One of my favorite things is working with dancers who have aspirations to dance professionally. I love getting to be a part of their journey towards successful careers and try to help them in any way that I can. As a Physical Therapist I can tell you a lot about anatomy, body mechanics and how to rehab an injury, but I am by no means a professional dancer. So who better than to share some real life experiences and tips than an actual professional dancer!?
Lindsey Ferguson is a friend that I went to high school and danced with. She has found great success in her dance career, which has given her the opportunity to travel all over the world. She is a great role model for any young dancer, and someone I am so excited to introduce my readers to. I have some pretty awesome and talented friends... it would be a shame not to share them with the world!!
Lindsey, tell us a little bit about your background and career as a dancer.
Lindsey: While a dance major at Hope College, I was fortunate to kick start my dance career early. In 2006 I was cast in a children’s musical TV show called Come On Over! and then shortly before graduating, I was cast in Joffrey Ballet’s first contemporary jazz company where I was a featured dancer and rehearsal captain in New York City. Finally I flew back to Michigan to graduate with a BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography and moved to NYC permanently. From 2010-2013 I performed with several cruise lines as a dancer and aerial artist. I was in a synchronized trapeze act with 3 other women, performed a lyra solo, and a silks duet. In 2014, I made my Broadway debut performing with The Illusionists at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. My final stop on their national tour included the iconic Kennedy Center. I can also be seen on various tv shows and commercials.
You have had quite a successful career so far! I imagine with such a busy schedule it is difficult to keep up with a regular exercise routine. What type of cross training do you find is a must to incorporate regularly?
Lindsey: Definitely cardio. Dance class can be very start and stop so it’s hard to keep your heart rate up. However, when it comes time for long rehearsal days or performances, the moment we get injured is when we are so tired that we start cheating our technique and cut corners. If we have a strong heart and lungs then we wont get winded as quickly. I love swimming laps (good for non-impact cardio), and going for runs. I make sure to change up the pace by pushing myself for a minute or two and then slowing down for a few minutes. I try to never really stop completely when I’m recovering but at least keep a good pace. That way my body can get used to recovering while still working. And always, always stretch after running. Those hamstrings can get really stiff!
The shows you have performed in sound as though they place very unique demands on the body. Besides cross training, what else have you found works to keep you healthy through all the hours of rehearsals and performances?
Lindsey: I make sure to slowly warm up, especially my back and gluts. Those large muscle areas easily can spasm or get injured for me. Every dancer has different areas that require extra attention. Some may need to really warm up their ankles or quads. If you pay attention and take mental notes anytime you have an “op! ouch!” moment when starting to move, then you’ll start to figure out what body parts need extra loving before dancing full out. It’s important for me to be sweating before I start stretching and to continue to stretch in between class exercises or in the wings during a show.
Thats a great tip! Even trying to be as healthy as possible, injury is almost inevitable for dancers. What types of injuries have you experienced in your career?
Lindsey: Where do I start? Hah! I think some of the more normal ones I’ve had throughout my career most dancers can relate to—the occasional pulled hamstring or rolled ankle. I’ve experienced 3 pretty severe injuries that caused me to stop dancing temporarily and get physical (and occupational) therapy. They all happened during the same contract actually. I was dancing for a cruise line and also training to be an aerial artist so it was extremely physically demanding. I had tendonosis in my right wrist, two stress fractures and a torn ligament in my left foot, and a severe back sprain. I later ignored the back sprain, thinking it would just go away on it’s own (worst idea ever) and it eventually turned into a chronic issue.
Often, dancers choose to ignore injury rather than seek help. How did you choose to rehabilitate your injuries?
Lindsey: For 9 months I performed with these three injuries, which I don’t recommend. I believe I made them worse by just dealing with them. When I completed my contract abroad, I got occupational therapy for my wrist for 8 weeks. When I started with OT my wrist was super weak (I could barely hold a mug of coffee), had nerve damage and pain. My injured wrist and was actually 1/2 inch thinner than my other wrist, meaning the muscles had atrophied.
For the two stress fractures in my foot I wore a boot for 10 weeks, then got physical therapy for 8 weeks following that. I never really did anything to address the multiple sprains in my back. I think I was overwhelmed with the emotional and physical obstacles with having a boot and a wrist splint, feeling pretty bad about myself so I think I pushed the back issue out of my head.
Having gone through it yourself, do you find the relationship between a dancer and their Physical Therapist important?
Lindsey: Yes! My physical therapist and I say we are a team. Our relationship has to be honest and open. I feel comfortable communicating any concerns I may have and what my goals are. I also trust in my PT’s knowledge and carefully follow his directions. It’s easy to do too much too soon especially with dancers being so competitive with ourselves. I found myself taking note of what triggered pain throughout the week or different struggles or successes with the exercises I was working on. That way when I came in for my appointment I wasn’t drawing a blank on how the week went and he could have accurate information to access what the next step should be that session.
So overall, it sounds like you are an advocate of dancers utilizing Physical Therapy for rehabilitation and injury prevention?
Lindsey: Dancers get injured; it’s just part of the job unfortunately. The great thing about PT for dancers is that if you actually DO the exercises consistently and correctly, you can fix your injury. Dancers have a great sense of acute body awareness and self discipline so there is a great success rate if you put in the time at home.
You have given some great insight into how to have a long and healthy dance career. If there was one final piece of advice you would give to the younger generation of dancers, what would it be?
Lindsey: Listen to your bodies! Know the difference between good and bad pain. If and when you do get injured, don’t be stubborn and continue to dance through it. Your body is the source of your passion—dance! Being super keen on what’s going on is key. Get help from experts like Jenna so you can recover efficiently and get back to dancing as soon as possible!
Lindsey, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! I look forward to seeing you continue to succeed!