Can teens participate in ballet if they have scoliosis?
The short answer: YES!
One of the most common questions that we receive from parents of teens with scoliosis is… ‘which sports are better or worse for scoliosis?’
As we discuss in a similar article on Figure Skating with Scoliosis, our recommendation is… to encourage your teen to do the sports that they actually like! Any movement is better than no movement, and the research has not yet shown that a particular sport is better or worse for teens with scoliosis.
“Any movement is better
than no movement.”
Many of our clients at The ScoliClinic participate in ballet recreationally or competitively, and they ask thoughtful questions about how to incorporate scoliosis principles into drills and technique practice. Scoliosis-trained Physiotherapists can work together with your teen to improve their pliés, arabesques, and pirouettes, keeping their specific scoliosis curves in mind.
Together with Vancouver Ballet Instructor Karley Kyle-Moffat, our team put together some tips that dancers can think about during their drills in center, or at the barre.
In terms of choreography, movements with spinal twisting or bending are necessary for most routines. We typically give this analogy, to help minimize excessive forces on the spine while your teen is still growing:
“Pretend you’re only allowed 100 points of back bending a day;
try not to spend those points doing your homework on your soft bed, lying on your tummy (which creates a back bend position in your spine). Instead, save them for when you need them the most, like in your dance routines.”
Here some of the foundational positions that your child’s Physiotherapist can assess, to provide suggestions to improve your child’s dance technique and take care of their spine at the same time.
Your therapist will assess your teen’s alignment from the back and side posture.
From the side, we look to see if the body weight is positioned up and forward, and if the core is active to control the position of the ribcage centered over the pelvis.
When the weight is in the heels, it’s common to see hyperextension of the knees.
Instead, we want the calves, hamstrings, and glutes to be active by transferring weight into the balls of the toes to support the legs and pelvis.
As always, we’ll cue your teen to elongate their spine, thinking of ‘floating the crown of their head up to the ceiling’.
5th Arm Position
Arm position influences shoulder position which influences spine position.
In an overhead reach in ballet, it’s important to keep the arms and hands over the hairline, which allows the muscles of the shoulderblades to soften and not overwork to ‘pull the arms back’.
This allows for the ribcage to stay settled in neutral position instead of puffing forward.
The pelvis can then stay neutral and allow lots of space in the spine, allowing it to lengthen upwards.
Turnout Of The Leg & Hip
Turnout is essential in many movements in ballet.
In a leg lift, it’s a common error for dancers to use the quadriceps and hip flexors to literally ‘lift’ the leg.
By doing this, the femur bone is compressed in the hip socket, and the trunk often crunches on the side to accommodate for this.
Proper technique emphasizes creating turnout of the hip first while the foot is close to the floor, then continuing to rotate the hip each inch of the way to draw the leg upwards.
The rotation of the leg in the hip joint creates space for the femur bone to move, allowing the trunk to lots of space to stay open and elongated.
In any single leg balances such as passé, we’re looking to keep the supporting hip placed over the foot with appropriate glute muscle activation.
Some curve types present with a pelvis shift to the right or left. Depending on your child’s curve, their therapist can provide strengthening and body awareness exercises to improve stability of the pelvis, so it doesn’t jut out towards the side as in the first photo.
In the second photo, the pelvis is overcompensating and lifting too high on the left side, therefore causing compressing through the left side of the body.
In both the first and second photo, you can see that the incorrect pelvis position causes the bent leg to also lose it’s alignment – it isn’t able to maintain that turnout at the hip.
Our Physiotherapists are keen to help your teen continue dancing as long as they want, and can come up with strategies to keep your teen’s body healthy and strong while being mindful of their scoliosis.
Do you know a dancer with scoliosis? Share this article with them, or encourage them to contact us to book an appointment to help them maximize their skills and thrive.
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*We are so grateful to Karley Kyle-Moffat for teaching the TSC team about these ballet basics, and for demonstrating all the drills above. Check out her work at https://www.karleydancing.com/home.