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Exploring the Delicate Topic of Menstruation for Teenage and Beginner Dancers

Menstruation is a topic that's rarely discussed openly, especially in the context of dance. Many young dancers, particularly beginners, often experience irregular periods and assume it's a normal part of their dance journey due to the shared experiences within their dance groups. While irregular menstruation might seem inconsequential at first, it's essential to shed light on the significant short and long-term effects these menstrual alterations can have on overall health, particularly within the realm of dance.


Research has highlighted three critical aspects that need attention when discussing menstruation among dancers and todays blog will focus on the science:


1. **Menarche: Age of Onset of Menstruation**

The age at which menstruation begins, known as menarche, can significantly impact a dancer's health. When young athletes enter intense training, their bodies often respond by altering the regularity of their menstrual cycles. While this phenomenon was once thought to be reversible upon cessation of intense training, dancers face unique challenges due to the prolonged nature of their training. Unlike some elite athletes who experience cyclical training, dancers rarely have periods of reduced intensity. Recent studies indicate that dancers who experience amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) might face long-term consequences, particularly in relation to the development of osteoporosis.


2. **Oligomenorrhea: Irregular Menstrual Cycles**


Irregular periods, known as oligomenorrhea, are common among dancers. This menstrual irregularity can be linked to factors such as low body fat levels, reduced estrogen hormone levels (which play a vital role in maintaining bone mass), and inadequate calcium intake. The dance environment, often emphasizing a lean physique, can exacerbate these issues, leading to decreased bone density and increased risk of injuries.


3. **Amenorrhea: Prolonged Periods of Absence of Menstruation**


Amenorrhea, characterized by prolonged periods without menstruation, can be a concern for dancers. Dancers who experience amenorrhea for over 11 months or do not begin menstruating until age 14 or older are at a higher risk of stress fractures and scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The combination of menstrual dysfunction and poor nutrition, particularly low-calorie diets and insufficient calcium intake, can elevate the likelihood of injuries.


Factors Linked to Menstrual Abnormalities:


- **Low Body Fat Levels**: Dancers often maintain low body fat levels, which can disrupt hormonal balance and impact menstruation.


- **Decreased Estrogen Levels**: Diminished estrogen levels due to rigorous training can lead to reduced bone density, contributing to long-term bone health issues.


- **Dietary Calcium Deficiency**: Inadequate calcium intake can further exacerbate bone density concerns, increasing the risk of fractures.


Given these insights, it's crucial for dancers to address these concerns:


1. **Nutrition and Diet**: Prioritize nutrient-dense foods that support overall health, including bone health. A balanced diet with adequate calories and essential nutrients, particularly calcium, can help mitigate menstrual irregularities.


2. **Medical Consultation**: Dancers who experience prolonged menstrual irregularities should seek medical advice. Consulting with a doctor and undergoing bone density evaluations can provide valuable insights into long-term health risks.


3. **Holistic Well-being**: Shift the focus from extreme eating behaviors to holistic well-being. Emphasize a healthy lifestyle that supports both physical and mental health.


In conclusion, the taboo subject of menstruation should not be ignored within the dance community. Understanding the potential risks associated with irregular menstruation is crucial for the well-being and long-term health of teenage and beginner dancers. By addressing these concerns and promoting a balanced approach to training, nutrition, and overall health, dancers can continue pursuing their passion while safeguarding their physical and mental well-being.


Check out nexts weeks blog where we focus on some practical tips on how to navigate being on your period while at dance class and how parents can talk to their yourng dancers on the topic.

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