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Ballet Talk for Dancers

NEW ballet Student at 45 with bad back


Rich Beatt

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Hi there, I signed up for 2 ballet classes and a strength/stretch class (3 classes total) per week. I had my first class last night (contemporary). I have been living with a bad back (doctors/Physio/chiro/massage to treat) for over 20 years and thought dance would be a good way to stay active yet not burden my back with weights or high impact such as running. I know ballet can be hard on the back but I will be careful. Or so I think. 

Anyhow, after my first class my back was a wee bit on fire. I have disc compression, sciatica, etc...things that will never go away and I am trying to keep at bay, any thoughts that I won’t be able to dance  I love it so. I am currently in Physio and will also do massage therapy to help. I am hopeful I will be able to enjoy dance and not have to quit before I even start.  

Anyone else relate? Advice? My technique is likely poor and probably have a lot of weak spots from being away for so long (I took up dance again to stay mobile and because I love it, not because I am especially talented). 

 

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threegirlpileup

I have issues with a knee and foot and have found that it is really important to make myself modify as needed to look after my body.  Be sure to take class with a teacher who supports that, and even better one who can make suggestions.

I love ballet class but to be honest I don't find it to be particularly friendly to my aging/injured body--but I keep going back because I love it.  From a strictly rehab point of view, I've found yoga a better way to stay mobile and go easy on my injured areas.

 

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Yeah, I’m definitely not a yoga fan. I’m hoping I can make my way with modifications and Physio/massage. I will talk to my instructor next class and inform her of my issue. See what she can suggest. Thanks!

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I'm not sure if ballet is the most 'friendly' form of exercise you could be doing for your back, but if you like it then don't let it stop you! Wendy Whelan had some major back issues when she was a student in training, and she grew up to have a very long career with the NYC Ballet (until she was in her 50's!). There is a documentary about her on Netflix called "Restless Creature". She might be an interesting research topic for dancing with back problems, or just inspiration :).

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I think ballet is great for a problematic back- particularly the barre work (not so much the jumping?). It lengthens and strengthens all the muscles if you train properly.  Building strength is always good. I agree with the others that you have to work with a skilled teacher who will support you in modifying the work. Take it easier than you think you need to. And even easier. Starting ballet as an adult can be extremely hard without any injuries. It requires things from your body that nothing else does. It is hard to keep up the motivation if you hurt yourself so go easy. Standing out from parts of the class should be ok with your teacher. My first thought is to avoid all the jumping. It takes a long time (at least if did for me) to learn to do centre work without straining myself.

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Good point. I will talk to my instructors about the jumping. I’m in a classical as well as a contemporary. I did take classical for about 4 years but that was over 20’years ago. And prior to any back problems. So certainly my centre work would be seriously lacking!

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5 hours ago, Chasse Away said:

I'm not sure if ballet is the most 'friendly' form of exercise you could be doing for your back, but if you like it then don't let it stop you! Wendy Whelan had some major back issues when she was a student in training, and she grew up to have a very long career with the NYC Ballet (until she was in her 50's!). There is a documentary about her on Netflix called "Restless Creature". She might be an interesting research topic for dancing with back problems, or just inspiration :).

Thank you! I will look up her story. That is helpful to know that I shouldn’t let it stop me. Provided I’m not doing more damage and the pain isn’t debilitating.  

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Also, I am in no way ever going to be moving my body the way Wendy has. I just want to dance as a hobby and some exercise. I have no dream (at my tender age) to be on pointe and leaping  across the stage! But her story looks amazing. Thanks again for suggesting. 

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Miss Persistent

Hi Rich! Sounds like you’ve got a good plan working with a physio and being sensible which is the way to go 😀 I have danced for many years with a bad back. I don’t know what your back problems are, but I know for me the actual moving of my spine, stretching and most importantly  - core strength that I get from ballet do me more good than harm! In fact if I go without class for too long my back pain returns.... I would say consult you physio in regards to jumping, but definitely get working on that core as I find that the biggest benefit of all! Happy dancing!

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BalletFamily

Going from zero to three classes a week seems like a lot to me.  Even for a healthy middle-aged person.  And in your case you don't just have muscle/soft tissue issues but nerve impingement and disc compression.  Ballet (and the strength/stretch class) might be wonderful for you.  I just urge you to take it slow.  I'm someone with a variety of injuries and body issues and can tell you that even very subtle movements can cause serious problems.  

You have a fantastic support team and hopefully they'll catch any issues before they get worse.  You also seem to have a very good understanding of your own body (harder than it sounds).

So go easy.  I hope everything goes smoothly and that you can do what you love without injury.

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100 times yes to this BalletFamily. 3 classes per week is a lot for a fit adult. Yes you need to work your way up. Perhaps have 3 classes per week as a goal?

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Miss Persistent

I think it's important to remember none of us are Doctors and don't know the in's and out's of this situation.  Rich, work with your doctors and physios and do what's best for your situation.  That might be class once a week or five times a week!  It might be better to do a little more often rather than one big hit etc - only you can work that out.  You certainly need to let your teacher know of the situation though, especially if you need help with modifications or need to gracefully bow out of parts of class.  A good teacher should be understanding and not push for anything you are not capable of, but should encourage you to develop good technique and extend yourself safely. 

Personally, 3 classes a week is fabulous for my back! (which is also a 20+ year drama which will also not go away).  When I came back to dancing from a long break I started back at one full class a week but that was too much all in one hit and didn't help me gain enough strength.  I was putting too much load on it for a whole class then nothing for days and days - I learnt I am better off doing less, more often.  So I do a little bit every day - floor barre, just barre, or a full class, but something 5 days a week.  So I think it is each to their own - work out what suits your body.

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Thank you all! Miss P, you’re right, every situation is different and it may be that 3 classes works fine. It may be that I’m in for a world of hurt. I am willing to test it slowly for the love of dance! I am going to talk to my Physio about it. She’s amazing. Doctors are useles. They say; go home and stretch and offer me prescription for drugs. I will also talk to my instructor. The one class is a performance class so we shall see what she thinks. I see me as really taking 2 classes and one restorative stretch/strength class. That is how I will be approaching it anyway. I am grateful for everyone’s advice and concern. I am very good at listening to my body by this point. The strangest thing is, after my initial class Monday (haven’t had another yet) I have iced/heat my back, light light light stretching and my back actually feels kind of amazing, all things considered. It is still a nag but better than it has been for a while. I am making sure to drink more water than I normally do which I think is helping. Also following small adjusting advice my Physio gave on my posture. Every little thing helps!! I have another class on Saturday. We will see! I will go slow. 

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I think Miss Persistent's comments about core are important: one of the best ways to help support your spine/back is by a strong abdominal "corset." But work with your physiotherapist on this. And some of your pain/aches may simply be going from not very much exercise to 3 classes per week.

Good luck! and enjoy dancing in whatever ways you can find. It's good for mental as well as physical well-being.

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Thank you! Yes I am working with my Physio for sure. I’m being patient with the process. One thing I should make clear. I have only done ONE class thus far, so the storm hasn’t even hit and right after my first class my back was on fire. I think you’re right though, it may just be that everything has begun to fire again. I think some of the problem is my back is TOO tight. The muscles are being a protector. But after some gentle stretches the next day and my Physio work it feels good so far. It is now Thursday after my Monday class and my back hasn’t felt as good as this in years! I am cautiously hopeful. 

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