I have recently encountered a deeply concerning trend in ballet training that I feel compelled to address. A growing number of posts on social media are advocating techniques for pushing students into hyperextension, often without any regard for their individual physiological boundaries or potential medical conditions. I implore all ballet teachers to reconsider such dangerous practices and prioritize their students' long-term well-being over ephemeral achievements.
What is Hyperextension?
Hyperextension, the excessive mobility of a joint beyond its normal healthy range, is a topic fraught with controversy within the dance community. While certain aesthetics in ballet are associated with a hyperextended look, forcibly inducing this physical trait in students who do not naturally possess it can lead to serious health consequences, including damage to the knees and hips.
Further exacerbating this issue is the general lack of awareness surrounding hypermobility spectrum disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). This is a group of conditions that cause unusually flexible joints and can lead to pain, fatigue, and injuries. Teachers need to be cognizant of the signs of these conditions, which include joint and muscle pain, regular joint dislocations, persistent fatigue, recurring injuries, digestive problems, and episodes of dizziness and fainting.
“I began my pre-professional training at 8 years old, and at the time, my hypermobility was a blessing. It wasn’t until I became unwell at 14 that I struggled with a whole host of symptoms, including daily dislocations, fatigue, and pain. As dancers, we are often encouraged to push our flexibility, but as both a dancer and a teacher, I’m asking you to ensure you do this safely.
A lot of dancers are hyper mobile and it is difficult to know, especially at a young age, whether they might have problems with conditions like hyper mobility syndrome, or, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in future. Because of this, it’s important to treat each dancer with great care; their body has to last their whole life. Educate yourself about safe stretching. Educate yourself about strengthening exercises to help support the joints. And finally, educate yourself about these conditions and know the warning signs. This might not only help prolong a dancers career, but also impact someone’s quality of life. Thank you.” Kate Stanforth.
Given these risks, the responsibility lies heavily on us, the educators, to ensure that we do not exacerbate these conditions or push our students beyond their physical limits.
We should promote safe, healthy practices and foster environments where students feel comfortable discussing their physical concerns.
Teachers should not hesitate to seek medical intervention if any of the aforementioned signs are observed in a student.
A heart-wrenching incident last week brought this issue into sharp focus for me. I encountered a public post showcasing a teacher pushing a student into splits using blocks, forcing the young dancer past the normal range. I was deeply upset by this sight, a stark reminder of the harm that can be inflicted in the pursuit of achieving a certain 'look.'
It's crucial to remember that our bodies are not temporary entities to be manipulated for short-term gain; they are lifelong companions that require care, respect, and understanding. A trophy may shine brightly for a while, but it will inevitably gather dust. On the other hand, our bodies will accompany us throughout our lives, and thus, their well-being should always take precedence.
In conclusion, education is key. Awareness of the dangers of forced hyperextension and the understanding of conditions like hEDS need to be a part of every dance teacher's knowledge base.
We owe it to our students to prioritize their health and safety above all else. Let's strive to be a positive change in the ballet world and say no to harmful practices that jeopardize our students' futures.