Back pain. It sucks.
I’ve met a lot of dancers over the years who need to take a day between dance events because their back is so sore. I’ve met people who sleep on floors, get massages, and pop pills to try to prevent the pain. I’ve also met people who have quit dancing because of the level of pain they feel after dancing.
Now, there are several reasons why you may have back pain after you dance. I’m definitely not an expert in any of them. But, I have found that many people suffer from one of the two issues that caused me back pain in dance for a long time:
Issue 1: Sticking your butt out.
As described on Somastruct, this can be caused by tight back muscles, tight hip flexors, weak abs, or weak legs. (You’re better off visiting the link above for a full understanding. They also have some great exercises you can do!) The technical name seems to be an ‘Anterior Pelvic Tilt’. It can happen to anyone. Usually, it’s associated with long hours sitting at a desk, which cause the tendons and muscles to shorten/tighten.
Personally, I think there are some things in dance that are sometimes also the culprits:
- Dancing in heels (it changes your posture by nature of dancing on tiny little twigs)
- Trying to look sexy (aka sticking the butt out on purpose)
- Trying to get stretch/extension in a dance by taking the hips back
- Trying to keep a turnout, but compensating with the hips
- Conflating maintaining upright posture with a back arch (not the same thing!!)
Honestly, there’s a thousand better ways to look sexy than trying to stick out the butt – especially when it compromises your health. Since correcting my own issues with this, I don’t develop pain from dancing in heels or flats in the lower back (my feet still ache from heels, though!)
If you think you suffer from this kind of pain, your best bet is to see a chiropractor or professional of some sort. However, if you want, there’s a possibility that you can use online resources or work on correcting your posture to help fix the problem.
This is what worked for me:
- Imagining that my back has to be flat against a wall, with the butt tucked under
- The ‘stacking blocks’ method: imagine each body part from your feet to your head is a block you are stacking on top of each other. Your pelvis should sit in the same line as the rest of your body
- The ‘pull up’ method: imagine there is a string coming out of the top of your head, lifting everything to feel ‘suspended’
- Imagining keeping your butt tucked when you dance (sometimes, I found it helpful to think of dancing ‘pelvis forward in WCS and Zouk specifically, and bringing the hips forward instead of back in Salsa).
Issue 2: Not Staying Over the Center in Back Bends
I’m not naturally gifted when it comes to back flexibility. I used to do a lot of compensation by trying to lean back, rather than compensating by bending my knees.
At any point during a back bend, your weight should be over the balls of your feet – even if the lead is supporting you. The bend should be supported through the core and bringing the weight forward. If you bring your weight backwards past your heels, you put a lot of pressure on the lower spine (even though this may seem counter-intuitive). This can both cause damage and a lot of pain.
Once again, I am not an expert, but what worked for me was this:
- I never go further than I feel comfortable with a partner, especially if I’m supporting all my own weight
- I concentrate on keeping my weight and hips over the balls of my feet
- I concentrate on feeling my chest go up rather than my back bending. Then, I look backwards with my chest.
Funnily enough, my back bends improved a lot when I couldn’t use my hips too well because of an SI joint problem. I learned how to control and isolate my upper body much better because of the forced isolation from the lower body. So, maybe imagining you can’t compensate with the lower back or hips will work for you.
If you have unexplained back pain after you dance and think it’s just working the muscles, this may be something to ask your instructor, chiropractor, or yoga friend about. It could save you lots of pain and lots of future, permanent damage. Who knows? Maybe it’ll also improve your dance technique!!
I just discovered your site through someone posting your essay on “What Follows Want.” I really enjoyed your thoughts; thanks for the time and thought that went into expressing them so.
I also just read your essay on back issues. Here’s a link to an article on posture and back pain that might be useful for you. The book they mention by Esther Gokhale is available through libraries. I don’t know about the DVD.
I think she makes a very credible case, and some of her suggestions have made a remarkable difference both for others I know and for myself. One topic that caught my eye both in your essay above and in her discussion is the tilt of the pelvis. Some of the language used by the two of you might suggest on the surface a difference of outlook even though your pictures above look very much in alignment with her discussion. I’m thinking that some of the differences may be a matter of semantics. (For instance, in your poor-posture picture, some of the excess pelvic tilt appears to be brought about by what Gokhale would (I believe) describe as a swayed back. Your good posture picture appears to have what she would describe as a desirable anteverted pelvic alignment, in contrast to a butt tucked under posture with a level pelvic alignment that tends to squeeze the natural wedge shape of disc just above the sacrum and put undesirable pressure on the front of the disc.)
Anyway, take a look at the article (and book?) and if it adds useful information to your outlook, then it will have been worth my time to send this your way.
Warm wishes on you. Thank you again for your contribution to the dance community.
(In Portland, Oregon. By the way, I see you do Zouk dancing. Even though you’re based in Canada, I wonder if you might be acquainted with a lady who teaches Zouk here in Portland. Her name is Nathalia Carbajal. She’s from Brazil.)
Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain
Thank you for the links 🙂 I’m not personally acquainted with Nathalia, but I believe I’ve heard her name around. Will we be seeing you (and the rest of Portland) at Canada Zouk Congress? Would be great to have you up!
Hello, and yes I love this page.
I am learning ballroom dancing and my back started paining once I tried to dance seriously.
I know that I am sticking my butt out to make my back “curve”, and I know that I have to make a spine in order to look like serious. But this page just helped me with understanding the concept of back pain and DONT STICK MY BUTT OUT. I will try to not to do it anymore.
Very interesting points.
I’d add that maintaining the good posture explained on this article requires using the abdominal and gluteal muscles, and training them (outside of specific posture exercises) can help. Personally I had very weak abs and I definitely think that training them (by planks and crunches) also helped my posture and, as a very welcome extra, the quality of my lead.
As a beginning Dancer, loving all your Info and Tips. THANK YOU!