Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?
Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.
What should dancers look for in a dance bag?
Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.
"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.
Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.
Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.
"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.
How should dancers wear their bags?
Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.
Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.
"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.
And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.
"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."