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Athletic Assessments for Dance Majors and Minors

Eastern University’s Dance Department, in partnership with NovaCare,  administers athletic assessments for dance majors and minors annually.  This is essential for our department as we emphasize the needs and unique attributes of each dancer as an individual in our Dancer Wellness Program.  The assessments identify risk factors that are specific to each dancer which may predispose them to injuries or complications. It also reveals strengths and weaknesses,  which can help each dancer and their professors more clearly target their training regimens for optimal results. The specific goals of our Dancer Wellness Program include:

  • assist in a more efficient and more effective training regimen for each individual dancer
  • injury prevention
  • rehabilitation or management of current injuries or effects from surgical procedures
  • assist the professors, therapists and athletic trainers who work with the dancers by providing quantifiable information about that individual dancer that is not necessarily gleaned during studio work or rehearsals
  • implement cross training techniques where necessary

Dancers in well-known professional dance companies receive excellent, specialized attention to their health concerns. But, what about the enormous number of dancers who are on their way up—the hundreds of thousands in school and private studio dance programs who dream big dreams, but often do not have access to the same high level of care, or even to accurate information about their performing bodies? (*Russell, 2011)

In the world of sports, the scientific method is frequently used to create and inform new approaches to training; athletes, and those who help them achieve exceptional levels of human performance, have come to embrace science for the advantages it can provide; As a group, dancers are just beginning to appreciate the potential for using science and its spin-off technologies to improve dance training and performance; some specific performance improvements the movement sciences may be able to help dancers achieve include higher extensions and arabesque, longer leaps, cleaner turns, and more effective use of turnout.  Once dancers, and those who train them, begin to experience some of the benefits of using science to inform the dancer’s approach to training their instrument of their art form, the human body, the adoption of science-based enhancements is likely to become as popular among dancers as it is among athletes.  (*Grossman, 2005)

When it comes to the physiology of the body, dancers in collegiate dance programs, as well as dancers in the professional world,  are coming to realize just how important knowledge acquisition of anatomical limitation is, and Eastern’s Dance Department is right on trend providing this service to their majors and minors.

WHAT STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THEIR ASSESSMENT EXPERIENCE:

  • Senior dance major and graduate Theresa Ford('13): “As a dancer, taking my art and my body seriously is really important to me. Being assessed will help me know how to better take care of my body as well as give me new ways to increase strength and flexibility. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses will help direct my further training and conditioning.”
  • Senior, Laura Diestler: "We are assessed on several things, including but not limited to the alignment of the spine, flexibility of the hip joints, ability to jump certain distances, and cardio health.  I personally struggled with achilles tendonitis on my right ankle, which is an inflammation of the calcaneal or achilles tendon right above the back of the heel. This inflammation was a result of excessive time wearing pointe shoes. When I was assessed by our new Athletic Trainer for Dance, Liz Todd, she was able to tell that I had trouble in that area on that side, purely from taking a look at some exercises that I was doing. I was compensating on my right foot in all sorts of ways to make up for the tightness and injury that had occurred there years ago. With this knowledge, I can move forward in my training and hope to correct any misalignments that could have been happening.”
  • Freshman dance major Rachael Lyons: “I had fun seeing how well I could tackle the different assessment exercises --jumping, stretching, strength-- and it made me realize that I should put just as much effort into the challenges in my dance classes.” The assessments will be continued annually to help dance majors like Rachael be able to assess their progress. As a freshman, Rachael will benefit from four assessments to track her progress over her four years in Eastern’s Dance Department!
  • Senior dance major and graduate Hannie Brake ('13): “I think it is important for dancers to know the nuances in their body so that they can avoid injury as well as work on strengthening and stretching those parts of their bodies that are in need of such attention...My assessment will help me become a better dancer because it will allow me a chance to understand my body and it's quirks and unique qualities in a new way.”

Eastern’s Dance Department thanks John Post (aka, JP!) for his encouragement and assistance with the assessment process, and our Athletic Trainer, Liz Todd of Novacare, biomechanical genius and dance lover!

Article originally written for Spirit Magazine and The Waltonian by Laura Diestler, Senior Dance Major

*Jeff Russell, University of Ohio, Athens, OH

*Gayanne Grossman, Muhlenberg College, PA

To find out more about dance medicine and science, dancer wellness, performing arts wellness or athletic assessments, please visit the following links:
www.iadms.org
www.artsmed.org
hjd.med.nyu.edu/harkness/overview
www.nureyev-medical.org

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