I am a ballet teacher and I have a student that is 15 and just found out she has scoliosis. She has been dancing all her life and is a good dancer. When I found out that she has scoliosis it put some things into perspective about her body and how she uses it. She has always had very tight hips and has an arch in her lower back. I was getting ready to give her the exercises from the Analyzing Turnout DVD but I wanted to ask you if there is anything that I shouldn’t have her do or better yet anything different that she can do to work around the scoliosis? Her limitations in this area make so much more sense to me know that I know what she is dealing with. She is affected in the thorax region and I would like to help her any way I can. She has aspirations of having a career in dance so any guidance you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
On another note, you are amazing! I have LOVED everything you have done and use it on a daily basis while teaching. When I was growing up and being taught ballet no one cared about how your body was built and how that played into learning how to use it. I think I am finally getting through to my students that it is okay if you don’t have perfect turnout and if you work correctly you can increase your turnout and still be able to move around when you are older.
Thanks so much for all you have done and are continuing to do for the dance community! I have had several other teachers sign up to get your newsletter and they all have enjoyed it as well!
Have a great day!
Great question! Let’s talk about scoliosis. There are 2 primary categories of scoliosis, the type that is idiopathic and comes on during the early adolescent growth, and a type I’ll call functional scoliosis, which is when the spine responds to a leg length different or other structural/muscular asymmetry. Sometimes there is a combination of both.
I had a wonderful dancer/client I’ll call Sunshine (not her real name – but she had such a positive attitude:) who had her scoliosis picked up around the normal time of 12 -13 years of age. She went to a doctor who specialized in scoliosis who said she needed to have surgery because the curve was greater than 40 degrees. The mom was not about to say yes to surgery before they tried everything else first because she accurately understood that scoliosis surgery is one of the most difficult surgeries for children. That is when they came to me.
I looked at Sunshine’s standing alignment and saw that she had leg length discrepancy and when I put something under the heel of her shorter leg, it improved (decreased) the spinal curves. That was encouraging. It meant that there was an aspect of her scoliosis that was functional.
One of her major curves in the thoracic area had a major rotary component to it. It is what people see when a student with scoliosis rounds over…. The ribs rounding back on one side.
We started working on increasing her ability to rotate more evenly through all the areas of the spine. You see every time the spine has lateral flexion (or side bends) it will always rotate. It does this to take the stress off that area of the spine.
Try this. Sidebend your head so your right ear goes towards your right shoulder. Leave it side bent to the right (which is right lateral flexion of the neck) and now turn your chin first to the right, down towards your shoulder, and then rotate it to the left, up towards the ceiling. It felt freer when you rotated right – yes? This is an example of how the spine wants to rotate to take the strain away from the side bending.
I had her do twisted push-ups against the wall – doing more on the side with less flexibility. She imagined a huge X going from the shoulders to the opposite hips – and instead of slumping into her normal standing alignment, which was sinking into one hip, she constantly corrected herself to imagine the 2 lines of her imaginary X were the same length.
click here to open short Quick Time clip showing twistedpushup (keep hips facing front, twist upper body to wall)
She had exercises (primarily rotation) received massage and craniosacral work to support the new muscle patterning, put a heel lift under the short leg – which she wore everywhere including her soft slipper – just not in modern class. The lion’s share of the rehab I will give credit solely to her commitment to making postural changes. This is not easy as an adolescent!
Sunshine went back to the doctor 3 months later, then 6 months later – and since she was showing improvement in her x-rays he allowed her to continue whatever she was doing☺! She never did have surgery and continued to dance, graduating with a dance degree from college and is now dancing professionally with a company based in France!
The point of this longish story is not to say that surgery is NEVER needed – rather it is to encourage any parent who has a child recently diagnosed with scoliosis to make sure there are no functional aspects to the scoliosis that could be addressed.
As far as your question about giving her the exercises from the Turnout DVD – yes, you can give her any of them. I would especially encourage you to see if her iliopsoas and hip flexors are tight – and then to have her focus on stretching them. Check or have someone check to see if there is a structural leg length difference that might be exacerbating the curve – and focus on giving her many images for long spine and one that easily rotates!
Hope this helps……