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Getting jiggy with it – injury and performance in Irish dancing

Posted By Roisin Cahalan on behalf of the Dance Educators’ Committee, Thursday, July 16, 2020


Emily Bourke by Feisfoto


Irish dancing is one of most recognizable cultural dance genres internationally and is practiced by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts across the globe. Although always popular in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora, Irish dancing reached a worldwide audience over 25 years ago with the success of productions such as “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance”. Irish dancing, unlike many other dance formats, is structured around a dense calendar of competitive events called “feiseanna”, culminating in the annual World Irish dancing championships, which features the top 5000 international qualifiers in an eight-day event.


In recent decades, the complexity and physical demands of Irish dancing have increased exponentially, as has the incidence of injury in the genre. At the elite level, it is comparable to that experienced by peers from contemporary dance1 and ballet fields2. Despite the unique choreographic features of Irish dancing, not least the upright torso and stationary arms, and the requirement to land on the toes with minimal knee bend, there are many similarities between the risks and injury profiles of elite Irish dancers and peers from other genres1,3.


The research into the causes of injury in Irish dancing is still at a relatively early stage. However, we do know that the lower limb, in particular the foot and ankle, are overwhelmingly the main body parts affected.4,5 Surprisingly, investigations of physical characteristics such as strength, endurance, balance and so on have identified few associations with injury.5,6 That is not to say that clinicians, researchers and practitioners should ignore these as potential factors. The nature of Irish dancing frequently results in muscle imbalance, with weak hip abductors and gluteal muscles, and tight hamstrings and calf muscles particularly common.7 Excellent ankle proprioception is very important due to the high level of acute ankle injury encountered.7


Load management and periodization is generally poor, with injury being associated with sudden spikes in load. There appears to be a relationship between injury and poor sleep, suboptimal general and psychological health, low mood, and increased catastrophizing.1,5,6 There is also an indication that cross training is underutilized, and there is a practice of continuing to dance even when injured or in pain.1,6 The following model identifies the myriad of factors that can threaten or protect an Irish dancer’s health and wellbeing. This is based on the research in Irish dancing, other dance genres and sport, and would apply to many elite dancers and athletes.




One of the most important things to remember about elite Irish dancers is that, in my experience, they share a common mind set with dancers from other genres. Dance is an integral part of their identity, and injury is a threat to the entire dancer’s sense of self. They tend to be passionate about their dancing, and some focus on the short term as opposed to employing strategies to support healthy longevity in dance. Irish dancers need to be treated holistically, with SMART goal setting and careful monitoring to support progress in performance or when injured. For more on the management of the elite Irish dancer, see “The Complete Irish Dance” Facebook page and YouTube channels, which are packed with easily accessible resources for anyone working with these athletes.




1.     Cahalan R, Kearney P, Ni Bhriain O, Redding E, Quin E, McLaughlin LC, O’Sullivan K. (2018). Dance exposure, wellbeing and injury in collegiate Irish and contemporary dancers: A prospective study. Physical Therapy in Sport.


2.     Cahalan, R. and O'Sullivan, K. (2013a) 'Injury in Professional Irish Dancers', Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 17(4),150-158.


3.     Higginbotham O, Cahalan R (2020). The collegiate Irish dancer's experience of injury: A qualitative study. Medical Problems of Performing Artists.


4.     Cahalan, R., O'Sullivan, K., Purtill, H (2017). Biopsychosocial Factors Associated with Foot and Ankle Pain and Injury in Irish Dance: A Prospective Study. Medical Problems of Performing Artists. 32(2)111-117.


5.     Cahalan, R., O'Sullivan, K., Purtill, H. Bargary N., Ni Bhriain O. and O'Sullivan, P. (2015).   ‘Inability to perform due to pain/injury in elite adult Irish dance: A prospective investigation of contributing factors’, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 26(6) 694–702. doi: 10.1111/sms.12492


6.     Cahalan R, Bargary N, O’Sullivan K. 2019. Dance exposure, general health, sleep and injury in elite adolescent Irish dancers: A prospective study. Physical Therapy in Sport. 40: 153-159.


7. Cahalan et al; 2020. Complete Irish Dancer: Optimization of Health and Performance in Irish Dancers. Chapter 2.Nova Sports Publishers, New York, USA. ISBN: 978-1-53617-389-5.



Tags:  injury  irish  performance 

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Mara Brenner, Founder and director of Gabriola Dance and Pilates, shares her experiences of her first IADMS conference

Posted By Mara Brenner on behalf of the Dance Educators Committee, Tuesday, July 7, 2020


I danced for 15 years with Miss Barbara in a small culturally isolated, mostly Jewish, anglophone suburb of Montreal. There were almost no guest teachers. There were no competitions or discussions of anatomy. There was no awareness of certification or exams. There was however a love of dance and a history of excellence.


After graduation, while in my post-secondary education and at university in British Columbia, it rarely occurred to me to seek out dance classes. I settled on a small remote island and started a family. Then I got an itch—I wanted to dance! I asked about classes at local recreation centre who said, “No, sorry. Could you teach?”. And so it began. Slowly, I started a dance school. With my passion reignited I began to learn; to fill in some gaps. I found that I have a magnetic relationship with anatomy and science and soaked up my Pilates certification.


Now, 25 years later, I have attended my first IADMS conference. I watched throughout the years as it toured the world and when it landed in my home town I seized the opportunity. Living in a remote town (like my teacher before me), accessing hands on learning is difficult, so what a treat for me to attend an IADMS conference!


During the conference I met so many interesting presenters and formed professional relationships. I even had one presenter, Erika Mayall, come from Vancouver to offer a workshop and private sessions with my dancers. Erika focused on turnout and worked with my senior ballet dancers. She brought in turnout boards for measurements which was a new experience for the students. As a physio she also saw some dancers privately and helped with some at-home programs.

Almost 6 months post conference and I’m still having “light bulb moments” from the sessions I attended. Often, I apply them to Pilates first, as it’s my scientific nature to rip everything apart into tiny pieces. This was the case from the final lecture session on Breathing and the performance athlete, led by Jessica DeMars. Wow, that changed so much for me! For example, the knowledge I gained about the importance of nose breathing wasn’t in-line with my Pilates training but after having instituted it, I find that my dancers are connecting much more effectively with their pelvic floor muscles. From a workshop at IADMS with Suzanne Koucheravy, I have also helped several young dancers discover that they have scoliosis, and with the proper medical care they are dancing pain-free now!


The feeling of elation I get as a teacher every time I help a student improve, and it leads to building up their passion for dance, is indescribable. It’s addictive actually, as is learning, and I can’t wait for my next IADMS conference to further fuel my love of teaching!

Tags:  Annual Conference  pilates 

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The Language of Eating Disorders: Are you helping or harming?

Posted By Monika Saigal, Monday, June 22, 2020


Research confirms that the prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating (ED/DE) is significantly higher among dancers than the general population, with especially high rates of ED/DE among ballet dancers.[1,2] Without proper detection and intervention, ED/DE can have devastating effects on a dancer’s performance, career, and physical and mental health, but fortunately these serious issues are preventable and treatable.

Eating disorders are complex conditions caused by biological, social, and psychological factors. Some of these factors, such as genetics, cannot be changed, but other risk factors for ED/DE are modifiable. Psychotherapist, Dawn Theodore, and I had the honor of presenting at the IADMS Annual Conference, 2019, on the role of language in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. Specifically, we discussed the ways in which the language that dance educators, medical professionals, and dancers themselves use can impact modifiable risk factors for ED/DE such as dieting, body image dissatisfaction, perfectionism, and rigid thinking. What follows is a brief summary of language recommendations related to nutrition, weight, and body image. Dawn will expand on these topics, including addressing the importance of language in the studio setting, in the next IADMS Newsletter. 

Dieting is one of the most common and preventable precursors to developing an eating disorder. Unfortunately, because dieting has become so normalized in our society, it is often not recognized as problematic. Even worse, dancers may be encouraged to diet by peers, teachers, company leadership, and even healthcare providers. Dieting is far from benign. In addition to contributing to the development of ED/DE,[3] dieting can lead to nutrient deficiencies and negative energy balance which can negatively impact a dancer’s health and performance, independent of eating pathology. Dieting is also linked to lower self-esteem, increased body image dissatisfaction, and weight gain. 

Dancers need to be educated on the harms of dieting and given tools to recognize potentially harmful eating practices, which is especially important and challenging in the shape-shifting diet culture landscape. Dieting should be strongly discouraged and ideally “diet talk” and “fat talk” would be prohibited in the studio and at home. In cases where a restricted diet is medically indicated (e.g., a gluten free diet for celiac disease), dancers should be referred to a dietitian with a specialty in eating disorders as well as experience in working with dancers.

Dancers will likely encounter an abundance of misinformation about food and nutrition during the course of their training and career. A particularly problematic trend is the dichotomous labeling of food and eating habits as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy, which is inaccurate and contributes to stress and anxiety around eating. This approach does not consider differences in the individual needs of dancers or account for how socioeconomic status, culture, race, and other factors contribute to food choice and health. In addition, when foods are believed to be bad or unhealthy, dancers may feel pressure to compensate for these choices by engaging in harmful behaviors.

Nutrition education is often beneficial for dancers, but given the high risk for ED/DE in this population, using untrained and unqualified professionals to deliver such education may be more harmful than helpful. Giving out generic and general nutrition information (e.g., fill half your plate with vegetables) without considering and understanding the potential impact should be avoided. Numbers-based nutrition discussions (e.g., calories, grams of fat, etc.) should be used with extreme caution with dancers, especially given the prevalence of perfectionism in this population. 

Using neutral language is critical to helping dancers develop a healthy relationship with food. An all-foods-fit approach that neither moralizes nor villainizes any food choice is recommended. Rather, the nutrition value of foods can be viewed on a spectrum. Armed with appropriate nutrition knowledge and guidance, dancers can be taught to tune in and listen to their own body’s cues to help guide their food choices. 

Current aesthetic standards in dance undoubtedly contribute to body image dissatisfaction, harmful weight control practices, and eating disorder risk. Increasing diversity in dance would have a substantial positive impact on the health and wellbeing of dancers. However, this type of systemic change is not likely to occur in the immediate future. In the meantime, and at the very least, language and practices that reinforce the harmful message that there is only one type of acceptable “dancer body” must cease. 

Studies have found that perceiving oneself as having a weight higher than “ideal” is associated with negative health outcomes including increased depression, stress, and physiological dysregulation, regardless of whether the perception is accurate.[4,5]  Although this research is not specific to dancers, it supports the recommendation that dancers should not be encouraged to lose weight. Not only is this practice linked to the opposite of the desired outcome (i.e., weight gain rather than weight loss), it is harmful to a dancer’s physical and mental health. 

Weighing dancers in the school, studio, or company setting and imposing weight or body fat requirements is strongly discouraged. Positive reinforcement of weight loss is also harmful, no matter how well meaning the intention. It may be helpful to remember that you cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder based on appearance alone and most dancers with eating disorders will appear to be of “normal” weight. 

If necessary, to measure a dancer’s weight in a healthcare setting, consent should be obtained and great care taken to determine how the data will be assessed, used, and discussed as well as the best weighing practices. The language used to discuss weight is critical. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss weight stigma in sufficient detail, it’s important to note that terms such as “overweight” and “obese” are stigmatizing and weight stigma is linked to poor health outcomes. 

Finally, helping dancers cultivate and practice self-compassion may be a valuable antidote to the eating disorder risk factors discussed in this article. In fact, self-compassion is associated with multiple positive benefits including less disordered eating; improved body image; less anxiety, depression, and perfectionism; and improved eating habits. [6,7,8] Self-compassion is also a valuable tool for all of us involved in the training and care of dancers, as we evaluate the impact of our own language and behaviors and consider how we can change what we say and how we say it, to help prevent eating disorders and promote overall dancer health and well-being.



1. Arcelus J, Witcomb GL, Mitchell A. Prevalence of Eating Disorders amongst Dancers: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. Eur. Eat. Disorders Rev. 2014;22(2):92-101.

2. Ringham R, Klump K, Kaye W, Stone D, Libman S, Stowe S, Marcus M. Eating disorder symptomatology among ballet dancers. Int J Eat Disord. 2006;39(6):503-508.

3. Shisslak CM, Crago M, Estes LS. The spectrum of eating disturbances. Int J Eat Disord. 1995;18(3):209-19.

4. Daly M, Robinson E, Sutin AR. Does knowing hurt? Perceiving oneself as overweight predicts future physical health and well-being. Psychol Sci. 2017;28(7):872-81.

5. Himmelstein MS, Incollingo Belsky AC, Tomiyama AJ. The weight of stigma: cortisol reactivity to manipulated weight stigma. Obesity. 2015 Feb;23(2):368-74.

6. Kelly AC, Vimalakanthan K, Miller K. Self-compassion moderates the relationship between body mass index and both eating disorder pathology and body image flexibility. Body Image. 2014;11(4):446–53.

7. Neff KD. Self-compassion, self-esteem, and well-being. Soc Personal Psychol Compass.2011;5(1): 1-12.

8. Sirois FM, Kitner R, Hirsch JK. (2015). Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychol. 2015;34(6):661-69.


Tags:  eating disorders  psychology 

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Interview with 2019 Dance Educator Awardee – Nico Kolokythas

Posted By Dance Educators Committee, Friday, June 12, 2020


Strength and conditioning isn't as prevalent in dance training as it is in sports and athletic teams. What challenges did you face when first implementing strength and conditioning classes within a vocational dance school?


I think the fact I wasn’t a dancer in my previous career could be placed at the top of the list as a challenge. Luckily all the dance teachers opened the studio doors wide open for me to go, observe and ask questions. I was also very privileged to have Judith Rowann as a mentor during this process. She is our rehabilitation ballet teacher, her knowledge and experience was and is very valuable to me. Like all the different sports I have worked with I had to understand ballet as a discipline. I spent a good few months simply trying to understand.


I then decided to focus on the graduates as they were the ones who, in my eyes, would benefit the most from my assistance. They were going to go for auditions in the new year, and the graduate girls asked to have a session with me. I felt it was an opportunity to get accepted by the group. I put a session together with bodyweight exercises. Having had quite a few years of experience with female adolescent athletes, I honestly thought I had it! Little did I know! After the session the girls could not go up the stairs for a week. It was a disaster but a wakeup call for me as I understood a bit more about the population I was dealing with. The girls didn’t really train with me the rest of the year. A combination of things, most importantly that they had little time available but I feel this session did not really help! So in a way I feel, that once again in life thinking you know is very far from actually knowing.



You have developed the 11+ Dance, an injury prevention intervention for dancers. How did the dance students and staff react to this when you initially implemented it in the school?


The 11+ Dance was not an idea that simply came to me ready-made. I didn’t wake up one morning with the complete package. It was a process of trial and error, and the errors were very valuable lessons, something that I have to praise Elmhurst Ballet School as an organization for being open minded enough to, in a way, give me the room to make errors. My experience as a coach and a strength and conditioning coach helped a lot in the development and refinement of the idea.


The intervention is based on FIFA 11+ and FIFA 11+ kids so I wanted to keep the 11+ in the name. The reason for this was that I wanted to make sure we expose our work in the sports science world. I cleared it with FIFA that it was ok to use the 11+ and I was trying to find a way to connect the name with Dance. It was Prof Matt Wyon who said a random comment “you work with children who are 11+ years old all the way to professionals”. That’s how the name came about.


I think that the dance teachers and the students were a bit skeptical about the 11+ Dance, and I would say understandably so; why should they trust me? I knew it was the right thing to do but why should someone who only just met me, a perceived rookie in the sector, jump to the idea? So I would say that acceptance was a gradual process. It was achieved through open dialogue and compromise. Did we always agree? nope, but there was always a dialogue and there was always progress, starting from the senior leadership team, the dance teachers, and of course the students. I spent a lot of time discussing and explaining the why and how of research. I was making sure that the teachers and the students knew exactly what I was trying to achieve and why it was important. Education, therefore, was part of the buy-in process.


Have you seen perceptions of the 11+ Dance and strength and conditioning classes change over the past 5 years?


The answer is a clear yes! For the male population it was a bit easier again understandably, the boys realized very quickly where and how I could help them. They wanted to jump higher and lift heavier. The fact I can jump high helped! For the female population it had been a bit slower but change was initiated with my work with Jade Wallace and the video we put together “Up the spiral”. This video was intended as a motivational tool for Jade to keep going as her injury rehabilitation was very lengthy, but also an educational tool for the young female dancers who looked up to her as a role model. I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work but it was a turning point.


We now have a lot girls in the gym, lifting weights regularly and we have managed to change the mindset from exercising to training. I also think the students can now see the value that training like this can add to their dancing ability.



What developments have you seen in the students since you began your role as Performance Enhancement Coach?


The Artistic Director of the school said in a statement that the dance industry is demanding more athleticism. I would say that this is where we are moving towards. For the boys we can clearly see that those who train consistently and with intention have a more athletic lean look. The same goes for the girls, they look lean and toned without losing the aesthetic look that ballet demands. We are not there yet but the girls at Elmhurst Ballet School can now do that session I tried with the graduate girls 5 years ago, and the next day they are ready to train again. I am very proud of all of them.


What advice would you give to other schools or teachers looking to include strength and conditioning training in their training programme?


The main point, for me, would be to think of supplementary training as an investment of time and effort instead of time lost from dance training. We know from research in sports that stronger and more robust athletes have a reduced injury risk. Less risk of injuries means less time lost from an injury and therefore more time in the studio to dance and develop their artistry.



The next question probably is where do you start? I think it’s always best to start with fundamentals and to think of general, instead of specific conditioning. What I mean by that is, simply replicating a dance move with resistance (elastic band or yoga ball) may not be the way to go. Especially when the student dancers have little or no experience in strength and conditioning. As you can see with the anecdote about my first session with the graduate girls, the ability to do a training session was there, but the capacity of the body to deal with the load was not. Start with basic fundamental movements (squat, lunge, twist, pull, push, brace, hip hinge), get them right, and progress slowly and gradually. I find it fascinating when I see students correcting each other by repeating the coaching points they have been taught. This should be the aim, that is when one knows learning is successful, when the student can teach the skill. The cultural shift is as important as the practical shift and this takes time.





Tags:  IADMS Dance Educator Award 

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How are dancers coping with quarantine? Perspectives from the Houston Ballet

Posted By Carina Nasrallah on behalf of the IADMS Promotion Committee, Tuesday, June 2, 2020

I’m Carina, Houston Methodist Athletic Trainer for Houston Ballet and a member of the IADMS Promotions Committee.  We were proud to have Houston, Texas as the location of the #IADMS2017 Annual Conference.  As part of the Helping Dancers Help Themselves initiative, I wanted to share some perspectives from within our Houston community as to how we are adapting to the COVID-19 quarantine.

Ian Casady, Principal, Houston Ballet

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a monumental impact on my ability to train and stay performance ready.  It is impossible to adequately replicate the training environment that I am used to, and that is required, for staying in top shape while stuck at home.  Movement is limited both laterally and vertically, and even in spaces where I might be able to jump or turn, I am limited by the floor surface and hardness.   In addition to the constraints of my physical space are the constraints on the amount of time that I can dedicate to working out.  As the husband of a full-time elementary teacher and the father of an elementary student who are also both stuck at home, it has been difficult to find much focused alone time to keep a consistent training regimen.  I am taking a daily modified ballet class in my garage, and supplementing that with general full-body fitness exercises and HIIT sessions when I can manage.  For me, as with most of us now, work and life have melded into one, and the brain is constantly switching back and forth, from one to the other, throwing the idea of “work/life balance” out the window.


Allison Miller, First Soloist, Houston Ballet

A couple weeks back, Carina shared a plyometric training video with us which I loved and I plan on adding that in this week. I really appreciated Carina talking about floor awareness…I have been concerned for my fellow dancers, seeing them on social media jumping and doing a lot of moves on not-sprung floors. As a high school bunhead, I foolishly used to dance entire ballets on a cement pad in our back yard and that turned out very, very badly, though not immediately, and I ended up struggling with shin splints for a couple years. So I was glad to have her explain so explicitly how important it is to protect ourselves.


I had trouble getting on board with “hanging onto the counter” for ballet, and really took some time away from class the first few weeks of this thing. I’ve been biking a lot, and I have a handful of ex-dancer friends who teach Pilates and Gyrokinesis and now have zoom classes. It has been about four weeks of taking their classes (classes about 4 times a week) and I have been so happy to feel/see my muscles change. My hamstrings, which I know never want to work, are lit! My arms are feeling strong! My core is stronger and more articulate. I’m not using my neck for everything! It’s been fun to take this time and notice how my body feels different when you remove ballet all together.


I now have a floor (shower pan liner as fake Marley) and a little barre. I’m doing more ballet classes at home because I want to, and I’m excited to have shed the muscle baggage I usually have in a busy season and start fresh.



Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Corps de Ballet, Houston Ballet

The Covid-19 crisis has influenced everyone's lives dramatically. I've gone back to my family in New Zealand for the time being, but have been able to stay involved with Houston Ballet online. I've found it difficult to balance rest and work, is this a good opportunity to let my body rest and recover from what was a really intense performance season, or should I push through to the end of June when our next scheduled break was supposed to be and remain in the best physical condition I can? I think the answer for many of us has been somewhere in between, and I think that’s the best for me mentally and physically.


I take a combination of ballet class and contemporary classes throughout the week, and I attempt to alternate. Mentally, ballet can be quite frustrating for me at home because I've realized I rely so heavily on having a good floor, I've been trying to work on port de bras and balances specifically, but contemporary/modern classes can feel more rewarding as I don't feel I'm compromising as much. Partnering is something I'm always focused on trying to improve, but it has been really hard without dance partners or access to gyms. I try to get in push-ups in a variety of positions most days of the week so that it might hopefully take me less time to get back to where I was when we return. I take one day off dancing and working out completely, usually Sunday. Things like jumping, turning and partnering are a bit out of my control, so I'm trying to focus on things I can control like equipment-less PT, Pilates Mat, little jumps in sneakers etc. Everything has been an exercise in creativity and as someone who hopes to choreograph one day, I'm trying to take the time to exercise the creative parts of me that can be easy to neglect during the usually busy work schedule. 


Michelle de los Reyes, Company Manager, Houston Ballet

Working from home when you work for a performing arts groups is just not something you ever imagined you’d do. Performing arts require collaboration throughout all aspects of the group and that is usually done in-person. Though some of the specifics of my job as Company Manager have changed, I am still doing many of the same types of work as before. Much of my day is still focused on managing the company of dancers and their doings. The big difference is that now I am doing all my work via phone or web. Communication is something that I think people take for granted when you see someone every day. But now, I am on the phone or web calls probably 60-80% of my day, making sure to stay in touch with the Artistic Staff and the company of dancers. All those little passing check-ins you can do when you see someone walking the halls now are deliberate phone calls or meetings. For me, this amount of digital connectedness, though extremely important, can sometimes be exhausting. One personal policy I have put in place is a hard start and end time for my day. Without it, I think working at home would allow ‘work time’ to creepy into and take over ‘home time’. So, unless something is urgent, I do my best not to work after 5pm. When that time hits, I change into my workout gear and do my daily work out and/or walk. I’ve found this to be a really great transition from being ‘on’ for other people to quieting down for my ‘me/family’ time.


Barbara Bears, Ballet Master, Former Principal Dancer, Houston Ballet

I’m walking 2-4 miles a day around the bayou. I try to keep a good pace, enjoying the nice weather and trying to keep my distance from others. I’m trying to stretch once a day. Also, I have 2 yoga mats that I set up in my kitchen to give myself a barre. I regret not grabbing my Theraband and Yamuna balls out of my locker but I’m making do with what I have.


Amy Fote, Ballet Master, Former Principal Dancer, Houston Ballet

As a ballet master with Houston Ballet, I often teach company class. Now, under COVID-19 measures, I teach from home on a slippery wooden floor (versus a sprung, Marley covered floor) holding onto a small ballet barre. In the studio, I’m used to hearing and sensing the reactions of the dancers, where now we do classes on Zoom. All of the dancers are muted, so when you make a comment, or a joke, or want to ask a question, you are met with silence on the other end (thank goodness for the thumbs up “Reaction” option on Zoom). When we first began Zoom classes, I had to use a CD with music dictating what comes next. It was a challenge to make combinations fit the specific track, from length to tempo. More recently, we have added a live accompanist to our classes so we’re also fortunate to have live (virtual) music again.


Our staff meetings are done using Skype for Business, where the person speaking appears on the computer screen. I’m not technologically savvy, so just to have someone’s face appear on my screen seemed like a big feat accomplished (and reason for applause in my own home)! But truly, we take for granted the social cues from one another when we’re sitting in the same room together. With this element missing, I feel our meetings have an in efficiency, not including the occasional Wi-Fi network issue, which causes me to miss even more. 


I still do video homework, but very different from notating steps/formations. We’ve been asked to create videos of our own, and to approve those submitted by our dancers for social media posts. In any video I’ve personally submitted, it has to be done in one go, because I do not know how to superimpose text in my video, or combine different takes. Often the video submissions from the dancers come in with details missing, so I need to look up the dancers contact information and text, email, or call them to ask if they can redo a section or two.

The challenges are many, but we are resilient and will come through this having learned more skills and appreciating the sense of community even more than before.


For myself, a day-in-the-life has required a whole new set of skills and responsibilities.  Since my outreach responsibilities at the Houston Ballet have been dialed back almost completely, as an employee of Houston Methodist, I was re-assigned to our main hospital at the Texas Medical Center.  I have assisted with employee and patient screenings which involves taking temperatures and asking about symptoms or possible exposures to COVID-19 prior to entering the hospital facilities.  I have also worked in the hospital’s central supply delivering various types of equipment and supplies throughout the hospital.  Most interestingly, I have served on a medical intensive care unit assisting the medical staff with positioning intubated COVID-19 patients to optimize comfort and respiratory function.


All of these tasks have been challenging with unique physical and mental demands that I have had to adjust to.  Trying to be flexible with a constantly shifting schedule and never knowing quite what to expect when I head in for a shift takes a lot of energy and mental preparation.  When I am not working at the hospital I have tried to stay in touch with the Houston Ballet dancers, checking in to see how they are doing and making sure they have adequate resources for coping and staying physically fit during this unusual time.  It has been helpful to have resources from IADMS that I can pass along to them to help guide them through this season safely and mindfully.  Furthermore, I have been so grateful for a strong support system at home and lots of large parks and trail systems nearby where I can get outside often while still protecting myself and others.


IADMS has produced and collected resources for dancers during this difficult time. Our initiative – Helping Dancers Help Themselves – includes weekly webinars on Performing Artists’ Mental Health posted to our YouTube Channel, live panel discussions on safe dance during quarantine on our social media platforms, and more. For a list of medical resources, mental health resources, and online dance and exercise classes within IADMS and beyond, please visit


Thank you to the Houston Ballet for sharing your processes, struggles, and successes during this time.

Tags:  COVID-19 

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Healthy Dancing for Every Body

Posted By IADMS Newsletter, Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019

Invited authors: Rebecca Barnstaple, Ph.D. candidate, York University, Toronto, Canada
Lucie Beaudry, Ph.D. candidate and assistant professor, Université du Québec à Montréal
Professor Sylvie Fortin, Université du Québec à Montréal


IADMS has recently expanded its mandate to include a focus on Dance for Health (DfH) with the aim to promote and validate dance as a life-long partner for health and well-being for all publics. The development of innovative research related to a variety of healthy dance practices is a key aspect of this initiative. In this brief report, we present core aspects behind the rationale for this new direction of IADMS, followed by a description of a substantial DfH research collaboration in Montreal, Québec, Canada, host city of IADMS 29th Annual Conference.


While dance is historically connected with healing in many cultures, medical and scientific interest in applications of dance within rehabilitation, therapy, health care and well-being are more recent, accompanied by an emerging body of research exploring the efficacy and mechanisms of dance-based interventions through a range of methods. These may be qualitative, quantitative, mixed, or art-based, reflecting the inherent complexity of dance as a holistic activity encompassing art, physicality, sociality, and environment – essential aspects of our humanness (Fortin, 2018). Clare Guss-West and Emily Jenkins in their blog post Introducing Dance for Health (DfH) suggest that “The joyful, social, creative and expressive elements of dance are perhaps the precise reasons for its efficacy within health contexts”[i], and the DfH roundtable in Helsinki identified a primary need for research addressing “dance beyond physical activity”. We could add that DfH explores dance beyond psychotherapeutic uses of dance/movement, associated with dance/movement therapy.


DfH initiatives are not presented as therapy, but nevertheless can offer many therapeutic benefits. Dance has the potential to act as an adaptive and widely-applicable health intervention that is multimodal both in delivery and benefits. Beyond physical activity, dance requires complex coordination of motor skills, cognitive strategies, affective and attentional resources, and aesthetic components. Cognitive tasks such as learning choreography (Bar and DeSouza 2016) or responding to cues that invite improvisational problem solving (Batson et al 2016) recruit distinct brain regions and neural networks, while partnered dance forms and exercises can involve complex social strategies such as mimicry (in mirroring), communicative responses (partnered improvisation), and learned roles or vocabulary (such as in tango or salsa).


Interoception, proprioception, and kinesthetic awareness are all heightened by dance, which can improve body image as well as fine and gross motor control (Muller-Pinget et al, 2012; Gose 2019). Dance is also a creative form of emotional expression, which may be enhanced by music. Entrainment, or action that is synchronous with external cues such as music, has been shown to modulate neural entrainment (Thaut 2006). Finally, dance makes use of space in specific ways that extend beyond exercise studies. These broad engagements of the situated nervous system through dance demonstrate its relevance for all bodies; thus IADMS has expanded its activities to be inclusive of anyone dancing. However, research on dance in the context of health interventions can be difficult due to the involvement of, and interactions between, many factors. Interdisciplinary collaborations blending the best tools of science with the nuanced approaches of humanities and the creativeness of the arts may be optimal for addressing the challenges involved in developing meaningful research on DfH.


An example of this is found in Quebec, Canada, where the project Audace (2018-2020) brings together 11 researchers with different backgrounds (dance, creative arts therapies, education, kinesiology, neuropsychology, rehabilitation and sociology[ii]). This highly interdisciplinary team demonstrates the challenges involved in negotiating a shared language to develop and assess interventions across various population groups: adult out-patient rehabilitation service users; healthy inactive community-based older adults; children with neuro-visual problems; ex-homeless women with mental health issues and addictions; adolescents with cerebral palsy; people with Parkinson’s disease. The inclusion of various approaches in DfH is an intentional effort on the part of project members to go beyond labels (such as dance therapy, adapted dance, expressive/arts therapy, creative dance, modified dance intervention, developmental dance, Laban-based dance, community dance, etc.) and to focus on complementary relationships rather than abstract stances. Presuming that the content and the pedagogy can vary greatly under the same label, or that different labels might present quite similar content and pedagogy, one objective of the research is to open and explore details within the “black box” of different interventions.


While looking for compelling evidence of the effects of dance for health, we want to better understand the “active ingredients” of dance-based interventions in terms of pedagogy and content. We also want to go beyond these laudable intentions by recognising that dance, across cultures, is fundamental to our embodiment as human beings, and aspects of movement experiences may evade complete description or sophisticated analysis. For these reasons, the Audace project will culminate with a “creative act” engaging all parties involved. Organized in partnership with the National Centre for Dance Therapy, this will be a multi-media event bringing together many artistic modalities (live dance demonstrations, videos, pictures, projections, etc.), highlighting the myriad approaches and applications within dance that influence health and well-being.


With its innovative interdisciplinary design, the Audace project does not seek to establish the competencies of an individual practitioner, or a single professional role, or a specific research method, but rather to explore the potential inherent in people from distinct professional backgrounds coming together to create a unified field of practice and research. The future lies in our ability to collaboratively encourage all bodies to explore the myriad ways in which dancing can contribute to experiencing health, well-being, artistry, and agency throughout the lifespan.




Bar RJ & DeSouza JFX. Tracking plasticity: Effects of long-term rehearsal in experts encoding music to movement. PLoS ONE 2016;11(1):p. e0147731
Batson G, Hugenschmidt CE, Soriano CT. Verbal Auditory Cueing of Improvisational Dance: A Proposed Method for Training Agency in Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neurology 2016;7(2):215-215.
Fortin, S. Tomorrow’s dance and health partnership: the need for a holistic view, Research in Dance Education 2018, 19:2, 152-166, DOI: 10.1080/14647893.2018.1463360
Gose, R. Extraordinary dance requires extraordinary motor learning. Journal of Dance Education, 19: 34–40, 2019 Copyright © National Dance Education Organization ISSN: 1529-0824 print / 2158-074X online DOI:
Muller-Pinget S, Carrard I, Ybarra J, & Golay A (2012). Dance therapy improves self-body image among obese patients. Volume 89, Issue 3, December 2012, Pages 525-528.
Thaut MH. Neural Basis of Rhythmic Timing Networks in the Human Brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. First published: 24 January 2006.

[ii]Bonnie Swaine, Sylvie Fortin, Raymond Caroline, Duval Hélène, Lemay Martin, Lucie Beaudry, Louis Bherer, Guylaine Vaillancourt, Patricia McKinley, Frédérique Poncet, Sarah Berry


Tags:  Dance for Health  IADMS Newsletter 


Helsinki in Retrospect: Movement Session/Partner-Based Bodymind Warm-up

Posted By Meredith Lyons on behalf of the Dance Educators’ Committee, Monday, September 23, 2019

In preparation for #IADMS2019 in Montreal I was excited to reflect on a presentation I did with Betsy Miller last year in Helsinki at #IADMS2018. Movement sessions provide an important venue for hands-on application of research and group feedback.




Betsy Miller and I presented on how somatics has become commonplace in dance academia curricula. We discussed the importance of somatic movement patterns in connection to improvisation and partner work in undergraduate, graduate and professional dance studies. However, even as collaborators, Miller and I came to the conclusion that we have differing viewpoints on how to approach and teach these fundamentals. As we unpacked our movement histories and dance lineage of educators and choreographers, we found that the common landing place for us was the importance of somatic based partnership, which is what we taught in Helsinki. 

When looking at Thomas Hanna’s definition of somatics ‘the art and science of the inter-relational process between awareness, biological function and the environment, with all three factors understood as a synergistic whole’ (Fitt 1996: 303), questions formed on how to incorporate all three factors: What exercises help bring attention to both body and mind in relation to our individual selves and partner(s)? What are some key exercises/movement patterns to warm up our individual selves, while staying in tune to the partner(s) in space? Is physical touch essential in warming up the body to partnership? How does improvisation play a role? How can imagery be used within set movement material and improvised movement to prepare for partnership in dance? What are essential building blocks in the teaching of dance somatics? What are important takeaways? Is this even possible for participants in a conference setting, with limited time, and resources? As we distilled our thoughts we came to the conclusion that not only is somatics an important factor in improvisation and partner work, but the body and mind have a complicated and complex dualistic relationship. The purpose of the session was to provide participants with a framework and specific exercises to integrate somatics and partnering skills into a contemporary dance technique class, while promoting effective, healthy and mindful approaches to training and treating dancers.



We first started the movement session by guiding participants in a floor based individual warm-up that combined elements of somatic principles such as Bartenieff Fundamentals, Feldenkreis, and Skinner release technique and that included imagery and experiential anatomy (these somatic techniques are commonly used in the modern dance classroom and are described at the end of this post). This later moved into physical touch in a partner-based warm-up that incorporated initiation with minimal weight sharing that could later be used for contemporary/modern dance classes. Throughout the movement sessions participants engaged in somatic exercises as either a mover or facilitator to explore possibilities for movement initiation, pathways, effort, weight, and mind/body integration. Throughout the workshop, Miller and I shared both set material and guided improvisation scores that were designed to enhance bodily awareness, mindfulness, specificity and efficiency, as well as prepare dancers for potential rigorous contemporary phrase work. The movement pathway of the session started from the floor, that led to the bodies moving up through and across the space. These movement pathways executed a wide range of partnering with both contact and non-verbal initiation, that allowed for individual improvisation within the duet. Somatic approaches such as Bartenieff Fundamentals, Feldenkreis, and Skinner release technique placed focus on releasing soft tissue while teaching the body to move freely without restrictions, instilling dynamic play and precision. The reported benefits ranged widely from improved range of motion, strength and alignment, to neuromuscular efficiency. Dancers stand to benefit holistically from cultivating an approach to movement that integrated body and mind experience. The movement session highlighted the relationship between initiation, pathways, effort, weight, and body-mind integration, with reference to execution in a wide range of contemporary dance techniques and partnering. Participants moved freely with one another, at moments finding autonomy while also bridging connections across the room. It was wonderful to witness the diversity of movement in space, exchange in the room, and the care given to not only their individual selves but to one another.


As I think back to the conference and our movement session, I keep coming back to the reference point that somatics is at the heart and soul of what we do as movers in contemporary dance practice. As a presenter I gained insight and feedback on how to continue to apply this movement session to students in higher education and the general public. What I found amazing was how open, willing and excited participants were to share in the dynamic play of partnership. The amount of risk they took within their own embodied logic, and in partnership, was such a joy to witness. It was a wonderful reminder that the continual practice of focusing on the inner locus of control incorporates not only the body, but the mind and spirit. It is what moves us as dancers and in partner work and helps us share the dance that we love and the dance that we seek.




Meredith Lyons, MFA, Full Apparatus Certified Pilates Instructor

2019 Performing Arts Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Dominica

Assistant Professor of Dance, Colorado Mesa University

Dance educator, scholar, Pilates instructor. Dance Pedagogy research informed by studies of Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Pilates, Yoga, Improvisation, Administration, Dance History, Choreography, Body Mind Centering, Experiential Anatomy, Kinesiology and Nutrition for Dancers.


Betsy Miller, MFA, Assistant Professor of Dance, Salem State University

Dance artist, scholar and educator. Pedagogical approach informed by studies of somatic modalities including yoga, Body Mind Centering, Spiraldynamik, Bartenieff Fundamentals and experiential anatomy.



A. Olsen. The Place of Dance: A Somatic Guide to Dancing and Dance Making. Wesleyan

University Press; 2014.


Geber P, Wilson M. Teaching at the interface of dance science and somatics. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. 2010;14(2):50–57.


Fortin S, Vieira A, Tremblay M. The experience of discourses in dance and somatics. Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices. 2009;1(1):47–64.


Batson G, Schwartz RE. Revisiting the value of somatic education in dance training through an inquiry into practice schedules. Journal of Dance Education. 2007;7(2):47–56.


Eddy M. Dance and somatic inquiry in studios and community dance programs. Journal of Dance Education. 2002;2(4):119–127


Fitt SS. Dance Kinesiology. 2. New York: Schirmer Books; 1996.


Useful Descriptions:

Bartenieff Fundamentals


Skinner Release Technique

Body Mind Centering

Tags:  Annual Conference 

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Heels Down During Jumps…Technique or Physics?

Posted By Samantha Panos on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Friday, August 23, 2019
As dancers, we have all been told at one point to put our heels down when we land our jumps. As teachers, we may feel like we are constantly nagging our students to put their heels down. But why is preparing and landing from jumps with heels down important? Is it just good technique or does it play a larger role in performance capacity? 

First, it may be helpful to start with a brief review of lower leg anatomy. For the purposes of this post we will focus on the posterior (back) compartment of the leg and plantar (bottom) surface of the foot as the emphasis of this entry is on the importance of heels down. Additionally, the following concepts can also be applied to the anterior (front) thigh which I will reference briefly for a more complete picture. 

The posterior leg consists of two compartments of muscles, the superficial and deep posterior. The superficial compartment includes the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles which form the common Achilles or Calcaneal tendon, and attaches to the calcaneus (heel) bone. The resulting action of these muscles is planter flexion or “pointing” of the ankle. The soleus muscle is largely a postural muscle that is highly active in stabilizing the leg on the ankle while standing and balancing, while the gastrocnemius is a powerful muscle that plays a large role in high-velocity or forceful activities, such as jumping. The deep compartment includes the Flexor Hallucis Longus (FHL), Flexor Digitorum Longus (FDL) and the Tibialis Posterior (TP). The tendons of these muscles all pass behind the ankle, along the medial (inner) side, and enter the foot where they have various attachments as seen in Figure 1 below. These deep muscles have multiple actions but their common action is plantar flexion of the ankle.



Figure 1. Superficial Leg Compartment (Left two), Deep Posterior Compartment (middle), Plantar surface of foot (Right) showing the tendon attachments of the deep posterior compartment.


Next, let’s briefly review forces and energy. There are many types of forces that the body undergoes or can produce but for this article we will focus on tensile (tension) force. Tensile force is when a material, in this case muscles and tendons, is lengthened. The stretching or lengthening of muscles and tendons creates elastic or strain energy. Now, it is also important to understand that energy can neither be created or destroyed, it simply changes form. So, while the muscles and tendons are lengthened (tensile force) they are storing elastic potential energy and when they release and go back to their normal resting length, the energy transfers to kinetic energy. An example that is commonly used is a rubber band. Pull on the rubber band and you have elastic potential energy, let go of the band and kinetic energy is released. 

Now that you feel more comfortable with posterior leg anatomy, tensile force and transfer of energy, let’s move into the studio to see how everything connects!

Whether the allegro is to a heavy 4/4 or a brisk 6/8, technique tells us that you do a demi plie to prepare for and land from a jump. The demi plie is the most critical part of the jump as a whole because it is where the musculoskeletal system generates, stores and releases energy to perform the jump. In Figure 2 below, the red arrows are showing tensile forces in the leg during a demi plie. Again, for the purposes of this post we are focusing on the plantar surface of the foot and the posterior leg as they relate to the ankle joint (the arrow along the anterior thigh is showing that in a demi plie the quadriceps muscles and the quadriceps tendon are also under a tensile load, therefore the concepts of discussion and the importance of demi plie during jumps is also applied to this region and to the knee). As you can see in Figure 2, the plantar surface of the foot and posterior compartments of the leg are being stretched – they are under tensile load in a demi plie. Therefore, elastic potential energy is being stored in these compartments and is waiting to be released as kinetic energy during the jumping phase, only to land again in a demi plie and repeat the energy storage cycle. Having the heels down throughout the preparation and landing phase of the jump allows for this efficient transfer of energy back and forth and allows the tendons and muscles to undergo a full stretch-shortening cycle. A dancer that uses their plie and keeps their heels down will generate more power and be more physiologically efficient because they are properly utilizing and transferring their energy. You would be correct to expect that as a result this dancer will jump higher and have more endurance throughout the combination.



Figure 2. Force vectors indicating tensile forces in muscle groups during a demi plie.


 But now what happens when jumps are landed with heels off the ground? In this scenario the dancer will deplete themselves of all the benefits previously discussed. The muscles and tendons will still undergo a tensile load but of less magnitude, therefore less elastic potential energy will be stored and less will be released. Going back to the rubber band analogy, pull hard on the rubber band and it will shoot across the room when you release it, pull lightly (less stretch) and it will travel a shorter distance. Can you see how this is not optimal for your students or as a dancer yourself? Less potential energy means you will have to fight through the jumps and you will not recover in between each jump, in turn, fatiguing faster.


 Lastly, jumping with heels down will also help prevent injury by allowing for these compartments to go through their full stretch-shortening cycle. Landing with the heels up means the Achilles tendon and the smaller tendons of the deep posterior compartment do not get to fully lengthen during the impact of the landing. Repeated landing with heels up, such as during a petite allegro, means all the tendons of the posterior leg stay shortened to a degree and therefore are not able to absorb the force of impact, store adequate energy or release energy efficiently, so they are being taxed at a higher rate. Over time, this technique error will likely result in posterior leg/ankle overuse pathologies such as tendinitis including the most common Achilles tendinitis or the commonly under diagnosed FHL tendinitis as well as other inflammatory diagnoses. Dancers will complain of posterior ankle pain and most likely assume it is Achilles tendinitis which may or may not be the case, but addressing the proper use of their demi plie during jumps may help to calm or prevent the injury all together.


 Now, you may be thinking, does this information apply to other dance movements as well? Yes, it would. Consider repeated releve’s, pirouettes from fifth, fouette turns, etc. Any time the dancer is required to go from foot flat on the ground to demi pointe, full pointe or jumping, all of the information about the posterior compartments stretch-shortening cycle, tensile force, storage and transfer of energy is relevant in performance efficiency and prevention of injuries.



Recommended Readings

-Alexander RM. Tendon elasticity and muscle function. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A. 2002; 133:1001-1011.

-Kim S. An Effect of the Elastic Energy Stored in the Muscle-Tendon Complex at Two Different Coupling-Time Conditions During Vertical Jump. Advances in Physical Education. 2013;3(1):10-14.

-Silbernagel KG. Nonsurgical Treatment of Achilles Tendinopathy. In: Doral M., Karlsson J. (eds) Sports Injuries. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. 2014.

*Note: the recommended reading Nonsurgical Treatment of Achilles Tendinopathy is not to take the place of professional medical advice. If you or your dancer are experiencing posterior ankle pain, please seek medical attention from a physician or a Doctor of Physical Therapy to guide you through the appropriate treatment options for recovery. This reading is only intended to provide insight into the prevalence and potential causes of Achilles tendinopathy and to provide realistic expectations into recovery time frame.


Photo credits

Figure 1. Curtesy of Duke Anatomy Lab.

Figure 2. Panos, Samantha. (2006). The Physics of Ballet. (Unpublished Masters Thesis). University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Samantha Panos PT, DPT, MFA is a dance educator, former dance teacher and Physical Therapist at Dynamic Physical Therapy in Salt Lake City, Utah whose goal is to educate and inspire young dancers, encourage cross training for overall dancer health and to reduce injury by promoting proper technique to achieve maximal physiologic efficiency and performance capacity.




Tags:  heels  jump  physics 

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Identity Matters

Posted By IADMS Newsletter, Sunday, July 14, 2019
Updated: Monday, July 15, 2019

Invited author info: Lynda Mainwaring, PhD, CPsych,
Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto.


Who am I? Who am I now that I am injured? Who am I when I am no longer a dancer? Who am I, if I am not recognized in the way in which I perceive myself? Dancers may ask themselves these questions along their career paths. The questions relate to how we perceive ourselves, how we describe ourselves, how we value ourselves, how we perceive our identity, and how we are perceived by others and the way in which that influences us.


Most of us typically begin our self-description in terms of what we do or in relation to our work.1,2 But what about other identities such as gender identity, national identity, ethnic identity, cultural and racial identity? Are these important matters for dance medicine, science, education and psychology?


In terms of gender identity, should we include LGBTQQIA+ education in medical schools, for example? Emerging initiatives say there is a need to provide clinical education with the lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender patient in mind.3 And what about dance training and practice? Le pas de deux, as a model, implies there are binary roles for men and women. How do we reconfigure partnering and dance training within broader perspectives? In the last few years the questions of identity, in particular those related to gender and related concerns of inclusivity, harassment and sexism, have emerged as matters of importance in studios, schools and in the media.


Identity refers to how one describes the self, and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it refers to the characteristics that determine who or what a person or thing is. For example, one could describe someone by any number of characteristics: age, race, gender, height, weight, percent body fat, employment, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, education level, birth order, years of training, dance genre, marital status, political persuasion, mental health, etcetera. One’s identity, however, is more than a list of variables. It is a personally and socially-constructed understanding of who we are. It varies overtime, and is thus dynamic. It is a complex and multi-faceted concept and process related to how we see and value ourselves: Identity, can be examined through both psychological (identity theory) and sociological (social identity theory) perspectives.


Identity development and consolidation is an evolving process that involves personal, interpersonal and community levels of interaction. Identity for dancers is acutely enmeshed in the body, performance, training, the aspirations, structures and messages of the dance culture and the environment with all its trimmings. How would you complete the sentence that begins, I am . . . ? For an example, and an informative piece on identity in dance, see Rowley’s “Discover the Rainbow.”4


Pickard (2012)5 suggests that evolution of identity as a ballet dancer is riddled with commitment, sacrifice, physical and emotional pain and suffering (p. 42). From her qualitative study of 12 young dancers, she concluded that ballet has a powerful dominant belief structure related to perfection and beauty that objectifies the body as separate and machine-like. She embraces the concept of habitus-- an acquired set of dispositions that have been incorporated into the body (p.86)6 -- introduced by Bourdieu, the French sociologist. She suggests a dancer’s body and habitus are produced and perpetuated through the embodiment of pain and suffering for ballet as an art. With that frame of reference, how do dancers develop an identity that transcends self-denial or destruction and incorporate a healthy relationship with physical and emotional pain? How do they overcome or manage mental and physical health problems that are a result of a culture that ignores them? How do we, in our professional community, support, care for, and encourage dancers across the identity spectrum? How do we overcome our own myopic view with its stereotypical underlying assumptions?


Dancers, dance educators, medical personnel and scientists, do not typically consider dancer identity. Certainly, dancers identify with particular genres such as contemporary, ballet, Flamenco, or ballroom, for example. This we understand. But, what is Dancer Identity as a psychological or sociological phenomenon, and why is it important? What role does it play in the dance community, dance itself, science, dance training, education, development, performance, transition, retirement, injury, self-respect, mental health, maltreatment, body image, dancer image, self-esteem, self-concept, personal and professional relationships, and in life satisfaction and general well-being? Despite, contributions from a few published studies and philosophical papers, I suggest that we do not have much literature, nor much understanding about dancer identity and how it relates to dancer health and well-being. It warrants more attention across research, teaching, education, clinical practice and personal care. Why might that be?


In sport psychology, athletic identity has been examined extensively. It is “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athletic role” (p. 237)7. In essence, a person with a strong athletic identity places a great amount of importance on athletic involvement and on the perception of the self in the sport domain.7 Transposing this definition to dance then, we can define dancer identity as the degree to which a dancer identifies with the dancer’s role within the dance environment and culture.


We know from sport psychology that some personality traits such as perfectionism and trait anxiety are associated with high risk for burnout8, that athletes with strong athletic identities have higher burnout levels9 and that high athletic identity predicts burnout10-14. Also, athletes with strong athletic identities have a willingness to train more with an associated performance improvement.7,15


Murphy Petitpas, & Brewer16 found that athletic identity was positively associated with identity foreclosure. That is, if athletes identify strongly with, and commit to, their roles as athletes without exploring other roles in life, they risk limiting opportunities for themselves or may be vulnerable to mental health difficulties. Brewer7 found that athletes who “over identify” with their role in sport are prone to depression if they have career-ending injuries. In the modern world, over identification with particular roles may occur because of the great demands and expectations placed on elite performers. There is no question that in dance there are great expectations and demands that prescribe, dictate or encourage roles that are strongly tied to specific physical and aesthetic ideals.


For some, a limited, or foreclosed, identity may lead to career transition challenges. Difficulty with transition into retirement and post-sport life has been associated with the strength and exclusivity of athletic identity.17-22 A recent systematic review of the dance-related literature (1987-2017)23 concluded that more research on psychological and physical implications of career decisions in dance is needed, and that to date, there is no formal research on career transitions for young dancers.


Similarly, there is a dearth of research on dancer identity. The little research that we have suggests that dancer identity is similar to athletic identity and that more research is needed. Langdon and Petracca24 found that identity as a dancer was negatively associated with body appreciation and perceptions and cautioned those of us who work with dancers to be aware of the subjective aspects of identity and work toward enhancing dancers’ perspectives of their bodies.


In the upcoming annual meeting of the minds (and bodies) in Montreal, Canada, “identity” is on the table for discussion. I hope this article serves as a catalyst for discussion and formulation of questions about dancer identity, gender identity in dance, individual and collective identities, and their relationship with mental and physical health.


We might also question our own collective professional identity. Who are we as a professional body? Are we unique with an authentic identity? Or, are we hovering on the shoulders of sport science and medicine and sport psychology? In my long standing experience with sport and dance science, medicine and psychology, I have come to highly respect and regard the scholarly and practical aspects of dance medicine, science, education and psychology and my esteemed colleagues in IADMS. Yes, there is a shared knowledge and similarities between sport and dance; however, dancers, dance educators, dance artists, scientists, and clinicians across the professions have unique knowledge, experience, environments, challenges, qualities and embodied behaviours and attitudes. Therefore, establishing our own empirical evidence, and standards of care for dance is critical. Moreover, in this 29th year of IADMS, perhaps it is time to examine or reexamine our collective identity, values, goals, influence, magnificence, shadows and highlights. As we move toward our meeting in Montreal--a place with a distinct cultural identity (one that you will sense when you visit old town Montreal)-- let us think about identity—what we know, what we do not know, and what warrants examining and questioning in 2020, our 30th year as an association.




1. Riffkin, R. (2014, August). In U.S., 55% of Workers Get Sense of Identity from Their Job.
2. European Commission. Directorate General for Research and Innovation. (2012). The Development of European Identity/Identities: Unfinished Business.
3. Anderson, J., Stoner, A., Jackson, A…Myles, D. (2018). Standardized patient modules in medical school with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patient in mind. Osteopathic Family Physician, 10 (3), 16-20.
4. Rowley, Michael. Discover the Rainbow: Unpacking the LGBTQQIA+ acronym with a discussion about the intersection of identity and biology. (
5. Pickard, A. (2012). Schooling the dancer: the evolution of an identity as a ballet dancer. Research in Dance Education, 13:1, 25-46, DOI:10.1080/14647893.2011.65119.
6. Bourdieu, P. (1993). Sociology in question. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
7. Brewer, B. W., Van Raalte, J. L., & Linder, D. E. (1993). Athletic identity: Hercules' muscles or Achilles heel? International journal of sport psychology.
8. Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G., & Hassmén, P. (2011). Athlete burnout: an integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), 3-24.
9. Martin, E. M., & Horn, T. S. (2013). The role of athletic identity and passion in predicting burnout in adolescent female athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 27(4), 338-348.
10. Coakley, J. (2009). From the outside in: Burnout as an organizational issue. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 2(1), 35-41.
11. Gustafsson, H., Martinent, G., Isoard-Gautheur, S., Hassmén, P., & Guillet-Descas, E. (2018). Performance based self-esteem and athlete-identity in athlete burnout: A person-centered approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 38, 56-60.
12. Gustafsson, H., Kentta, G., Hassmen, P., Lundqvist, C., & Durand-Bush, N. (2007). The process of burnout: A multiple case study of three elite endurance athletes. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 38, 388-416.
13. Harris, B. S., & Watson, J. C. (2014). Developmental considerations in youth athlete burnout: A model for youth sport participants. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 8(1), 1-18.
14. Tabei, Y., Fletcher, D., & Goodger, K. (2012). The relationship between organizational stressors and athlete burnout in soccer players. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 6(2), 146-165.
15. Ahmadabadi, Z. N., Shojaei, M., & Daneshfar, A. (2014). The relationship between athletic identity and sports performance among national rowers during different seasons of competition. Pedagogics, Psychology, Medical-Biological Problems of Physical Training and Sports, 10, 62-66.
16. Murphy, G. M., Petitpas, A. J., & Brewer, B. W. (1996). Identity foreclosure, athletic identity, and career maturity in intercollegiate athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 10(3), 239-246.
17. Grove, J. R., Lavallee, D., & Gordon, S. (1997). Coping with retirement from sport: The influence of athletic identity. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9(2), 191-203.17 Lally, P. (2007). Identity and athletic retirement: A prospective study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 85-99.
18. Lavallee, D., Gordon, S., & Grove, J. R. (1997). Retirement from sport and the loss of athletic identity. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 2(2), 129-147.
19. Lally, P. (2007). Identity and athletic retirement: A prospective study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 85-99.
20. Stier, J. (2007). Game, name and fame — Afterwards, will I still be the same? International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 42(1), 99-111.
21. Warriner, K., & Lavallee, D. (2008). The retirement experiences of elite female gymnasts: Self- identity and the physical self. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(3), 301-317.
22. Lavallee, D., & Robinson, H. K. (2007). In pursuit of an identity: A qualitative exploration of retirement from women's artistic gymnastics. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 119-141
23. Griffith, Gearhart, Sugimoto, Geminiani, & Stracciolini (2019). Career transitions for the young dancer: Considering psychological implications, challenges with athletic identity, and need available resources. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 34 (1), 47-52, doi: 10.21091/mppa.2019.1005.
24. Langdon, S. & Petracca, G. (2010). Tiny dancer: Body image and dancer identity in female modern dancers. Body Image, 7, 360.363.

Tags:  IADMS Newsletter  identity 


The Effect of Age on Spinal Range of Motion - A brief overview of the literature

Posted By Janine Bryant on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The learning objectives of this article:


·      To share a brief overview of the literature on spinal range of motion and aging

·      To consider how aging affects dancers but also how dancers, as exercisers, can have a built-in advantage over the aging process

·      To focus on the mechanism of aging with regards to collagen and skeletal muscle


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In talking about aging, people always ask me to focus on the positive aspects as opposed to the negative. Although there are aspects of the aging process that can be viewed as negative, the concept of 'positive aging' is something I have recently come across in my research. How we choose to define, view, and accept the inevitable changes that come with aging is crucial to our ability to 'age gracefully'. We are living longer and this requires thought and planning. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines positive aging as: 'The process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age'.12


Because spinal mobility is important and can be viewed as a determinant in whole body function.1, understanding key aspects of spinal wellness is essential for dancers. In this next installment, we will look at some of the literature on aging and spinal range of motion and ways that dancers, who are physically very active, already have an advantage to aging well. Because there is little to no research on aging dancers' spines, it is necessary to consider the broad category with regards to other populations. For our purposes, the research included athletes, clinical, general and elderly populations.


The changes that occur with aging, such as loss of lumbar flexion, extension and lateral flexion, may be responsible for decreases in spinal range of motion (ROM).2,3  The literature links loss of bone density and flexibility to increased risk for postural changes and disc fractures that contribute to loss of ROM and participation in activities of daily living. Quality of life (QoL) is affected as aging populations experience decreased mobility due to age-related changes in spinal health. Information found, especially relating to collagen, points to physical and biochemical changes to collagenous frameworks with increased age resulting in decreased extensibility especially in aging skeletal muscle.


DANCER ADVANTAGE: The good news is that while it is understood that bone density loss may have an effect on bone strength and increased risk for osteoporosis, both women and men can help prevent bone loss with regular exercise. Exercising (and dancing), when supplemented with strength training, can also help us maintain muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which in turn helps to prevent falls and related fractures thus improving QoL.


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Characteristics of the Aging Spine

Important characteristics of the aging spine include damage that results in a decrease in elasticity and joint motion restriction leading to a decrease in flexibility (loss of ROM).4 Increased intramuscular connective tissue stiffness can also result in decreased ROM.2 Long-term complications associated with aging affect spinal health and can cause significant functional impairments in activities of daily living.8,9


The Role of Collagen

Collagen is a protein made up of amino acids that are found in the human body. There are more than 22 types, grouped according to structure and function. The word comes from the Greek word 'kolla', which means 'glue'. Common types of collagen are Type 1: Skin, tendon, vascular, organs, bone, teeth, scar tissue. Type II: Cartilage, ocular collagen, and Type III: Cells of skin, muscles, lungs.5,6 It is important to understand the role of collagen and how age-related changes to collagen matrices are linked to the declining mechanical properties of aging bone and joints.3,5  Physical and biochemical changes occur to collagen with increasing age, resulting in decreased extensibility. These changes include an increased formation of intramolecular and intermolecular cross-links that restrict the ability of the collagen fibers to move past each other as tissue length changes.2 Cross-linking involves two different mechanisms, one a precise and enzymatically controlled cross-linking during development and maturation, and the other an adventitious non-enzymatic mechanism following maturation of the tissue.  This non-enzymatic cross-linking, known as glycation, is the major cause of dysfunction of collagenous tissues in old age.  


The process of cross-linking and the presence of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) seem to be major determinants in the loss of ROM and strength.6 AGEs naturally form inside the body when proteins or fats combine with sugars (glycation). This non-enzymatic reaction affects the normal function of cells, making them more susceptible to damage and premature aging.


DANCER ADVANTAGE: There is a direct link between the quality of energy intake and the accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Dancers may be more aware of the quality of their energy intake, and could therefore be less susceptible to the detrimental effects of AGEs that can come from consuming foods such as fried eggs, butter, cream, margarine, mayonnaise and foods cooked at extremely high temperatures.


Aging and Loss of Bone Mass

Two parallel but independent processes characterize the aging spine: a) the development of degenerative discogenic changes and bone mass reduction, and b) osteopenia/osteoporosis, or reduced bone mineral density, which increase the risk of stress fractures.7 In focusing on the relationship between these two processes, both independent researchers and the American College of Sports Medicine underline the need for further research on osteoporosis.10 A study evaluating factors related to spinal mobility in patients with postmenopausal osteoporosis revealed that skeletal fractures are an important clinical manifestation of the disease, with older female patients the most severely affected8. Multiple vertebral fractures can result in postural deformities, which could cause functional impairments in ADLs 8,9  and have a significant impact on quality of life.


DANCER ADVANTAGE: Again, it is important to note that regular exercise, including activities that move against gravity whilst staying upright, help build bone.


The benefits of weight training are well-documented and, specifically for dancers, can help enhance strength, bone health and improve task-specific dance skills, such as lifting and partnering, jump height, balance and control, and increased ROM.11 The value of cross-training for dancers is commonly understood and loading can act as another activity toward performance enhancement.10

The overall goal of this research is to promote awareness of the importance of spinal health. Dancers have an advantage in that they are exercisers, already benefitting from moderate to high-levels of activity that includes resistance and techniques that increase ROM and strength. Awareness is key as a healthy spine is essential to whole body function.11


Janine Bryant, BFA, MA, SFHEA, PhD Candidate, is a Registered Provider and Quality Assessor for Safe in Dance International and International Education Advisor to The University of Wolverhampton, UK. She has presented her research on aging and range of motion in Brazil, UK, USA, and Finland. Janine is a guest speaker for The Royal Ballet School, UK and The University of the Arts, USA.




1. Cupon, L.N., & Jahn, W.T. (2003). Current standards for measuring spinal range of      motion for impairment. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 2(1), 8-12.  

2. Wallmann, H.W. (2009). Stretching and flexibility in the aging adult. Home Health      Care Management Practice, 21(5), 355-357

3. Jackson, A.R. Transport properties of cartilaginous tissues. (2009).  Current      Rheumatology Reviews, 5(1), 40

4. Charlifue, S., Post, M.W., Biering-Sorensen, F., Catz, A., Dijkers, M., Geyh, S., &        Horsewell, J. (2013). International spinal cord injury quality of life basic data set.   Spinal Cord 2013, 50, 672-675

5. Zioupos, P., Currey, J.D., & Hamer, A.J. (1999). The role of collagen in the declining   mechanical properties of aging human and cortical bone. Journal of Biomedical            Materials Research, 45(2), 108-116

6. Avery, N.C., & Bailey, A.J. (2005). Enzymic and non-enzymic cross-linking     mechanisms in relation to turnover of collagen: Relevance to aging and        exercise.  Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 15(4), 231-    240

7. Phrompaet, S., Paungmali, A., Pirunsan, U., & Sitilertpisan, P. (2011). Effects of          Pilates training on lumbo-pelvic stability and flexibility. Asian Journal of Sports          Medicine, 2(1),16-22

8. Nattrass, C.L., Nitschke, J.E., Disler, P.B., Chou, M.J., & Ooi, K.T. (1999). Lumbar     spine range of motion as a measure of physical and functional impairment: An     investigation of validity. Clinical Rehabilitation,13(3), 211-218

9. Wong, K.W., Leong, J.C., Chan, M.K., Luk, K.D., & Lu, W.W. (2004). The flexion-    extension profile of lumbar spine in 100 healthy volunteers. Spine Journal,      29(15), 1636-41

10. Sinkov, V.T.C. (2003). Osteoarthritis: Understanding the pathophysiology, genetics,   and treatments. Journal of the Natlional Medical Association, 95(6), 475-482

11. van Marken Lichtenbelt WD, Fogelholm M, Ottenheiim R, Wasterterp KR, (1995).    Physical activity, body composition and bone density in ballet dancers. Br J Nutr.        Oct:74(4), 439-51.

12.  Doan, C., World Health Organization, What is Healthy Aging?, Retrieved from URL.


Tags:  aging  spine 

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