University of Washington: Ballet dancer injuries

By Joel Schwarz

11 October 2000

“Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” may be as tough opponents as the Supersonics or the Steelers.

Psychologists trying to understand the factors that put athletes and performers at risk for injuries have found that professional ballet dancers get hurt just as often and suffer just as serious injuries as athletes in contact sports.

Ronald Smith, a University of Washington psychology professor and lead author of a new study published in the current issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping, said that the injury rate for ballet dancers over an eight-month period was 61 percent. This is comparable to rates found in other studies for athletes in collision sports such as football and wrestling. The average time lost because of a ballet injury was 10.5 days, with the actual time loss ranging from one to 87 days. An injury was defined as a medical problem that restricted participation for at least one day beyond the date of the injury.

“We think ballet dancers are as vulnerable as athletes because ballet is a very pressure-packed activity with a tremendous amount of competition,” said Smith, who has worked for the Houston Astros organization as a psychological consultant. “Ballet is physically grueling and the fact that other dancers are competing with them adds to the physical stress. They often perform hurt and are afraid someone will take their place. Many dancers have eating disorders and they lead very, very stressful lives. The level of precision required is comparable to that of an Olympic gymnast.”

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