Does the World Need Dance Medicine and Science?

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

Dancers are a hearty breed!  They endure both physical and psychological demands as a result of years of intense training, performance pressure and anatomical wear and tear largely dependent on the specific requirements of their respective genres.  Dancers, however, are often unaware of the toll these pressures can take on their bodies and psyches until it’s too late.

These unique demands are the subject of a global discussion as dance educators and artistic directors are becoming increasingly aware of the need to care for the dancers in their programs and companies.  This global movement is gathering momentum and offering dancers opportunities to learn about their bodies, not solely as artistic instruments, but as athletic ones too.  Dancer’s bodies need to be cared for and looked after in the same manner that professional athletes care for their bodies.

Artistic directors of four Swiss ballet companies spoke on how they saw the global dance medicine and science  community contributing to their dancers’ welfare.

This discussion was held at the 2014 IADMS Annual Meeting held in Basel, Switzerland.  My favorite comment came from Richard Wherlock, Artistic Director of Ballett Basel, “Twenty-five years ago, people would clap their hands off just to see five or six pirouettes and just finish on balance.  Now they want to see you jump up and down, split, go here then go there, do the multi-talented thing, and smile.”  The panel also included Amanda Bennett, Director Balletschule Theater Basel and Artistic Director Prix de Lausanne, as well as Kathleen McNurney, Artistic Director, Tanz Theater Luzerne.

In his comments, Wherlock speaks to the increasing technical demands placed on dancers as the genres develop the next generation of performers. Amanda Bennett spoke eloquently on the fear that injured dancers have to come forward to their directors for fear of loosing a role.  Kathleen McNurney touched on the need to consider each dancer as an individual as “pain for one dancer may not be the same for another”.  All three recognized the difference between physical and psychological pain and acknowledged the importance of considering both when caring for dancers.

This discussion continues worldwide and dancers should know that there is a global community advocating for their wellness! To that end, The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) and DeSales University Dance will present the first mid-Atlantic IADMS Regional Conference on Sunday, April 26th 8:30 am-4:00pm at DeSales University. Topics will range from Plyometrics for Dancers: for increasing jump height and power; Points on Pointe Readiness; to Tips on alignment including releasing myofascial restrictions.  Speakers from both The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center and from The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science will be presenting.  More details may be found here or contact me directly about how you can get involved in the discussion!

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong.

Janine Bryant
Director of Dance Programs
Eastern University, St. Davids, Pa.
[email protected]