Body Basics: Massage Therapy, Self-Care for Dancers

Fateema Blackwell
Rasheeda Perry, the owner and lead instructor of Rebirth Arts Dance Company.

Rasheeda Perry, the owner and lead instructor of Rebirth Arts Dance Company.

Dancers’ bodies are the medium they use for expression. From plies to high jumps, dancers’ are constantly putting their bodies under stress and strain.

Washington, D.C.-based massage therapist Nicky Waller says that it is important for dancers to make time for relaxation, and establish a physical therapy regiment to prevent injuries and preserve their bodies.

“Dancers use every muscle in their body,” say Waller. Waller says two of her clients are professional dancers who meet with her twice a week for treatment.

For dancers-in-training or project-based dancers, Waller recommends that they stretch daily, especially between dance classes and rehearsals. Visiting a massage therapist on a regular basis, such as twice a month, should also be a part of dancers regiment if they do not work as a full-time dance artist.

Waller states that stretching is a part of massage therapy treatment. “Our bodies are like rubber bands. If we don’t stretch our muscles, they will get stiff and tighten up,“ she said.

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at

According to Waller, the lower body has several areas of high impact. The knees, ankles, shins and lower back require the most attention. Without regular and proper stretching of the areas mentioned above, dancers significantly increase the likelihood of developing a serious injury.

Boston-based, freelance dance artist Yolanda Roberson agrees with Waller. Roberson gets a massage twice a week.

She says that she remembers a time when massage therapy was the only practice that kept her dancing and healthy.

“At one point, my muscles were so inflamed and tense all over,” she said. “My massage therapist was able to stretch and massage my muscles in a way that helped relieve most of the tension inside of my muscles that was the result of a very busy, intense performance schedule.”

Rasheeda Perry, the owner and lead instructor of Rebirth Arts Dance Company, echoes Roberson’s sentiment.

Perry, who teaches multiple classes a week at her company in Midlothian, Virginia, says that she uses massage therapy as a recuperative practice “to get my body back to a place where it can go again.”

Waller says Reflexology and Thai massages are the best and most effective massage therapy practices for dancers.

Reflexology requires the therapist to focus on the dancer’s feet and hands, and helps promote good posture. Thai massages are beneficial to dancers because the massage therapist will use the combination of pressure and stretching to treat his or her body, Waller says.

Outside of massage therapy, Waller makes three key recommendations for dancers:

1.  Stretch daily.

2. Soak in Epsom Salt as often as possible.

a. Take Magnesium supplements regularly to reduce inflammation, remove toxins from the body and loosen up muscles for maximum functionality.

3. Meditate daily.

a. Practice deep breathing techniques to transfer oxygen to the muscles.


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