Tap

Preventing Common Tap Injuries

Mark Yonally, artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre, was performing with his company in France last summer when his worst nightmare came true. “The stage was less than ideal—slippery in spots and sticky in others,” he says. “I was doing a slide during a solo when one foot got stuck and the other kept going. I felt a sharp pain in my inner thigh and knew I was in trouble.” Though he managed to finish the piece, the minute he left the stage Yonally sought treatment from Melissa Reh, a CTT company member who is also a physical therapist. Thanks to prompt, expert treatment, Yonally averted serious injury.


Tap dancers sometimes think that they’re immune to injuries. After all, there are no death-defying lifts, leaps or inversions in tap. Still, tap’s constant pounding and the emphasis on faster, more inventive steps can hurt your body. Landing awkwardly on one-footed wings can tear a ligament; overextending on a slam can stress a tendon; dancing on bad surfaces can lead to shin splits. There’s a lot that can go wrong, but by knowing your body and recognizing situations that can lead to injury, you’re on your way to a long and healthy life in tap.



TYPICAL TAP INJURIES
“Tap injuries can come on suddenly or gradually,” says Reh, who specializes in treating dancers at Creative Rehab, a clinic just outside Chicago. “It just depends on whether they’re caused by a single event, like a fall, or by repetition over time.”


Martin “Tre” Dumas of Jus’LisTeN has seen his share of injuries over the years. “Plantar fasciitis, fallen arches, shin splints—these happen a lot,” he says. While tappers’ feet and ankles take the brunt of the stress, accidental twists and constant pounding also take a toll on knees. Other potential problems include strained tendons, exacerbated by overly-tight muscles, and back problems, which can be caused by lack of core strength, tightness in other body parts (particularly the feet and hip flexors), poor technique—even over-compensation for other injuries.


Minor injuries can turn major if left untreated. “Dancers have a high tolerance for pain, but sometimes that can work against you,” says Maureen Kreuser, a Chicago-based naprapath (a therapist who manipulates the body’s connective tissues, particularly the ligaments surrounding joints) with training in several types of alternative medicine. “Seek professional help if you think something may be wrong.”



CAUSES OF INJURIES

Tap injuries don’t just come from traumatic events or poor technique. Here are a few other traps to watch out for:


Bad floors: “Be very careful about your surfaces,” says Dumas. “Tappers were meant to dance on wood with some spring in it. Do not tap on concrete. If you have to perform outdoors, get some wood and put some padding under it, even if it’s just sponge foam from Home Depot.” Even Marley flooring can be a problem, since tappers have to hit it very hard to get the proper sound.


“Tapping has a domino effect throughout your body,” Reh adds. “If there’s no give in the floor, your dancing will cause shock waves to travel through your foot, up your leg and into the rest of your body.”


Some tappers travel with their own portable floors, both to ensure good sound and to avoid injuries. “I can take my floor to a jazz club, a coffee shop—anywhere with a flat surface—and dance,” Yonally says. “That lets me perform in a wider variety of venues and helps me avoid dancing on tile, marble or concrete—all incredibly dangerous.”

Not warming up: “Dancing with cold or tight muscles can hurt you,” Reh says, “since tight muscles—especially those in the foot and ankle—are less able to absorb shock.” (Go to dancespirit.com/ for Yonally’s six-minute tap warm-up!)

Tap style: Some dancers, including Yonally, say loose-ankle tap (working with relaxed ankles and initiating movement from the hips) is easier on the body than dancing with tight, held ankles. (For more, see DS October 2007.) By switching styles, Yonally was able to overcome a knee injury that resulted from a one-footed wing gone bad.


Similarly, Dumas notes: “Flat-footed dancers who are really into killing the floor are prone to certain kinds of injuries, like shin splints or stress fractures. Also, if you’re really athletic and move around a lot, you’re more likely to get hurt than if you stay in one spot.” (The more you jump, turn and move across the stage, the greater the likelihood of slipping or landing wrong!) If one style is bothering you, try switching things up—Dumas emphasizes that style has nothing to do with rhythmic complexity. “You can be musically interesting no matter what style you use,” he says.



PREVENTING AND RECOVERING FROM INJURY

The key to avoiding injury is knowing your own body. “Don’t let a teacher push you into doing something that you feel uncomfortable with,” says Yonally. “As a dancer, you’re responsible for your own health and safety. It’s better to sit out for ten minutes than ten months.”


You’re also more than just your feet. “Tappers are dancers, athletes and musicians, all rolled into one,” says Dumas. To ensure a long, healthy career, warm up and stretch out after class (even if your teacher doesn’t take you through it!), strengthen your core and upper body, and work on cardiovascular fitness. Stretches and cardio work can be the same as for other forms of dance, but Reh cautions: “Tappers need to be particularly careful about keeping their feet and hip flexors stretched—they’re vital to efficient shock absorption through your body.” (For your feet, try some pliés/relevés before and after class; lunge stretches will keep your hip flexors lengthened.) By keeping the whole body strong and healthy, you minimize the risk of serious injuries.


So when should you see a health professional? “Dancers know the difference between muscle ache and joint pain,” says Reh. “If you have pain around a joint or something that’s not consistent with how you usually feel, seek help.”


Treatment time can vary, but you do have to give yourself a few weeks to heal. “If it isn’t getting any better after, say, two weeks, talk to your doctor and consider other options,” says Kreuser. “Many dancers combine complementary medicine, like chiropractics or acupuncture, with conventional medicine. The key is to find what works for you.” 

 

Stacie Strong is a tap dancer and writer based in Columbia, MO, and Chicago. She is the editor of the book Top Tap Tips and a calendar of tap dance photography.

 

Photo: Josh Hawkins, joshhawkins.com

The Conversation
Health & Body
Via @chelshightower on Instagram

From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.

But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.

With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Past "SYTYCD" hopefuls at The Academy (Adam Rose/FOX)

More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.

That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dancer Tony Bellissimo on the field at Super Bowl LII (via Instagram)

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!

What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
screenshot via @donte.colley on Instagram

Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher
Joanne Chapman teaching turns (photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy Joanne Chapman School of Dance)

Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Thinkstock

Dance teachers have to deal with a lot. While open communication with your teacher is obviously key, lame excuses for less-than-great behavior are guaranteed to get on her nerves. Always avoid these seven excuses that will 100 percent get your dance teacher's blood boiling.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
via @dynamicdancestudios on Instagram

There are dance routines, and then there are dance routines. Andrew, a 21-year-old dancer with Down Syndrome, performed the latter on the new British reality dance show "The Greatest Dancer." He brought the audience to tears as he unabashedly freestyled to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The Broadway cast of Hamilton (Joan Marcus, courtesy Sam Rudy PR)

Today, January 11, is #AlexanderHamiltonDay: A very happy 264th birthday to Alexander Hamilton! Thanks to this most unlikely of Founding Fathers—a brilliant and ballsy orphaned immigrant who dramatically rose, then fell, then rose again—we have possibly the most successful musical of all time. We also, of course, got priceless GIFs such as this one:

*When your crush walks over and you're trying to act natural but your friends are all like*

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, while we can't get you "in the room where it happens" with tickets to the show's current Broadway, touring, or Puerto Rico productions—the last of which opens tonight!—we CAN offer up some fun ways to fête A.Ham's day of birth. Just you wait:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by 4Star Productions Courtesy Spirit of Dance Awards

The second round of 2018 Future Star winners showcases dancers with singular talent and ability. We're thrilled to celebrate their success!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Every once in a while, the stars align, things fall precisely into place, and the perfect marketing campaign is born. Such is the case with New York City Ballet's new trailer for their upcoming run of The Sleeping Beauty, which was conceived and directed by company soloist Sean Suozzi.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
via @torysport on Instagram

Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo is turning heads these days, and not just at the barre. The brilliant ballerina shines in Tory Sport's latest commercial and we can't help but feel a little bit of pride as our March 2018 cover star brings ballet to the masses. What better way to show off stylish and comfy athletic wear than with Boodoo's strong and luminous dancing?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Hall works with students at Dance Conservatory of Charleston. (courtesy Dance Conservatory of Charleston)

As the name suggests, summer intensives are, well, intense, encouraging you to eat, sleep, and breathe dance for a significant chunk of the summer. But they're not for every dancer—or every summer. Maybe you're not ready to be away from home just yet, or you want to spend your last summer with family before going off to college. Intensives can also be expensive, and not every household has the financial flexibility to cover the high cost of auditions, travel, room and board, and tuition. Whatever your reasons for seeking alternatives, it's important to recognize that, when it comes to summer study, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. "The most important thing is to keep dancing," says Lindy Mandradjieff, owner of the Dance Conservatory of Charleston in South Carolina. "Without the added stress of school, you can improve as much in one summer as you would in an entire school year." Here's how to keep up your training even if you don't plan on attending an intensive.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways