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Veronique Spiteri

The Dancer vs The Athlete

It’s been 10 weeks and 3 days since my (dreaded) ACL Reconstructive Surgery.

I feel so unbelievably happy at the moment and positive, for the simple reason that I am in good (and more importantly able) hands at the Medicos Schalke Clinic in Gelsenkirchen.
I wasn’t satisfied with the treatment and rehabilitation training I was receiving at my Physio Clinic in Cologne. I felt that the sports scientists, who are in charge of constructing the rehab program did not really take me “seriously”, in the sense that I was asked on 2 seperate occasions what I do professionally (surely it is their job to consult my file where it clearly states that I am a professional dancer). I felt that I was treated differently to the professional footballers,runners and other athletes doing their rehabilitation training there. After 10 days of feeling unhappy, moaning to my boyfriend and general worrying (one of my bad habits), I decided to take action and look for an alternative rehabilitation clinic. A friend of mine had spoken highly of a specialist sports clinic in Gelsenkirchen where he was treated and rehabilitated after an meniscus injury. I looked into it and had an instant gut feeling that this was the place for me. On the 19th August I started my rehabilitation program at the Medicos Clinic and I haven’t looked back!

I am so impressed with how competent and dedicated the physios, sports scientists and doctors are. The modern, state of the art facilities speak for themselves and it is comforting to be amongst other injured dancers,all in the same situation, working towards our shared goal of returning to dance.

Dr Elizabeth Exner-Grave, the chief orthopaedic doctor of the dance medicine department at Medicos,is what you would call a Pioneer.She has fought for dancers to be given the same recognition and treatment opportunities as the professional athlete and her achievement comes in the form of a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation program for dancers.

Without going into too much detail, as a dancer working in Germany you are generally “employed” by the said company/production. This means if you injure yourself whilst working i.e onstage, during a performance or during a rehearsal, you are fortunate enough to be entitled to compensation by your allocated workers union Insurance or VBG (Berufs Genossenschaft). The VBG insurance entitles you to have daily rehabilitation for up to 3 weeks, also known as EAP (Erweiterte Ambulante Rehabilitation).

Professional athletes in Germany are entitled to a “Sportler EAP” daily rehab for athletes. This entitles them to more extensive treatment (double the amount!) compared to a regular EAP for a longer period. Athletes will benefit from aquafitness,co-ordination classes and longer sessions of manual therapy. This allows them to get healthy and back in shape at a quicker rate and enables them to return to their respective sports in less time. The irony is many VBG departments do not recognise dancers to fall under the same category as athletes. Dancers have always been pigeon-holed as “artists” which means many dancers fail to receive the same treatments as athletes.

This brings us back to that old chesnut of a topic: are dancers artists or athletes?
Dancers are first and foremost artists. They communicate narratives and and express emotions through movement which is inspired by music and rhythmns. Dancers are also most definitely athletes. Their co-ordinative abilities,strength and stamina match those of most athletes. Ballet dancers, I like to call them the thorough-breds of the dance world,define athletisicm.The long working hours: daily class,rehearsals and performances require both strength and virtuosity. To top it all off the women (and men sometimes) have to demonstrate all of these qualities on pointe. Like my sis says:“Chapeau” (verbalism for tipping your hat).
Musical dancers and any Dancers working in an ongoing production will be familiar with 8 show weeks; translating to 6 day weeks with only 1 day off. Over a 12 month to 18 month period (the usual length of a contract). This taxing schedule also requires strength and dedication on both a physical and artistic level. Sometimes I find it tougher for the Musical theater dancers, as it is not standard practice to be given daily class by the company. They have to take it upon themselves to maintain their fitness and dance technique.

The “Culture of tolerance” amongst dancers, of all disciplines, leads to dismissing and ignoring pain,niggles and injuries. I was stupid enough to ignore an injury I sustained in my last year of college, a meniscus tear.I brought it upon myself that I ruptured my ACL in 2002, whilst landing from a cabriole in a ballet class. Putting off going to the doctor or physiotherapist can lead to chronic pain and problems. I will stress how important it is to do your research and be very selective when choosing your doctor, physiotherapist, osteopath, rehabilitation program etc. They should have experience in treating/working with dancers/athletes and the element of trust between doctor/therapist-patient is vital.

But I digress… In August 2009 Dr. Exner-Grave carried out a medical assesment and dance specific screening with the ballet ensemble of the Ballet der Oper am Rhein. In collaboration with the Health-Insurance company of that region: Unfallkasse NRW. Her screening and assessment medically proved that dancers are on a par to professional athletes in terms of their physical capabilities.
In June 2009, The Medicos auf Schalke clinic became the first nationwide sports institute in Germany to house a dance medicine program which offers injury prevention and rehabilitation for professional dancers and dance students. I saw Dr. Exner-Grave give a talk at the german dance medicine conference,TAMED. But more on that next blog! Thank you, Dr Exner-Grave for making a difference :)

September 5, 2010

This article is published with kindly support of Mrs. Spiteri. Pls notice her blog on http://youarenotarobot.com/post/1070152537/the-dancer-vs-the-athlete.