Monday 16 July 2018

Dancers play the pain game for Riverdance

Ruptured tendons, strained pelvic muscles, ripped hamstrings -- it's not all glitz and glamour in the famous troupe

patrick oconnor and Rebecca Youens

one of the great dancing spectaculars of all time, Riverdance, is proving hard on the legs. Various members of the dance troupe who have been touring the world for years with the famous show have suffered a litany of injuries.

Great bucketfuls of ice are kept backstage to cool down legs and the injured limbs that come with this fast and furious form of Irish dancing.

Former principal dancer Brendan de Gallai, one of the founding dancers with Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, has revealed for the first time the catalogue of injuries he has suffered during his term with the show.

"For the professional Irish dancing world, one needs a certain edge to survive it. You need to be at the peak of your fitness to perform well with the company. This can be a problem for new dancers, as although they are competition fit, a different type of fitness is required for the day-to-day strains of a touring show."

Extremely painful hairline stress fractures to the shin bone are common.

"I have had twisted ankles. I have ripped my hamstring in the past, which can be pretty painful. My biggest injury was osteitis pubis, which is a pelvic injury caused by overuse of the abdominal muscle causing trauma to the bone."

Brendan was out for a couple of months and says "it taught me to take warm-up and take ongoing maintenance seriously".

But while dancers often twist their ankles or suffer other injuries, they continue with the tradition that 'the show must go on'.

"Although you know what has happened is not good, you can continue until the end of the number without it affecting your performance and without feeling the pain. After coming off stage and (losing) the adrenaline rush, you may not be able to put any weight on it, and you may be on crutches for a few days."

There are also mental challenges which affect dancers differently. "Most dancers can deliver the goods every night for long runs of up to six months. Those who have a lot of trouble with this don't tend to last," says Brendan.

Probably the worst accident to happen on stage was a teenage female dancer who ruptured her Achilles tendon during a show.

The Riverdance promoters now work with specialists during warm-up sessions to monitor their degree of fitness, using a holistic approach to develop their dancing skills.

Former Riverdance physiotherapist, Nessa Smyth, now with the Portobello Physiotherapy Practice on Lennox Street in Dublin, has also detailed the common injuries she was treating in Riverdance.

"Excessive overload to the shin bone will cause a stress reaction to the bone, which may develop into a stress fracture. In the shin area, it may become swollen and painful.

"The pain in the forefoot can range from calluses and nail problems to joint, bone or soft tissue," she says.

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