There’s something that all dancers have to deal with during their dance journeys, and that’s changes in their bodies. However, the common growth spurt that young dancers inevitably face isn’t always openly discussed—it’s often a private conversation between dancers, their instructors, and medical practitioners. So let's talk about it.
I began dancing when I was four-years-old. I grew maybe an inch each year; but between the ages of eight and ten, I had two major growth spurts, sprouting up three inches one year, four inches another. During that time, I had Achilles tendon tension that caused a lot of pain even in my day-to-day activities. It hurt to even walk some days, let alone dance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at Ballet Society yet so my dance instructor, at the time, didn’t explain what I was going through or advise me to see a physical therapist. I went to my primary doctor who advised me to rest and use a Thera-Band to strengthen and stretch my tight Achilles. Eventually, it did work itself out, but I wish I had the appropriate resources, dance professionals, and physical therapists that could have made that transition in my life easier.
So, what exactly happens to dancers’ growing bodies?
There is a sudden increase in height and decreases in muscle strength
Arms and legs grow faster than the torso
These bones do not grow symmetrically—which means legs (or arms) can be temporarily different lengths.
In the spine, the rib cage area grows at a faster rate than the lower back or neck
Ligaments and muscles often do not grow at the same pace as bones and as a result can become short and tight—which means a dancer will temporarily lose their flexibility
Growth plates (where the bone is new) become fragile and vulnerable to injury
During the growth spurt, the dancer may experience the following:
Fluctuations in their coordination and balance
Decrease in technical skill and control
Decrease in strength and flexibility which generally means lower extensions
The increased length of the legs, in respect to the spine, tests the dancer’s ability to maintain their proper alignment in regards to the pelvis and torso.
Loss of endurance and stamina—combinations, classes, and rehearsals can cause dancers to feel more fatigued than before
Loss of motor control--which is why dancers become clumsy, especially in their day-to-day lives—tripping over themselves and running into inanimate objects.
Decreased self-awareness of their body
Dancers may experience a loss of confidence in their dancing ability and a decrease in self-esteem due to being unable to perform at a level that was previously taken for granted.
As technical control decreases, the risk of injury increases. Some of the more common injuries that can occur are:
Strained muscles, such as hamstrings, due to the muscles becoming short and tight
Achilles tendon problems
Problems in the hips
Shin splints or tibia stress fractures