Jessica McCann and her husband Yoshiaki Nakano. (Shikama Takashi)
Despite the elegance and artistry of the movements, dance is every bit as taxing as other athletic professions. And like with any sport, the flexibility and repetitive movements take their toll over the years, particularly on the ankles, knees and hips.
“I don’t know of any dancer who has never had an injury,” said Adam McKinney, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s artistic director and a dancer who has had lateral menisci surgeries on both knees over the course of his career.
“At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, we are working to lessen the number of injuries that dancers have toward the goal of 100% injury-free company,” he said.
That’s a tall order. A 2016 retrospective study tracked injuries in a professional ballet dance company over a 10-year period and found that most dancers experience a new injury every year. Company turnover is typically around 34% year-to-year at many companies, the study indicated.
Jessica McCann hammers her pointe shoes in 2015 to soften the noise they make on the stage. (Post-Gazette)
Many other studies indicate similarly high rates of injury across ballet companies, comparable with injuries on sports teams.
Even though many dance companies have begun retaining physical therapists and sport physicians, most dancers don’t perform professionally past their mid-to-late 30s due to the extreme physical toll the art form takes on their bodies.
At 31, McCann wasn’t ready to hang up her pointe shoes, despite the severity of her hip deterioration. After consulting with doctors, surgeons and physical therapists, she set herself a goal of returning to the stage for this year’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which launches on Dec. 8.
She’s ahead of schedule. McCann appeared for a brief performance at the end of October, a duet with her husband, fellow PBT principal Yoshiaki Nakano, as part of the ballet’s “Light in the Dark” performances at the Byham Theater. And she will indeed dance the “Nutcracker” this year, which opens Dec. 8 in the Benedum Center. (Tickets begin at $29 at pbt.org.)