Schoolbooks? Check. Dance clothes? Check. Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Check, check and check. Dancers have to schlep a lot of stuff, but the way you schlep it matters. A poorly organized bag can lead to serious neck and back pain—and bad posture, to boot. Here’s how to pack a bag that won’t send you crawling to the chiropractor.
Step 1: Function First
Traditional backpacks may not be your favorite fashion accessory, but they’re worth the slight style sacrifice. Backpacks provide even weight distribution, helping to protect your back and neck from strains. Pick a bag that has adjustable straps and is made of lightweight material.
Step 2: The Heavy Stuff
Pack your heaviest items—like your schoolbooks and dance shoes—on the bottom. Carrying weight closer to the base of your spine causes a less significant change in posture than carrying it up by your neck and shoulders.
(Photo by Andrej Popov/Thinkstock)
Step 3: Even Steven
Distribute the rest of your supplies evenly across the backpack. Make use of side pockets to keep things balanced, minimizing the change in your posture while you’re carrying the pack.
Step 4: Weight Check
Ideally, your bag should weigh less than 10 percent of your body weight, and definitely
no more than 15 percent.
Step 5: Carry On!
Don’t waste all that careful packing with improper carrying technique. Use both straps, and adjust them so the bag sits close to your body. This will help reduce postural sway (how much the natural curvature of your spine is exaggerated by carrying a heavy load), and decrease stress on the muscles supporting your spine.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Need a confidence boost? Stand tall! Research shows that people who sit or stand up straight with their shoulders back and chests out feel better about themselves. Click here for exercises to improve you posture!
Did You Know?
According to a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, stalking a stranger on Facebook can make you more nervous to meet that person face to face. So instead of scrolling through the profile of the new girl joining your studio, hold off on the friend request until you actually get to know her.
You work hard in dance class to perfect your technique and perform at your best. But what you do outside of class counts, too. The truth is, little everyday habits—like carrying an overstuffed dance bag or texting nonstop—could be negatively affecting your body and, ultimately, your dancing. Dance Spirit investigates seven bad health habits that have repercussions in the studio.
The Habit: Crossing your legs.
The Risk: “Doing it once or twice isn’t a big deal, but habitually sitting with your legs crossed can lead to real changes in your body,” says Alison Deleget, a certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Since you’re not sitting evenly on your pelvis, you’re forcing your spine to curve to one side.” Over time, you may develop back or hip pain, and overstretched back muscles on one side of your body may leave you feeling uneven in class. Want to look ladylike without throwing your body off balance? Try sitting squarely on both hips and crossing your feet at the ankles.
(Photo by Ammentorp Photography/Thinkstock)
The Habit: Constantly texting.
The Risk: Typical texting posture—head bent forward and shoulders slumped—puts the equivalent of 60 pounds of pressure on your upper spine, which can lead to wear and tear on the supportive tissues between your vertebrae. “It shortens the muscles in the front of your upper body and neck while overstretching and weakening the muscles in the back, which may make maintaining correct épaulement more difficult,” Deleget says. In the short term, spending hours hunched over your phone could cause headaches or a sore neck and shoulders; in the long term, it could mean herniated disks or nerve impingements. The next time you get a text, try bringing your phone up to your face to respond, or ask Siri to type for you.
The Habit: Cracking your neck, back or toes.
The Risk: You may have heard rumors that popping your joints will eventually lead to arthritis. The good news is there’s no research supporting that theory, and feeling a hip pop during class is perfectly fine. The problem comes when dancers start forcing their joints to pop instead of letting it happen naturally. This can stress the joints’ connective tissues and cause them to overstretch and become unstable. “It’s like dancing on a slinky when you should be dancing on a bed spring,” Deleget says. “That slinky gives much less support.”
The Habit: Walking like a duck.
The Risk: All the older dancers are doing it, but that doesn’t mean you should. “The joints of the knees and ankles work like hinges, designed to move straight forward. Walking turned-out means putting excessive stress on the insides of your knees, ankles and toes,” Deleget says. It won’t lead to better turnout, but it can lead to anterior hip pain—a common and sometimes debilitating injury for dancers.
The Habit: Carrying your dance bag on one shoulder.
The Risk: When only one side of your body carries a heavy load day after day, you’re likely to develop muscle imbalances that can lead to overwork- and stress-related injuries—from your shoulders all the way to your pelvis. “If one side of your upper trapezius muscles becomes more developed than the other, your shoulders may also look uneven when you’re dancing,” Deleget says. “Opt for a backpack, and wear it the proper, ‘geeky’ way—straps secure and chest strap fastened, not thrown over one shoulder or hanging down over your butt.”
(Photo by Bonnin Studio/Thinkstock)
The Habit: Typing in bed.
The Risk: It’s been a long day, you’re exhausted and you have a paper due tomorrow. You may be tempted to snuggle up in bed to write that essay—but resist the urge. “If
you plan on working for an extended period of time, always sit up with your spine in a neutral position. Don’t slouch and definitely don’t lie down,” Deleget says. Making bad homework posture a habit strains the connective tissues in your spine, which can cause pain and stiffness in your lower back when you dance. Sitting up straight improves your core strength and posture for class.
The Habit: Wearing flimsy shoes.
The Risk: Your feet are two of the most important parts of your dancer body, so it’s crucial to shoe them with care. Podiatrist Ronald Werter, who works with professional dancers in NYC, says the worst options for your precious feet are paper-thin flip-flops or super-squishy boots. “They’re worse than walking around barefoot,” he says.“Unsupportive shoes force you to put more pressure on the inside of your foot, which causes the tendons that support the arch and ligaments in the ankles to stretch.” Without proper tension, foot and ankle strength will be much harder to retain.
Werter recommends testing shoes before you buy them by squeezing both the arch and where the big toe hits with your thumb and forefinger. If you can compress them to half the thickness they were before, save your money. Instead, look for a shoe with a hard rubber or leather arch built in.
As for your favorite heels, Werter says they’re OK as long as they’re not higher than two inches. Just make sure that the middle of the shoe, where the shank would be on a pointe shoe, can’t fold easily, so you have strong support.
“Stop slouching!” We’ve all heard it before, whether from our moms, our ballet teachers or both. And it’s pretty solid advice: Good posture protects your back by decreasing stress on the joints, muscles and ligaments that support your spine. Plus, it helps you look and feel more confident and energized.
But like all good things, picture-perfect posture doesn’t happen overnight—it takes a bit of effort. DS turned to Rachel Piskin, co-founder of ChaiseFitness, for four exercises that will have you standing taller in no time.
You'll need: a Thera-Band
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
1. Stand in a shallow first position. Wrap the Thera-Band around the back
of your rib cage and cross it in front of your body. Holding one end of the band in each hand, extend your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, with your palms flat and facing down.
2 Open your arms to the side, keeping them at shoulder height. Piskin says: “As you open your arms, imagine your chest expanding without allowing your rib cage to pop forward.”
3. Slowly return your arms to the starting position, with control. Repeat 8–10 times.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Bow and Arrow Stretch
1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Standing
in a shallow first position, extend your left arm straight out to the side with the palm facing down. Bring your right fist into the center of your rib cage with your right elbow pointing straight out to the side, like you’re preparing to shoot a bow and arrow.
2. Pull the right end of the Thera-Band across your chest so that it reaches your right armpit, turning your head toward your left arm at the same time. Piskin says: “Don’t lift your shoulders. Keep them pressed down as you pull the band across your body.”
3. Return to the starting position, with control. Repeat 8–10 times on each side.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
Plié and Relevé
1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Standing in a shallow first position, bring your arms overhead, holding them shoulders-width apart with your palms facing forward. Feel your spine extend both up and down as you demi-plié.
2. Push through the floor to straighten your legs and lift into a relevé, keeping your arms stretched overhead. Repeat 20 times. Piskin says: “Don’t allow the band to slacken. Create tension by pulling it slightly outward throughout this exercise.”
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
1. Fold your Thera-Band in half lengthwise, holding one end in each hand. Extend your right leg behind you in a shallow lunge, with your feet slightly turned out and your left leg slightly bent. Extend your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, with your palms facing down.
2. Pushing off the floor, straighten your left leg and extend your right leg in a low arabesque, while lifting your arms overhead.
3. Lower your arms and legs to the starting position. Repeat 8–10 times on each leg. Piskin says: “Really engage your core as you push off the floor, so that you don’t lose your alignment in the transition.”
Click here to watch Rachel walk through these exercises.
Take a Stand
While you may have a break from dance class this summer, don’t take a break from good posture. The iPosture, a small, round device, can help. Simply attach it to your bra strap or directly on your skin and push the function button. The microchip sensor monitors your posture. If it catches you slouching for more than one minute, it will remind you with a slight vibration to straighten up. For ordering information, visit iposture.com. —Brianne Carlon
Lay Off the Pills!
Medications like Tylenol, Advil and aspirin will now have to carry bolder warnings on their bottles about liver damage and stomach bleeding. So if you do pop a few to help that aching knee, make sure to take them with food, not on an empty stomach. —Lauren Kay
Sleep More, Shed Pounds
If you’re set on staying in top shape this summer, swap out your restricted diet for some extra zzz’s! Being tired doesn’t just mess with your petit allégro; it also affects your eating habits. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that when participants had only five and a half hours of sleep, they ate over 200 calories more than when they had slept for a solid eight and a half hours. When you’re sleepy, your hormones get out of whack, which ups the urge to eat more and decreases your ability to feel full. So get more sleep, and say hello to a slimmer, better-energized you! —Monica Levy
Face Your Facebook Friend
Facebook and Twitter are fantastic ways to connect with friends. But there’s still no better form of communication than a face-to-face convo. A study done by the University of Southern California shows that excessive use of online social networks can have desensitizing effects on us! The speed at which info is exchanged on these sites can be too fast for the brain to digest the full weight of a story. In order to empathize with a dance pal about failing to land her dream role, don’t do it via keyboard. Sit down with her and listen carefully, noting facial expressions and tone of voice. You’ll be able to fully comprehend her feelings—and not through her status update! —Monica