I’ve been having one of those existential thoughts lurking around in my head the past week. It’s to do with injuries. What do they mean to us? When do we risk them? What are the differences between those that happen in a moment, and those gained slowly over time? The Superbowl happened and I watched it. It’s a violent sport to be sure, but it has serious consequences for some that the league is taking notice of. In the Thanh Tan article Seahawks Super Bowl win raises awareness about brain injuries it mentions that Seahawks owner Paul Allen 2.4 million dollars towards brain trauma research. Players like Sean Morey have received countless concussions and have resulted in painful, long lasting symptoms. Now there is even a Concussion Watch that reports the head injuries within the NFL. Apparently hundreds of these injuries are racked up in just a few weeks. It’s one of the main reasons it’s a favorite American pastime.
Many uppety art-seers would call it vulgar and beastly and would much rather spend a civil night watch beautiful figures dance in a ballet. Turns out the late and great Margot Fonteyn would disagree:
If audiences knew what pain the dancers were enduring, only people who enjoyed bullfights could bear to watch it.
Although, audiences went in droves to bullfights, some still do, and taking out the animal cruelty factor (admittedly, a big factor) I think it would be hugely popular today. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far to label American Football as a modern day bullfight. But to get back to the point, ballet is grueling and many suffer from it. So much so that in Rupert Christianson’s article Why do dancers get injured so often? it promotes such necessary individuals as Sports Scientist Patrick Rump who have created a regime of healthy ways to avoid injury which organizations such as Royal Ballet and the National English Ballet are slowly implementing. 3 years earlier Christianson wrote the article Soothing the painful price of beauty in which he reminds us its not just ballet:
It’s an agony that often leads to injury, and not only in ballet either: ballroom, hip hop and jazz and tap also rank as top-powered athletic activities carrying a high risk of permanently crippling effects.
And of course the art form which I have become obsessed with is one of the more obvious injury prone activities: circus. With the rise of contemporary circus, there is a rise of popularity , a rise of artists, and ultimately a rise of horror stories of terrible accidents such two 2013 stories about an acrobat hospitalized after falling from the aptly named “Wheel of Death” and the famous first death of Cirque Du Solei when the aerialist Sarah Guillot-Guyard fell to her death after a supporting cable broke during a rapid ascent.
So what exactly are the statistics? For dancers, sccording to Christianson:
With one recent survey suggesting that 80 per cent of professional dancers continue to sustain one performance-impairing injury every year, there’s still a huge amount to be done.
What about the circus? 5 years of data compiled to monitor the injury rates in Cirque Du Solei shows/practice provides numbers in detail:
There were 1376 artists who sustained a total of the 18 336 show- or training-related injuries. The pattern of injuries was generally similar across sex and performance versus training. Most injuries were minor. Of the 6701 injuries with exposure data, 80% required ≤7 treatments and resulted in ≤1 completely missed performance. The overall show injury rate was 9.7 (95% confidence interval, 9.4–10.0; for context, published National Collegiate Athletic Association women’s gymnastics rate was 15.2 injuries per 1000 athlete-exposures). The rate for injuries resulting in more than 15 missed performances for acrobats (highest risk group) was 0.74 (95% confidence interval, 0.65–0.83), which is much lower than the corresponding estimated National Collegiate Athletic Association women’s gymnastics rate. Conclusion: Most injuries in circus performers are minor, and rates of more serious injuries are lower than for many National Collegiate Athletic Association sports.
I would venture a guess that because circus has more obvious and immediate danger, they are much more practiced at dealing with injuries in the room, and making sure no move will result in long term damage. Dancing, particularly ballet, has for many a decade been suffering from hit-and-miss folklore of balletic physiotherapy. In a room of circus artists, more often than not there is someone with physiology, chiropractic, or other musculoskeletal training. Dancers don’t always have that same luxury.
So what does this all mean? I think it all comes down to knowing the risk. Whatever your activity, it’s important to know current and effective methods of injury prevention within your form. Of course that will change for everyone, but it’s significant to know what to do when it happens to yourself, or someone else in the room. I don’t see much of a problem idolizing those who take physical risks. It’s been happening since time began and there’s a reason for that. What about immediate as opposed to progressive injuries? Good form is essential to maintaining a healthy, functional instrument. There is a reason that 37 year old expert ballet dancer Edward Watson can say “I still feel like I did ten years ago.” After all – practice doesn’t make perfect / practice makes permanent / perfect practice makes perfect.
2 final thoughts on injury prevention. In the article What the Circus Can Teach Us About Sports Injuries Gretchen Reynolds turns to a study that scientists chose elite athletes recently retired from their respective competitive fields and are looking to join Cirque Du Solei. Scientists provided a simple phycological questionnaire to track their confidence levels. Their findings suggested that higher confidence level, the lower the injury rate. Those who were not confident had no direct correlation to their ability, but still manifested in-the-moment poor technique and eventually injury.
Finally, this is a video of perhaps one of the most physically aware men on the planet taking injury prevention in a new way: improper alignment.
After all this it’s a little scary to see viral images of this: