Maybe it was something I just wasn’t aware of as a kid or maybe it has grown in prominence but it seems like every second child I know is doing competitive dance. Kids who have a passion and an aptitude for dance are taking multiple hours of dance a week, honing their skill and gearing up for local, regional and national competitions. And parents are doling out money for costumes, classes, entry fees and accommodation. It is an expensive commitment in both time and expense.
It is a sacrifice parents are willing to make for their talented and driven children. But according to Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, children are sacrificing more than just their playtime; they’re sacrificing their bodies and their health as well.
Paul Malek, a prominent dance school owner in Melbourne, Australia told the publication that children are training too hard, beyond what their bodies can handle and that they are suffering injuries because of it. Injuries, he says, that he typically only sees in professional dancers. Malek was a choreographer on the Aussie edition of So You Think You Can Dance and says such shows are fuelling the fire of kids trying extreme moves and doing whatever they can to compete.
Competitive young girls are “’training like 18 to 20-year-old gymnasts,’ he said, putting significant strain and risking injury to their hips and lower spine and putting them at risk of ‘not being able to walk when they are 30,’” Malek told the Herald.
The “scorpion”—a move where dancers hyper extend a leg in the air—can cause significant damage in young, growing girls. Malek calls the increasing prevalence of the move in dances bizarre and dangerous.
Dance is huge for kids in Australia, bigger than many other common kids’ sports like swimming, the Herald reported, but the industry remains unregulated; anyone can open a dance school. And having been a dancer does not necessarily make someone adept at being a good teacher.
“. . . there are professional dancers, who have worked in the industry all their lives, then they decide to become teachers, but there are still no codes that say ‘you may have an accomplished professional career, but that doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to understand the physical and emotional nuances of all the different age groups coming through the door,’” Dani Brown, an industry veteran and publisher of the national Dancetrain trade magazine told the Herald.
Chronic injuries appear to be common in girls as young as 10-14 years old, mostly due to the strain associated with training for over 8.5 hours a week on developing young bodies. Physiotherapist Debra Crookshanks, echoing Brown, told the Herald that, more than just the skill and experience it takes to teach dance, teachers need to come armed with the knowledge of how to accommodate physiological changes.
“You need to know the tools to manage growth spurts,” she said. “The young dancers are growing, that is the reason kids get hurt. They are doing one-handed cartwheels, but let’s not keep screaming at them and telling them they are stupid and getting them to push themselves and fall and end up in my clinic.”
Given the popularity of competitive dance, and given the lack of regulation surrounding competitive dance and the number of hours and types of moves young bodies are expected to endure, perhaps it’s time for some intervention from professionals who can help ensure we aren’t overworking our kids. At the very least, if our kids are having hip issues at 13 years old, training upwards of 30 hours a week as some competitive dancers do, we as parents need to step back and ask ourselves at what point competition is no longer a good thing, whether it’s dance, hockey or soccer.
We need to put our kids best interests first, and maybe that means taking a step from their passions and finding fulfillment in other, less physically onerous interests.