Sep 5, 2012

Perfect Turnout Comes With A Price

As any ballet dancer knows, perfect turnout is considered paramount to being successful in the ballet world. Here is an example of picture perfect turnout:

Now, for many of us with EDS, this position comes naturally. It always did for me. As a child my ballet teacher was often impressed by my innate "perfect turnout" and would use me as an example to demonstrate for the rest of the class. A few of my peers were able to easily emulate this ideal turnout, and others could barely get their feet to point anywhere but straight forward. They were probably the "normal" ones in the bunch. Little did my teacher know that I was simply a genetic freak anomaly who didn't have to work to acquire this turnout at all. I loved ballet. It came pretty naturally and I was able to use my body as a vessel for self-expression. Had I have known that I may have been doing more harm than good to my body though, perhaps I wouldn't have let my teacher work me so hard. Perhaps I wouldn't have danced ballet at all actually.

Everytime I watch Dance Moms and see Brooke Hyland engage in her picturesque contortions I can't help but wonder if she has EDS and want to warn her to slow down now because her body will thank her for it later. I worry that any child who exhibits extreme hypermobility may be at risk for extreme pain, suffering and even surgeries later in life. Especially if the hypermobility is encouraged by demanding teachers (like Abby Lee Miller!) or even parents who don't realize the potential consequences of overstretching their children.

Perhaps someday the medical population will realize that EDS is much more common than the literature recognizes and start testing for hypermobility routinely at physicals. They should definitely start screening for it at ballet schools, gymnastics gyms, etc. If nothing else, early screening may enable parents to help their kids protect their joints through good practices and bracing at an earlier age, thereby prolonging the life of a problematic joint.

Instead it is often considered cool to share these party tricks with others. In fact, our culture values hypermobility on display. Everytime I watched street performer and self-described extreme contortionist hiphop dancer "Turf" do his thing on America's Got Talent I couldn't help but root for him. Not only was he a likable guy, it also seems likely that he will endure some medical problems down the road as a result of his dancing now.

Disclaimer: It probably goes without saying, but just in case you're new to this blog I should mention that I am not a licensed physician and therefore not qualified to make medical diagnoses for any of the aforementioned individuals based on what I have seen them do on TV. They may or may not have ehlers-danlos syndrome.

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