This article has been prepared by Maggie Morris of Safe in Dance International.


What is healthy and safe dance practice?

Lots of people see “health and safety” as a set of rules that are necessary to protect workers but nevertheless can be restrictive and stifling.  Certainly, in terms of artistic and creative practice, there are worries that overtly focusing on safety may be detrimental to innovation and risk-taking.  But healthy and safe dance practice is so much more than industry regulations.  It is the best way to reduce injury risk and to optimise performance.

In the 21st century, there is now the research potential and the technology to move beyond tradition and thoroughly interrogate how we dance, looking at more effective ways to approach learning and practice.  Dance leaders can benefit from a greater understanding of different dancing bodies and how the needs of dancers change with their development, level of participation and the stylistic demands of an ever-growing range of genres. We now know more about physiologically effective ways to warm-up and cool down, when and how best to stretch to recover and improve flexibility, and how to support our bodies with proper nutrition and hydration.  By understanding how to structure dance sessions from a physiological perspective, we can enhance the dancer’s learning and experience, making it not only safer but more productive.  Communicating effectively will help to nurture a positive psychological environment so that all dancers are respected and safeguards can be put in place.  Finally, those health and safety guidelines are important to protect people, including knowing how to prepare the environment in which we dance so that facilities are suitable for dance activity. We can mediate potentially negative situations with risk assessment, injury documentation and insurance.

To keep up to date with the latest recommendations, dance practitioners, and this includes choreographers, artistic directors and managers as well as teachers and dancers, can refresh their practice through continuing professional development activities that help to distil the research into applicable knowledge.  The National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) supports work in this area and the Healthier Dancer Programme provides resources and opportunities.  Safe in Dance International (SiDI) can endorse an individual’s knowledge and practical application of safe practice principles through their “Healthy Dance Practice”, “Healthy Dancer” and “Preparation for Healthy Dance” Certificates.

Everyone involved in dance should be able to train, teach, rehearse or perform in a physiologically and psychologically safe and supportive environment.  Rather than limiting creative risk, healthy and safe dance practice will support the art form as it continues to develop, enhance performance and most importantly, support wellbeing for all dancers.

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Photograph: Matthew Tomkinson