Why Are Students Performing in Pain at Western Kentucky University’s Dance Department?

For any intensely physical activity, like professional dance or athletics, some kinds of pain are just part of the process. A professional life can be difficult and competitors are often waiting to take your spot. But there are limits to what anyone should subject themselves to and those limits should be learned while still a student.

I was reading this article about the dance major at Western Kentucky University and there are some serious warning signs that something is not quite right at this dance program:

“It’s not unusual for Natalie Peak’s toenails to rot and fall off. She drains fluid out of her infected toes and almost always has blisters. She has dislocated her patella and pulled her rib muscles.”

I know a lot of issues arise in pointe work, which is what I’m assuming has caused Peak’s toenail problems, but doesn’t that sound like she’s not learning to care for herself properly?

“Missing class due to minor injuries is not acceptable” according to faculty member Clifton Brown:

“Really, who cares? You have to push through it unless it’s something really serious…The audience doesn’t care. The audience wants to see a show.'”

There is some truth to that in professional performance but are audiences truly that uncaring?  And are college performances that important?  I don’t think so.

You do have to learn to work with minor injuries but something’s not right when students are performing with problematic injuries in what is ultimately a low stakes context:

“Cesler dances with a screw in his foot. He’s had knee surgeries and hernia surgeries. After cracking a bone in his foot, he performed while wearing a cast. ‘You have to be tough inside,’ he said.”

“Peak often bites her lip as she fights foot pain while dancing. After dislocating her patella, Peak took some medicine, wrapped the injury and went back to the dance floor. When she pulled her rib muscle during a dress rehearsal, Peak went to the emergency room and then danced in the last half of the show, she said.”

It’s hard to tell from a distance but this sounds like an atmosphere that pushes students to do the wrong thing. Dancers shouldn’t be learning to treat themselves so poorly in a college setting. I feel sorry for these students and disappointed that at this point in time, with so much knowledge available about injury treatment and related topics, these kids are being miseducated in this manner.

Am I overreacting or does this just sound obviously wrong?