William Zinser works with a dancer at The Joyce Theater (Kristin Stevens, courtesy William Zinser)

How to Beat 5 Common Cheats Dancers Commit

Y'all, we get it. Dance is really, really hard. So what's the harm in taking the easy way out on a technical correction? Answer: an increased chance of injury, and a whole slew of new technique problems that could take a loooooooong time to fix.

Lucky for you, Dance Spirit has enlisted the expert help of Dale Lam, artistic director of CCJ Conservatory in South Carolina, and William Zinser, certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in NYC, so you can start leveling up your technique the honest way.


The Cheat: Compensating in your hips and knees to force turnout

The Injuries: "Tilting your pelvis forward to try to get more turnout puts a lot of stress on your lower back," says Zinser. "Which makes for stress fractures in the low back. It also stresses structures in the front of the hip, which encourages labral tears or hip impingement."

That's not even the half of it: Rolling in your feet to force a turned-out position increases the chance of tendonitis on the outside of your ankles. "This position also asks the ligaments in your knee to be out of alignment," Zinser continues. "It's like bumper cars inside your knee—too much friction and irritation."

The Fix: "You don't have to have great turnout," says Lam. "Hold the turnout you do have by strengthening your inner thighs and the backs of the legs with Pilates." And gradually increase your range of motion by focusing on hip-socket and inner-thigh flexibility.

The Cheat: Letting your upper body "help" you jump

The Injuries: Failing to land and take off in an upright position increases the risk that you'll land funny—and potentially injure a lower extremity.

The Fix: "We don't spend enough time on core strengthening, so I see this a lot," says Lam. "Building your abdominal and back strength will help keep your torso upright," while your lower body is busy building its own stamina.

The Cheat: Hiking your hip for higher extensions

The Injuries: Over time, "You could strain the hip flexors or hamstrings," says Zinser. He adds that dancers who hike their hips could disengage their cores while doing so, which allows the pelvis to tilt incorrectly, and therefore run the risk of a low-back injury or psoas syndrome: chronic irritation of the psoas muscle.

The Fix: "This could be because you don't have rotation in your hip flexors, or you're not supporting underneath the working leg in order to lift it," says Lam. She suggests practicing holding your leg out and still—lower than you would be able to while "cheating"—in order to build strength in a correct position.

The Cheat: Not lowering your heels all the way when jumping

The Injuries: "A lot of dancers' stress fractures occur in the metatarsals, which are the bones in your toes and mid- to forefoot," says Zinser. "If we're constantly landing just on the balls of the feet, we increase the risk of forefoot fractures—as well as stressing the Achilles tendon and its surrounding structures."

The Fix: "Most of the people who don't put their feet all the way down have tight Achilles," says Lam. (So if you have a short demi-plié, pay close attention!) "Starting from the takeoff and in every transition step, make sure you're rolling through the entire bottom of your foot."

The Cheat: Winding up before turning

The Injuries: "Dance naturally self-selects for people who are hypermobile," says Zinser, "and one of the most common ways to dislocate a shoulder is to go into extreme external rotation." What's even more common, Zinser notes, is to disengage your core when winding up, which leaves the spine vulnerable to pinched nerves and other issues.

The Fix: "This comes from not using opposition, and a lack of strength in the working side," explains Lam. Especially if you have scoliosis or another bodily asymmetry, Lam says, you need to add strengthening exercises for your weaker side and work on the overall flexibility of your dominant side.

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Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

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