It is no surprise that a career in dance is physically demanding. But many dancers learn the hard way that their side jobs can be just as taxing on their bodies. Whether you’re standing for too long or sitting too long or demonstrating too often, non-dance work can lead to muscular imbalances.
Unfortunately, most dancers need to take on extra work. According to a 2012 Dance/NYC survey, just 55 percent of the total income among New York City’s dancers ages 21 to 35 came from dance jobs. And more than half of responding dancers reported working more than one non-dance job. “The need to work so much outside of dance may detract from an optimal training volume needed to stay in peak form,” says Dr. Marijeanne Liederbach, director of New York University Langone’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries.
But you don’t have to let a survival gig take a toll on your dancing. Be proactive: Find out the common physical issues associated with your job so you can do your best to prevent them.
Food and Beverage Service
Flexible shifts in restaurants, bars and coffee shops have long been go-to side jobs for dancers. But spending so many hours on your feet doesn’t allow your body as much time to recover from hours of dancing, says Christine Bratton, a New York physical therapist who specializes in working with dancers. “Also,” she adds, “dancers who have to serve and handle trays often end up with shoulder and back issues.” Liederbach says she has also seen patellar tendonitis, or inflammation in the front of the knee, from constant running up and down restaurant stairs.
What to do: Liederbach recommends good, supportive shoes and encourages dancers to stay alert for hazards, like slippery floors and stairs without railings. Bratton suggests building opportunities into your day to get off your feet, lying on your back with your legs up a wall or on a chair.
Dance or Fitness Instruction
Jobs teaching dance and fitness are a clear fit for dancers, building on the body intelligence you already have. But they can also amplify the physical stress of dancing. “The problem with all kinds of teaching of movement is that it is focused on the needs of others and can be draining,” says Bratton. “It can take years to develop a sense of caring for your own body while focused on another person.” She sees dancers in her practice who develop hip and low back problems from demonstrating repetitively on one side, or demonstrating full-out when not warmed up.
What to do: Bratton recommends developing a simple go-to stretching routine that you can do in between activities or before bed. Target muscles that get tight while you are working—a physical therapist or doctor can give you further guidance on what areas may need extra attention.
Administrative work gives you a break from time on your feet, but dancers are susceptible to the wrist, neck and low back issues that come along with desk jobs, according to Liederbach. Bratton points out that the increasing prevalence of remote work means that dancers are often sitting at home in positions that can be even more problematic than the traditional desk setup, like on the couch or in bed with a laptop. “Screen time and keyboard use feed into all kinds of postural syndromes, like forward head and forward shoulders, which are not good for dancers who are trying to be as tall and centered as possible,” says Bratton.
What to do: “Seek jobs that allow for adequate rest intervals and posture changes away from your workstation,” recommends Liederbach. Recognizing when you are sitting with poor posture and working to change that—whether by being more mindful or by finding a chair or desk that encourages better alignment—can also help.
When to Get Help
If your job has led to any aches or pains that are not going away, see a doctor. Physical exhaustion can also manifest in changes in mood and mental well-being, so monitor your feelings. Dr. Marijeanne Liederbach, director of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, recommends having a health-care team in place so you have somewhere to turn when you are not feeling well. Physical therapist Christine Bratton urges dancers to take time to breathe and “check in” with their bodies on a regular basis: “As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
A commute may feel like downtime, but it can end up being a very active part of your day. Physical therapist Christine Bratton says walking, climbing subway stairs and biking can add up in terms of stress on your body. Take it into account when planning your cross-training