This is an HTML version of a posting to the Strathspey list by Michael Hanson (, RSCDS Seattle Branch. Michael says: “This is distilled from various sources, and I hope it is useful, but I am not a doctor, so don’t take it as gospel truth. ;)”

Healthy Dancing

Copyright © 1994 by Michael Hanson.

Scottish Country Dancing is not only great fun; it is also good exercise. It promotes pleasant social interaction and aerobic activity, both important parts of good mental and physical health. As with any exercise, it is important to dance properly to maximize enjoyment and prevent injury. Dancing includes warming up before dancing and cooling down afterwards; it is also important to stay in good condition. Most dance injuries come from overuse of certain muscles, especially when combined with under-use at other times.

Keep in Shape

Cardiovascular fitness
regular aerobic exercise, for example, brisk walking, aerobics, bicycling, cross country skiing, swimming, dancing. Your heart rate should be elevated for 15–20 minutes of continuous exercise (30 minutes including warmup and cooldown), 3 times a week. It is better to exercise on alternate days (e.g., Saturday, Monday, Thursday); this allows the body time between sessions to strengthen and rebuild. Don’t smoke.
General Health
Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, keep your weight near your ideal weight, limit stress.


Before dancing, warm up with light activity and stretching. Warmups increase blood and oxygen supply to the muscles, raise body temperature, relax muscles, increase coordination and prepare you to move.

  1. Joint rotation facilitates motion by spreading synovial fluid to lubricate joints. Rotate toes, ankles, knees, legs, trunk/waist, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers and knuckles. [Anselm says: Be careful about joint rotations and do take into account the way the joints are designed. For instance, you can rotate your ankle laterally but not your knee – it only goes backwards and forwards, which incidentally is why SCD teachers keep harping on you to turn out your legs “from the hip”. Be extra careful about neck rotations. If in any doubt whatsoever, get a suitable professional to give you advice on what works and what to stay away from.]
  2. Walk or move to raise muscle temperature and increase blood circulation before trying to stretch. If the weather is very cold, or if you are feeling very stiff, take extra care to warmup before you stretch.
  3. Do slow, gentle stretches (no bouncing). Tense and relax muscles, then stretch again. Be sure to include arches, calves, and thighs in your stretching. Also stretch your torso, arms and hands. Work the tension out of your shoulders. Stretch gently and hold for 15–20 seconds; if it hurts, back off a little. While stretching, take slow, relaxed breaths from the abdomen, this improves circulation and helps relax your muscles and your mind.
  4. End warmups with some gentle skip change and pas-de-basque to get your feet, legs and mind into the swing of dancing. Gently move to the rhythm of the music, without trying for great extension or flight.

Dance Properly

Good dancing habits go a long way toward preventing injuries. Make the following suggestions an automatic part of your dancing:

  • Maintain control of your body. Keep your center of mass over your feet, especially when turning or circling. Shoulders over hips, hips over knees, over ankles will help maintain balance, which not only prevents injuries and falls, but is also less fatiguing and presents a better form to the viewer.
  • Maintain good posture
  • Avoid rigid muscles. Use your arches, bent knee and leg muscles to land gently and absorb impact - especially for pas-de-basque.
  • Use good handing. When turning by one hand, point elbow down and maintain firm muscles. Floppy arms can result in injury to the shoulder/arm. If you lose your balance, good arms can help keep you from falling. Avoid “thumb” injuries by not grasping your partner’s hand with your thumb. Cup your hand and “glue” your thumb to the inside edge of your hand.
  • Turn out from the hip, not from the knee, to prevent knee problems.
  • Don’t dance if you know you are tired.
  • Do not attempt movements beyond your ability. Strive to improve technique, but be aware of your body’s limitations - if it hurts, back off a bit. Dancing involves movements and muscles that you may not have used much, so work into it gradually. If you can’t do a 90° turnout, settle for 80. If your feet won’t take a full pas-de-basque, cut down on the height, while maintaining the rhythm.
  • Never skip “step practice”. This is your chance to develop and maintain the technique that will keep you going.
  • Be sure your shoes fit snugly, but not tight. Wear cushioned insoles to help absorb impact when landing. If your shoes are too slippery, spray the soles with nonskid, apply rosin, or roughen the sole by scraping it with a knife or rubbing it against a rough surface, such as cement. Moistening the sole with a damp towel can also temporarily keep you from slipping.
  • Avoid wearing rings when dancing, especially ones with rough stones that can dig into your hand or scratch people you dance with.
  • Keep your toe and finger nails trimmed.

Cool Down

After dancing, cool down. Light exercise reduces tightness, cramping and soreness of fatigued muscles and may make you feel better. The cool-down is similar to the second part of the warmup, but in reverse.

  1. Gentle dance-type movements. Like the last part of the warmups, do gentle skip-change, or walk for 5 to 10 minutes after dancing.
  2. Relaxed stretching, as in the warmups. Stretch each body part, giving special attention to ones used in dancing. Assume a position and hold it with another part of the body for 15–20 seconds.

If you are still sore the next day, doing some light exercise and stretching may help.

Treating Minor Discomfort and Injuries

Even if you stay in shape and dance properly, you may occasionally experience discomfort. For minor discomfort, the following may help:

Cramps are usually caused by reduced blood flow to a muscle, and build up of lactic acid. This may indicate insufficient warmup or cool down. Massage, careful stretching, calcium (e.g., milk, or 2 Rolaids or Tums), or potassium (eat oranges or bananas) may help relieve cramps.

For acute pain, cold often helps. Soak feet/legs in cool water after dancing or rub sore muscles with ice.

First aid for minor acute injuries, remember the word RICE:

the injured body part.
the area by wrapping with an elastic bandage.
or ice, for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day for two or three days. Wrap ice in a towel to protect skin or move ice “popsicle” over injured area.
the injured part above the level of the heart as often as possible.

Start immediately, to limit swelling and further damage. For major injuries, consult a physician.


The most common injury dancers sustain is damage to the cartilage in the knee and hip joints. Ankles are also vulnerable. Damage is less likely if the muscles around these joints are strong. These exercises can be used to strengthen them:

Tighten muscles in the front of the thigh (move kneecap), repeating ten or more times several times a day.
Hips, knees and abdomen
Sideways leg lifts. Regular leg lifts. Repeat ten times each.
Sit on one chair and face another. With heels on the floor, push out with the feet against the inside of the legs of the second chair.
Arches and backs of legs
Put a catalogue or 2 inch thick phone book on the floor against the sink. Stand barefoot with your toes and the balls of your feet on the phone book and your heels turned out, extending over the edge, touching the floor. Lift your heels up as high as possible, coming up onto tiptoe on the book, and then bring your heels slowly back down to the floor again. Use your hands for balance only, if you can, or for support if you have to. Move your heels toward each other a little and repeat.


“Stamp out Dance Injuries” by Jane Lataille, from the New Haven Branch Newsletter Reeltime Sept-Oct 1990.

“Stretching & Flexibility: Everything you Never wanted to Know” by Brad Appleton, Usenet FAQ.