said that, there are topics that will provide new information or food for thought for company dancers, or even more experienced adult recreational dancers. For example, although dancers comment frequently about how well a floor is sprung (or not), how many really know what they are talking about or how a properly sprung floor is actually constructed? Not as many as think they do, I suggest.
There are places where it can be argued the advice is a little too general. Although they note adjustable barres are best, the statement that, “As a general guide, adults require a 42-inch (106.7-cm) barre height and children require a 36-inch (91.4-cm) height,” is far too ‘one size fits all’. Children especially, even of the same age, come in many different heights, and need different height barres. When discussing pointe shoes, there is no mention that many are now made using modern materials and methods. Such shoes have many benefits, but there are dangers for some too. But Dancer Wellness is a starting point and should be taken as such. There is a wealth of further information on every topic covered. Fortunately, the book comes with an excellent reference and resource list.
It would also have been good to see more debunking of myths or commonly believed fallacies, of which dance has plenty. Unfortunately, it only really happens at the end of Chapter 3, when some of those relating to conditioning are noted.
More and more textbooks are coming with ancillary on-line resources and Dancer Wellness is no different. An instructor guide includes chapter overviews and learning objectives, additional chapter-specific content for teachers, a presentation pack for each chapter, a standalone image bank, and chapter review questions and answers. A student web resource that helps dancers apply the wellness concepts to assess their abilities and create their personal dancer wellness plan.
At the end of the book is a good glossary and a really excellent index.
Editors: Mary Virginia Wilmerding, Donna Krasnow
Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Human Kinetics
UK publication date: January 5, 2017
Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.5 x 10.9 inches
Cover price: £48.71 (Kindle £25.99) including online web resources, although available for order direct from Human Kinetics (www.humankinetics.com) for £27.29 at the time of writing.