The frenzy caused by the popular celebrity dance competitions across the globe has resulted in an alarming increase in reported dance related injuries from couch potatoes wanting to be the next Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair. Medical experts are warning people suddenly taking to the dance floor after years of inactivity risk a range of agonising injuries because the tricky routines of tango or foxtrot expose poor levels of fitness. The number of people taking ballroom classes has doubled since the shows began and now more people are being treated for snapped tendons, sore feet, twisted ankles and back pain.
Previously knee injuries were more common due to the craze for step aerobics, now the incidence of ankle and foot injuries has increased due to ballroom dancing. Different dances carry different risks with the jive or a quickstep putting tremendous pressure on the balls of the feet. Slower dances such as the foxtrot and rhumba put stress on the muscular of the leg causing strain and shin splints. Poor technique as much as lack of fitness is likely to result in injury for amateurs, the experts warn.
People are advised to build up their fitness, and warm up and stretch thoroughly before attempting ambitious moves. The most common injuries reported are ankle strain, knee injury, lower back pain, foot strain, hamstring and quadriceps injury, as well as shoulder strain.
Whenever a dance craze takes hold there always follows a spate of related injuries and the current situation is not new by any manner of means. The tarantella is an Italian folk dance whose origins date to the Middle Ages. The choreographed steps are associated with choremania, (a psychological disorder), specifically tarantism, which involved frenetic, spontaneous dancing caused by the bite Latrodectus tarantula spider. The venom caused headaches, fainting, shortness of breath, giddiness, convulsive movements (shaking, trembling, and twitching), as well as possible hallucinations. Tarantism caused people to dance all day until they literally expired. Tarantism is considered to be similar to the choremania outbreak in Germany of Johannistanz (St. John's Dance, also known as Veitanz (St. Vitus Dance or Sydenham's chorea).
St Vitus is the patron saint of epileptics, actors and dancers. When tarantism was at its height and because it affected so many of the community attempts were made to make it appear normal behaviour including musicians playing mandolins, tamborines, or other instruments as the taranti danced. This is thought to be the origin of the folk dance and the tempo in music notation. So many people reported having a religious experience during their long dancing episodes that dedicated religious pilgrims adopted ritualised dancing to achieve trance and ecstatic states. The headaches, shortness of breath, muscle soreness, and exhaustion related to extended physical exertion.
Similar symptoms were reported in the 1930s and 40s, when the Western World became preoccupied with body image and youth culture. Marathons of all types took place and dance marathons in particular were extremely popular with many people literally dancing until they dropped. Swing dances were even more athletic then the previous craze of the Charleston and dancers were getting younger and more capable of physical moves.
Throughout the decade shoe styles altered to give support to feet as foot strain became the most reported injury. Ankle hugging straps became vogue and shoes were decorated with bows and fastened by buttons to detract the eye from their supporting role. Arch supports became essential accessories as the cult of body sculpting, exercise and fad diets prevailed. Naked feet seen in public, which had been once taboo were now flaunted as glamorous fashion sandals became vogue.
Thirty years later, in the sixties, medical concerns were raised again at the wisdom of twisting in stilettos. The heeled shoe had become the dread of all dance hall owners since 1952, when they were introduced and caused extensive damage to expensive floor surfaces.
The introduction of discos a decade later and swell in popularity of disco dancing once again brought a spate of foot and ankle related injuries. The condition Disco Foot (a complete collapse of foot structure due to fatique) was reported at A&E across the western world. The popularity of Saturday Night Fever ensured more people were tripping the light fantastic and the same phenomenon came a decade later with the Chemical generation and Raver’s Foot.
The ascendency of the humble arch support dates from the 30s marathon craze. Now called foot orthosis (or orthotics) they continue to be popular. A reported takeover for an Australian company that produces an over the counter range of foot orthoses exchanged hands for a reported £14.6 million ($32.9 million Aus)a decade ago.