Ballet is expressive, athletic and physically demanding.

What Are the Dangers of Ballet Dancing for Children?

by Laura Agadoni

It's practically a cliche that if you have a little girl, you put her in ballet class. Part of the reason is that many girls dream of being beautiful ballerinas. The trouble is that what you and your daughter see when you watch "The Nutcracker" is the end product. It's difficult to imagine what it takes to get there. There can be some bumps along the way, and it's always a good idea to know what they are. Preparation can help your child avoid some of ballet's dangers.

1. Ankle Problems

Ballet requires repetitive ankle movements, which can lead to injuries. Your child will know something is wrong if she feels pain or tightness in her ankle or if there is swelling or a pinching sensation. A sprain is a common ankle injury. It happens with ballet dancers when the ankle inverts during turning, jumping, landing and being on pointe, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

2. Knee Problems

The bending, plies and jumps children repeatedly do in ballet can lead to overuse injuries of the knee. Symptoms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, include dull knee pain that worsens with ballet moves. Pain occurs from the cartilage behind the kneecap thinning or softening. The meniscus, cartilage inside the knee, can tear from overuse. The orthopedic center at Boston Children's Hospital, for example, is the official caregiver for the Boston Ballet, and the center treats children with meniscus tears from all kinds of sports, including ballet.

3. Unhealthy Body Image

Though your daughter's dance instructor might not tell her to lose weight, many girls in ballet class notice that successful ballerinas are thin. Ballet class is usually performed in front of mirrors, and dancers must wear leotards that conform to the body. Many girls start to develop body image concerns and might develop eating disorders, according to the Child Abuse Review. Kathleen Rea, a former National Ballet of Canada company dancer, was once anorexic and bulimic and said in her book, "The Healing Dance," that many professional ballerinas are.

4. Starting Pointe Too Young

The ultimate for a girl training to be a ballerina is to dance on pointe. But do not let your daughter begin too early, no matter how much she begs you. Starting pointe training before she is ready can cause some serious damage. For example, if pointe work is started before bone maturation in the foot is far enough along, a girl could cause trauma to her bones, according to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. Also, if a girl is not strong enough to keep her weight lifted off her feet, she could damage her foot, ankle, legs, pelvis and trunk by putting too much stress on those areas. A good rule of thumb to follow is if ballet training begins at age 8, your daughter might be ready to dance on pointe shoes at age 12 if she is in serious ballet training two or more days a week and is sufficiently physically developed.

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