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Can creativity be measured? A Duel

Posted By Kerry Chappell and Jon May on behalf of the Dance Educators’ Committee, Wednesday, February 28, 2018

This post derives from a duel held at the symposium for the In the Dancers’ Mind project at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on December 7, 2017. Here, speakers Dr Kerry Chappell and Professor Jon May, recreate their discussion with the aim of provoking your thoughts. Tell us what you think in the comments below or on social media. Can and should creativity in dance be measured?


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Dr Kerry Chappell

To answer this question, we need to answer two other questions first:


1.     How are we defining creativity?

2.     How do we know the world?


We need to answer these two questions because our definition and our way of knowing will determine the way in which we do our research.


So, to answer question 1, at its simplest, I define creativity as ‘embodied dialogue that leads to valuable new ideas’. In line with post-human scholar Rose Braidotti (2013), I would argue that creativity is embodied across multiple players, that is, it is inherent within human and other-than-human. For example, a table is a creative player, it invites me to create with it in multiple ways. I would like to be very, very clear that creativity is not situated in individuals. In line with the philosopher Bakhtin (2010), I would argue that dialogue and therefore creativity happens in the space in between people, in between ideas, and in between objects. Creativity is the ongoing processing of curious questions leading to more curious questions. ‘Performances’ are snapshots within that process.


Now the second question – how do we know the world? For me, the world is full of multiple perspectives. I do not believe that there are single truths to be discovered, but that we can partially come to know aspects of the world.


So, if I take my definition of creativity and the way that I know the world and I ask myself ‘how do I research creativity?’, my answer is that I should document, explore and characterise its qualities, I am not logically taken down the path of saying ‘I must measure this’. I have therefore spent 15 years documenting, exploring and characterising creativity in multiple educational settings. I have used tools such as conceptual drawing, filming, photography, dialoguing with people about their creativity, and asking them to reflect on it (e.g. Chappell, 2018, in press).


Tests such as the Torrance Test for Creativity (TTCT; 1966) do test an individual’s ability to be fluent, original, flexible and to elaborate. The TTCT tasks include, for example, figural and verbal activities such as asking questions about drawings on a page, identifying alternative uses for objects, making changes to a toy animal to make it more fun to play with and creating drawn images from a series of shapes. The test claims that the different activities indicate people’s ability to think originally and be imaginative.  These abilities may be part of what happens in creativity but they are not the whole of it. So, when a study measures those four abilities and claims to be able to make comment on creativity per se, I question that.


I want to end with two examples. One from my own research, and one from Rosemary Lee’s research within ResCen into her own creative practice. A dance artist within one of my research studies describing creativity said, ‘there’s a black hole of exploration, but after the black hole there has to be a white wall’ (Chappell, Rolfe, Craft and Jobbins, 2011).


Rosemary Lee puts a spotlight on the importance of ‘expectant waiting’ as key to her creativity (Lee, 2007). Expectant waiting foregrounds the importance of waiting in creative dance making, of giving time and of trusting that material will emerge from the process.  I put it to you – that we cannot measure the process of the white wall after the black hole of exploration nor can we measure the process of ‘expectant waiting’. What we can do is embrace those processes with research and tools that are appropriate to them – tools that acknowledge that creativity is dialogic, embodied, spatial and materially dispersed.


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Professor Jon May

Can we measure creativity? No, not directly, but perhaps we can measure the psychological processes and resources that enable someone to be creative, and so obtain an indirect or predictive measure of the likelihood that they will be creative. Arguably, we can’t even measure creative output or success either, directly. The only way that we can say if someone has done something creative is through consensus, because there is no clear way to say whether any given work of art or idea or argument or thought is in itself ‘creative’ or a result of creative activity.


Such an approach is the basis of the Consensual Assessment Technique advocated by Amabile (1982), and of the many biographical questionnaires which ask people about the recognition that they have achieved. If we are happy to use these indirect measures of the things that are created, we should also be happy to use indirect measures of creative ability. In this way, creativity is no different to other psychological phenomena. We cannot measure intelligence, or even define it well, and yet there are widely used tests of intelligence which predict future educational success, occupational status, and income levels. These tests work, and so measure intelligence, even though we do not really understand or agree what intelligence is. They do so by combining a lot of small mental tasks that people agree an intelligent person would be able to do faster or more accurately than a less intelligent person. Similarly, we can come to a consensus about the small things a creative person will probably have to do as part of being creative, and measure them.


Three things stand out: the ability to come up with ideas rapidly (fluency), to change between different ideas or concepts (flexibility), and to produce unusual ideas (originality) (Guilford, 1957). You can see how these ideas might be manifest in dance practice in our previous blog post by Becca Weber and Klara Lucznik here. The more you can do all of these, the more likely you are to be able to be creative. Strictly speaking, you have creative ability, but you need more than this to actually be creative. Being a fluent, flexible and original thinker provides you with the mental basis to succeed in a creative task, but you also need domain expertise to fill in the content of the ideas, and to recognise which of your ideas are worth developing, and to have the skills to turn the ideas into a product within the domain. A highly creative dancer, with many years experience of dance practice, has a very different set of domain knowledge to an innovative graphic designer or software engineer or theoretical physicist, and no-one would expect any of them to succeed in the domains that they have not become an expert in; but they should all be expected to perform well on the three core abilities that support creative thought.


Measuring the basis of creativity does allow us to predict crudely an individual’s creative potential, but it has to be taken in conjunction with their ability to apply that potential within a domain in order to be realised. There is likely to be little overlap between domain specific measures of creativity which include skills relevant to just one domain, so measures of dance creativity which include movement, or production or memory of dance sequences, will not differentiate creative painters, poets, or engineers. Tests based on fluency, flexibility and originality, should. So overall, I would say that the answer to the question ‘can we measure creativity?’ is ‘no; but yes’.


Have your say – can creativity be measured?

Our most engaged comments will be added to the blog to continue the debate!






Amabile, T. M. (1982). Social psychology of creativity: A consensual assessment technique. Journal of personality and social psychology43(5), 997.


Bakhtin, M.M., (2010). The dialogic imagination: Four essays(Vol. 1). University of Texas Press.


Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.  

Chappell, K., Rolfe, L., Craft, A., & Jobbins, V. (2011) Close Encounters: Dance Partners for Creativity.  Stoke on Trent: Trentham.


Chappell, K. (2018, in press). From wise humanising creativity to (post-humanising) creativity. In A. Harris, P. Thomson & K. Snepvangers, Creativity Policy, Partnerships and Practice in Education. Palgrave Macmillan.


Guilford, J.P. (1957). Creative abilities in the arts. Psychological review64(2), p.110.


Lee, R.  (2007).  Expectant waiting. In Bannerman, C. et al., (eds.). Navigating the unknown: The creative process in contemporary performing arts. Middlesex University Press, UK.


Torrance, E. P., Ball, O. E., & Safter, H. T. (1966). Torrance tests of creative thinking. Scholastic Testing Service.



In The Dancer’s Mind is a longitudinal and cross-sectional research project into creativity, novelty, and the imagination, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and being undertaken by Plymouth University, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Coventry University.


Dr Kerry Chappell is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at Exeter University, where she leads the MA Education Creative Arts specialism and provides dance expertise to the course. Kerry also co-leads the Centre for Creativity, Sustainability and Educational Futures and is a PhD and EdD supervisor. Kerry continues to work as a dance-artist within Exeter-based dance lab collective. Her research includes creativity in arts, science and interdisciplinary education and educational futures, alongside participatory research methodologies. 


Professor Jon May is Professor of Psychology at the School of Psychology, Plymouth University, UK. His teaching and research interests include cognitive psychology, cognition and emotion, and applied psychology. His research currently centres on the role that mental imagery has in behaviour change, motivation and creativity.


Tags:  creativity  debate  duel  imagery 

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Mental Imagery and Creativity

Posted By Klara Łucznik and Rebecca Weber on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Monday, February 12, 2018

Just like dancers practice physical skills in their technique classes, so too can we practice mental skills. Though we often think of imagery as creating a ‘picture’ in our mind’s eye, imagery is the ability to create mental constructions of any sort--including visual imagery, sounds, movement, emotional content, spatial concepts, or language. These constructions are all forms of mental imagery. Mental imagery is widely used in choreographic practices in contemporary dance, including by artists like Wayne McGregor, William Forsythe, Hagit Yakira, and others. In such approaches, dancers engage in a variety of sensory modalities as a source of inspiration. They might visually imagine an object, spatial shape, or even entire landscape and then transform it into a particular quality, shape, or pathway of moving. Using auditory imagery, they might imagine the music, rhythm, or sounds that influence their movement choices. They might even create a mental image of an emotion or a bodily sensation, like moving through the ocean’s waves or rolling a small ball inside their body. Having created the image, they may transform it into movement or composed phrase (May et al., 2011).



Image: A Wayne McGregor|Random Dance dancer imagines moving a heavy bell around
(courtesy David Kirsh)


Many dance instructors likewise use imagery as a way to refine students’ skills, adding texture or quality to movement’s execution. Indeed, several branches of somatic practice are designed to affect awareness, alignment, or performance through imagery, such as Bartenieff Fundamentals, Ideokinesis, the Franklin Method, and embodied anatomy practices. Research shows that kinaesthetic and somatic imagery play a role in motor learning (Arandale et al., 2014) and have been applied to improve sport performance (Murphy, 1990). You may have even heard of the ‘mental rehearsal’ often encouraged in athletes. A considerable amount of research has shown that imagery and mental practice can enhance motor performance (Krasnow et al., 1997: 47).


Mental imagery comes in many forms, not just kinaesthetic or somatic. We can control the forms of imagery we use. In moving the focus of our attention around the imagery spectrum, we may engage in ‘polysensory imaging’ (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999). And by mindfully selecting the forms of imagery we engage in practice, our imagery skills can be learned and improved.


Some research suggests that creative thinking can likewise be scaled, or increased with practice. One way to start practicing thinking creatively is through increasing our awareness of the types of forms of mental imagery that we engage with in creative practice. Though meta-analysis has indicated weak but significant correlations between mental imagery and creativity (LeBoutellier & Marks, 2010), it has been proposed that meta-cognition -- our awareness of our mental imagery skills and habits -- can be honed to help us avoid habitual responses when attempting to innovate, and preliminary research with dancers supports this proposition (deLahunta, Clarke & Barnard, 2011; May et al, 2011). Dancers in one study (May et al, 2011) even reported that such metacognition, or reflecting on their own mental habits during movement creation, allowed for more variation in the movement they generated. This increase in variation was achieved by consciously choosing a less-frequently used form of imagery, for example one might opt for using sound as an inspiration rather than kinaesthetic imagery. One project examining the effects of training metacognitive awareness is the In the Dancer’s Mind project.


In the Dancer's Mind - Creative Imagery Training


Image: Creative imagination workshop at Plymouth University.
Photos: L. Clements, B. Weber and K. Łucznik



In The Dancer’s Mind is a longitudinal and cross-sectional research project into creativity, novelty, and the imagination, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and being undertaken by Plymouth University, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Coventry University. The project is testing whether training dance students in this metacognitive awareness of their use of imagery improves their ability to make creative choreography. The research compares two cohorts of dancers’ creativity levels at the start of their undergraduate studies and a year later, with one cohort being given training in recognising the forms of mental imagery and their own mental habits when using them.


This intervention was delivered by university dance teachers who used a creative imagery and movement toolkit that includes a teacher’s guide, a course pack, lesson plans, and set of workshop materials, which you can download from


The course comprises 37 exercises, covering six training ‘targets’ that explore and train different modalities of imagery, principles for transforming imagery, and its application for movement creation. Each topic is supported with a theoretical introduction in the form of a short video-lecture. Here you can watch the general introduction to this programme:



The course pack includes a variety of exercises, delivered following the video lecture. The first of these are activities that develop creative imagery through mental training. In these exercises, dancers can explore how to apply principles for transforming imagery while sitting or lying down in stillness. For example, an exercise on visual imagery might ask you to imagine a hat. Then, an instructor may read a script encouraging you to mentally transform the hat by using the twelve imagery transformation principles--these are grouped as principles which change the whole, edit part, or modify the image in different ways.


Try it for yourself: imagine a hat. Can you change its scale and make it bigger (modify)? Can you personalise it--make it one of your favorite hats (change the whole)? Can you add a feather to it (edit part)? 



Principles Cards (credits: In the Dancer’s Mind project)


This same exercise could be done on other forms of mental imagery, like sound. Such mental practice allows students to gain confidence in creative imagery.


Next, students are offered movement exercises, where these mental skills are applied to a movement task. These exercises explore how imagery might be use translate into physical ideas, movement qualities, and generation of dance material. Finally, discussion exercises allow the class to reflect on the experience and discuss with the class or in small groups.


These courses offer a flexible modular design, with suggested lesson plan options which adjust the length of the module or the time of individual classes to suit the needs of the particular group or course. These are outlined in a teachers’ guide that also introduces the general context for imagery use as a choreographic tool. All materials have detailed guidance but are also very flexible, so you can use them in the way you think they will be most beneficial for your practice.


Preliminary results shows that our imagery training successfully increases creativity of dance students, both by improving their creative thinking and advancing the use of imagery in their choreographic process. Teachers who used the In the Dancer’s Mind training programme as a part of their choreographic modules reported that the students’ engagement in creative exploration was raised, and they were able to stick with the task for longer. The effect of training was noticed beyond the choreographic practice modules, with impact on enhancing students’ choreologic analysis abilities and improvisational skills. Furthermore, the principles were found to be applicable beyond the imagery context. If you want to learn more about the project and results of the training programme, just visit the project’s website:


Klara Łucznik, PhD.,  is a Researcher in a field of Dance Cognition and a part of interdisciplinary research group CogNovo at Plymouth University.


Rebecca Weber, MFA MA RSME is a PhD Candidate at Coventry University’s Centre for Dance Research, Director of Somanaut Dance , Co-Director of Project Trans(m)it, and an associate lecturer at the University of East London.



For further reading, have a look at these resources:


Andrade, J., May, J., Deeprose, C., Baugh, S.-J. and Ganis, G. (2014), Assessing vividness of mental imagery: The Plymouth Sensory Imagery Questionnaire. British Journal of Psychology, 105: 547–563.


Krasnow, D. H., Chatfield, S. J., Barr, S., Jensen, J. L., & Dufek, J. S. (1997), “Imagery and conditioning practices for dancers”, Dance Research Journal, 29, 43–64.


LeBoutellier, N. & Marks, D.F. (2010) “Mental imagery and creativity: a meta-analytic review study”, British Journal of Psychology, 945:1, 29-44.


May, J., Calvo-Merino, B., deLahunta, S., McGregor, W., Cusack, R., Owen, A. M., & Barnard, P. (2011) “Points in mental space”, Dance Research Journal, 29, 404–432.


Murphy, S. (1990), “Models of Imagery in Sport Psychology: A Review”, Journal of Mental Imagery, 14:3/4, 153-172.

Root-Bernstein, R. and Root-Bernstein, M. (1999), Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tags:  creativity  imagery 

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Imagery, Research, and Practice

Posted By Katie Pavlik on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Commitee, Friday, January 12, 2018

We start our new year with a series of posts by leading experts in the world of dance imagery and creativity.  This first post by Katie Pavlik introduces simple and immediately usable ways for us to embed the use of imagery in our classes from both teaching and dancing perspectives, a great way to invigorate our practice.


Did you know that imagery can be a powerful tool that can affect how you learn, remember, and perform dance?  When I first became interested in dance imagery, I thought of it in simple terms: as mental rehearsal of steps to remember choreography, with a side of pretty metaphors thrown in to aide my performance quality.  Little did I know that imagery is so much more.  Dancers can not only use it to learn movement, but also to reach goals, handle anxiety, and even change their performance.

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Imagery is a conscious action.  The dancer uses their five senses to create a mental image, which approximates a real or fantastical experience.  Perhaps they envision themselves executing a grande battement; this is called technique imagery, which is the mental rehearsal of movement.  If they’re aiming to perfect their turns, they may imagine themselves completing a flawless double pirouette.  This is an example of goal imagery, or images of working towards and reaching dance-specific goals.  Mastery imagery describes images of planning, controlling anxiety, and staying focused, such as a scene of performing with calm confidence.  Finally, role and movement quality imagery contains metaphors and often pertains to characters.  For example, a dancer may create a mental script of a rushing river in winter for use as they dance.  Technique imagery seems to be the most common type of imagery, while mastery is the least utilized in dance (1).

Each type of imagery can serve many different functions.  Dancers use imagery to inspire movement for choreography and solve problems within pieces, such as sorting sequences or figuring out spacing.  Teachers use imagery to clarify technique as well as the thoughts and feelings surrounding the movement.  Imagery can be used to inspire strong emotions or regulate an individual’s mood.  Dancers even use it to ease anxiety or increase motivation during difficult situations such as tough performances or auditions.  Research has shown that technique and role and movement imagery may be especially valuable in helping dancers interpret anxious feelings as useful in stressful situations (1).

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Performing artists, teachers, and students image.  They image in rehearsal, class, and performance.  They image before, during, and after movement.  Anyone can use imagery, and anytime is a good time to image!  If you plan to image, utilize all your senses to create a rich scene, especially your visual and kinesthetic senses.  Memories, pictures, and sounds can inspire imagery, but so can movement itself.  It is helpful to plan imagery prior to use so that you can tailor it to your specific needs and desired outcomes.   Teachers can even design imagery for specific classes or individual students, allowing them to learn about imaging through direct use.  Even though time is short in class, moments can be set aside to show students the importance of imagery.  For example:

a.       Before warm-up, as a time to focus and set goals.

b.      During transitions or while students are waiting, to review steps; small movements that accompany the imagery, or marking, can be especially helpful at these times.

c.       While students are dancing, to enhance the quality of their movement.

d.      At the end of class, to review, set goals, and prepare for future classes.

e.      When injured, to reserve their resources.


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Research has shown that certain types of imagery can increase self-confidence,(1,2) lower anxiety,(1,2) and enhance movement.(3)  As such, performers, teachers, and students can all benefit from this powerful psychological tool.  For further reading and imagery ideas, please see:


1.       Using Imagery to Optimize Dance Training and Performance by Sanna Nordin-Bates, PhD


2.       Dance Imagery: A Literature Review by Katie Pavlik, MSc and Sanna Nordin-Bates, PhD in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, Volume 20, No. 2, 2016, pages 52-63


3.       The History and Research of Dance Imagery: Implications for Teachers by Lynette Overby, PhD and Jan Dunn, MS


4.       Enhancing Sport Performance Using PETTLEP Imagery by Dave Smith, PhD


5.       Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance by Eric Franklin



Forthcoming posts over the next months will focus on the application of imagery in dance learning and making, with a specific focus on creativity.  Keep a look-out for those!


Katie Pavlik is an independent dance scientist based in Chicago, IL, USA.



1.       Nordin SM, Cumming J. Measuring the content of dancers’ images: development of the Dance Imagery Questionnaire (DIQ). J Dance Med Sci. 2006;10(3/4):85-98.

2.       Fish L, Hall C, Cumming J. Investigating the use of imagery by elite ballet dancers. Avante. 2004;10(3):26-39.

3.       Hanrahan C, Tetreau B, Sarrazin C. Use of imagery while performing dance movement. Int J Sport Psychol. 1995;26:413-30.

Tags:  imagery  teachers 

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One Dance UK Conference 2017

Posted By Janine Bryant on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Sunday, December 31, 2017

The beginning of the academic year brought an exciting announcement from One Dance UK with the programme for its first-ever Conference Season to be held at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The conference, held in November, spread three separate programmes over two days and combined the best of the UK's dance sector knowledge and delivered an outstanding weekend of insights and conversations. One Dance UK presents an incredibly wide range of expertise and this conference was demonstrative of all the organisation has to offer. There were three conferences on the programme – the Dance Teaching and Participation Conference, a Choreographers' Conference, and a Healthier Dance Progamme Conference.


The timetable included workshops, keynotes, practical sessions, seminars and networking opportunities and offered attendees many options designed to update and up-skill their current knowledge. Interesting and thought-provoking sessions included 'Long Table' and 'World Café' formats, aimed at fostering collaboration, creativity and idea exchanges with industry leaders.

The Dance Teaching and Participation Conference, held on Saturday 25 November, focused on the value of dance in education, and included guest speaker Tamara Rojo CBE. This conference culminated in exciting performances by exceptional youth dance companies and the BBC's Young Dance Finalist, Jaina Modasia.

The Healthier Dancer Programme was held on 26 November, running concurrently with the Choreographer's Conference, and sometimes overlapping and sharing sessions.  This offered opportunities for dance artists and scientists to discuss various issues such as accessibility, sustainability and diversification in dance. Featured choreographers included Charlotte Vincent, Omari Carter and Rosie Kay. The discussion was lively and thought-provoking as each artist presented attendees with separate prompts to generate discussions in groups. We were encouraged to move around and switch groups, which made for an exciting and engaging session and was one of the first times that dance medicine and science specialists shared conversation-time with choreographers, a very welcome and inspiring opportunity for both sides!

This conference featured discussions on dancers' mental and psychological health, psychological impacts of dance injury and tips on how to help dancers overcome the after-effects of injury. Speakers included Irina Roncaglia, performance psychologist, rehearsal director, producer and teacher, Claire Cunningham, artist, Stuart Waters and an exciting talk by Dr. Roger Wolman, of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, whose vast expertise includes a focus on Sport and Exercise Medicine. Dr. Wolman shared information on the evolving discussion in the medical community regarding injuries in dance to include an understanding that, for dancers, injuries are an emotional as well as a physical event. His insights into the emotional impact of injuries for dancers were validating for all who attended the talk, as he offered ways to assist injured dancers through a multipronged approach.

It was an incredible weekend programmed with over 100 years of expertise in dance, supported by the outstanding venue, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and presented in partnership with The Bench.

Janine Bryant, BFA, MA, SFHEA, is a member of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Associate Editor of The Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers, faculty member in the School of Performing Arts -The University of Wolverhampton and a Registered Provider of the Safe in Dance International Certification.

Tags:  conference  OneDanceUK 

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Healthy Dancer Canada Conference 2017

Posted By Alyssa Perron on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This year’s annual Healthy Dancer Canada (HDC) Conference, held in Calgary, Alberta, brought together a diverse community of dance educators, medical practitioners, researchers, and artists from across Canada and around the globe. A breadth of topics were covered, all fitting within the conference theme: “Science to Studio to Stage”. Particular emphasis was given to the role of the dance educator, and on actively translating research into practice, which was definitely a highlight of all presentations.


 The three-day conference began with a warm welcome reception and a viewing of Calgary’s professional jazz dance company, Decidedly Jazz Dance’s, dress rehearsal, followed by an artist talkback. This set the stage for a weekend of discussions, collaborations, and practical applications of ideas aimed to improve dancer health.


 Our next morning began with a delightful breakfast and roundtable discussions before the first session. The agenda for the weekend was full of presentations in lecture, poster, and workshop formats. Question periods had a novel arrangement this year. Three consecutive presentations were followed by a longer, panel-style Q&A. This unique arrangement fostered a sense of community, encouraged interdisciplinary debate and sharing of ideas, and promoted a depth of discussion between delegates. In addition, this time created space for connections to be made between the ideas brought forth in the lectures and workshops, enabling conversation that otherwise may not have arisen.



Recurring themes of injury prevalence and related subjects including hypermobility, psychological pressures, and coping skills during periods of injury were discussed at length. Several speakers discussed how they were using previous research to implement practical programs in dance companies and schools, along with nuanced approaches to supplementary training. Emerging concepts, such as social media influences, alternative healing through First Nations dance, and the role of intention within performance, allowed delegates to consider dance medicine and science through a holistic, alternative lens.


 One highlight of the conference was Physiotherapist, Erika Mayall’s research on “Instaculture; the effects of social media and Instagram culture on young dancers”, in which she discussed new challenges of ensuring young dancers’ physical and mental health in this technological era. Young dancers seem to be willing to put themselves at risk for the “perfect shot” or more “likes” on a photo, and there is a growing problem with adolescent dancers idolizing, and normalizing potentially harmful tricks, contortions, and training styles. Another enlightening session was a lecture discussing the timing of maturation and how different timings have implications on health, training, and performance of female dancers. This work was presented by PhD Candidate, Siobhan Mitchell, who was this year’s winner of the HDC Research Award and serves as the IADMS Student Committee Chair – Congratulations Siobhan!


It was an incredible weekend, with a feeling not just of dissemination, but of true knowledge exchange. Healthy Dancer Canada’s next conference will be held in Toronto in Fall of 2018 and will mark 10 years of this important organization - hope to see you there!


Alyssa Perron BA, MSc is a member of The Healthy Dancer Canada Conference committee.

Tags:  conference  Healthy Dancer Canda 

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Irene Dowd: The relationship of the scapulae and thorax whilst dancing. Reflections from the IADMS Annual Meeting, Houston, 2017

Posted By Elsa Urmston on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Monday, November 20, 2017

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the shoulder. The IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee will soon be publishing a new resource paper to help dance teachers, educators and students to understand the complex anatomy, function and mechanics of the shoulder girdle.  We will include activities to aid your understanding in an applied context.  Keep an eye out for our next post.  Meanwhile, after attending a workshop focussed on optimising shoulder mechanics, specifically focussed on the relationship between the rib cage and shoulder blades, Elsa shares some of the outcomes of the session led by Irene Dowd.


     One of the invited speakers to the 2017 Annual Meeting in Houston was the acclaimed Irene Dowd, a respected teacher on the faculty at Juilliard teaching dance, composition, functional and kinesthetic anatomy, and neuromuscular re-education for dancers and movement teachers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  Irene is author of Taking Root to Fly, now in its third edition and also writes for various dance and sports journals.  She has also recently published a useful, online resource titled From Spirals to Horizons: Choreographic teachings created by Irene Dowd, a digital archive of a number of her choreographies, created as fine-tuning and conditioning warm-up dances.  This is a really valuable and user-friendly resource which highlights how anatomical knowledge and awareness can be integrated into movement, and provides free access to Irene Dowd’s teachings, great for teachers and dancers alike.  It is an excellent example of the integration of research into practice and practice-as-research within a dance medicine and science domain.


     The focus of Irene’s workshop was on the relationship between the scapulae, or shoulder blades, and the thorax whilst dancing, a wonderful opportunity to apply our anatomical knowledge and awareness in practice, and aid full range of motion dancing in the upper limbs and trunk.  The session was built on the premise that by maintaining appropriate contact between the scapulae and outer surfaces of the rib cage during the performance of arm gestures, we can find ease and control in port de bras and partnering, and aid in the speed and power of upper limb actions. When weight bearing on the hands, the thorax spins within the "embrace" of the scapulae, so forces transmitted through the supporting hand/arm can be spread over a larger surface area of the thorax, and more directly onto the trunk.  Whether moving scapulae on thorax, or thorax on scapulae, an aesthetic desire for the audience to see the "line of the back" uninterrupted by the appearance of "winging" scapulae is served. In addition, by avoiding scapular winging the mechanics of the shoulder itself are optimized.  No bony relationship exists between the scapulae and the back, and it is this that helps to provide such a large range of motion at the shoulder. When the shoulder is stabilized, the positions of the glenoid cavity (the socket of the joint) and the head of the humerus, or upper arm bone, (the ball of the joint) are optimized for maximum efficiency in the full range of movement of the arm.  More on the anatomy and mechanics of the shoulder joint in later posts, although see the list of further resources below for more scientific explanations on the role of the scapulae and associated musculature.


     Our workshop began with a gentle raising of our awareness of the bones comprising the shoulder girdle by looking at models of the scapulae and humerus, to remind ourselves of the movement mechanics at the gleno-humeral joint.  By observing and feeling a partner’s scapulae, we were able to notice the differences between us, how big or small this flat, irregular bone can be, and also the differences we have within our own bodies from right to left side.  This multi-directional engraved image of a scapula helps to conceptualise the bone from numerous angles.  Whilst looking at the image, have someone find the outside edges of one of your scapula, notice its inferior (lowest), sharp angle pointing down to the waist; trace the edge into the armpit area and upwards on the side nearest the spine; and find the top line of the scapula.  What angle do you notice the scapula resting on your rib cage; and can you sense the scapula resting on the outer surface of the ribcage itself?


Embed from Getty Images


     Of course, as a dancer the trouble we have, is that we never see our own scapulae, we feel them, and more often than not the knots which can accumulate in the trapezius and subscapularis!  By noticing our own shoulder blades through the touch from a partner, and seeing and feeling other’s scapulae, an immediate awareness to that area of the body was enabled.  Irene was aiming to enhance our proprioception of when we are accurately achieving and sustaining scapular approximation with the thorax as it "orbits" around the rib cage, despite our inability to see.  We have a really useful resource paper on proprioception if you want to learn more.

Finding length and breadth
We found length through the spine by placing our hands onto our partner’s head, gently resting and noticing the curvature of the skull beneath our palms.  As the hands lifted away, the sensation of release through the trunk brought about a feeling of lengthening and opening, and by placing the backs of the hands on the sides of the ribcage and releasing a low hum through gently pursed lips, we felt the ribcage widen and reverberate.  These activities brought about an awareness of the outside surface of the ribcage itself, but also for me a sense of its volume too, rotating and encircling around the length of the spine.

Getting the arms to 5th
Irene talked about rotating the scapulae down and under, especially when taking the arms up to 5th, envisioning the outside edge of the humerus dropping downwards, rather like the greater trochanter of the femur dropping down when we lift the leg to second position.  By placing the partner’s hands on the scapulae as you perform this motion, the shoulders fall downwards implicitly, and the scapulae widen across the back rather than pinch together.

Widening the scapulae to open the arms
A number of tasks helped to find breadth across the back and enabled the scapulae to widen, rather than pinch together, especially when raising the arms to second position.  Again, we drew on our growing awareness of different bony landmarks and musculature through imagery cues and hands-on activity.  This helped us to engage in open- and closed-chain movement of the scapulae on the thorax and the thorax on the scapulae, whilst enabling spine stabilisation and in particular, ‘wake-up’ the serratus anterior muscle.  The aim throughout was to avoid the scapulae winging backwards and interrupting the line of the spine.  

1.    With our hands on our shoulders and elbows out to the side and slightly forwards, our partners pressed on the edges of the elbow joint for a short time; the effect was that when the lower arms opened to second from the shoulders, the support was felt very firmly from the back and the arms felt broad and wide as the scapulae glided across the ribcage.  

2.    By gently pressing on our partner’s acromion process at the superior, lateral edge of the scapulae, we were encouraged to expand into the touch we felt; for me this was the most powerful image of the day, the widening of the front and back surfaces of the trunk, and rooting of the scapulae down and wide was very tangible.  You can feel for your own acromion process - on many people it is quite prominent as the bony protrusion on top of the shoulder.

Embed from Getty Images


3.     By facing our partner and gently pressing our fingertips together, we were encouraged first to notice the subtle changes in pressure, warmth and constancy of touch. It was important to allow time for this tuning in to occur. We brought our arms up towards 5th position and gently opened the arms to 2nd, lightly pressing throughout. This time by focussing on the motion of the end of the limb, rather than the shoulder joint or scapulae/thorax relationship per se, again a widening sensation across the back was achieved.

When the scapulae pinch together, or ‘wing’ it is often the serratus anterior which lacks strength or control and this can affect the line of the back especially when weight bearing or lifting.

Embed from Getty Images


Strengthening the serratus anterior
By facing our partner again and placing both hands together, we stood arms length from each other.  We let the elbows soften slowly and under control, rather like a standing press-up.  My elbows touched my partner’s elbows, and all the time we focussed on the scapulae widening.  The challenge was to try and maintain this width as we pushed away from one another with control.  An advancement of the activity was to repeat the exercise with only our right hands touching, softening the elbow once more and aiming the elbow towards our hearts.  Not only did this support the focus of the scapulae/ thorax relationship and begin to strengthen the serratus anterior, it also required trunk stabilisation and control.

By introducing and consolidating our anatomical awareness, drawing on proprioception cues through our own touch or that of others, and offering imagery-based instructions, Irene demonstrated the importance of scapulae/thorax relationships in the effective mechanics of the shoulder girdle.  Irene’s publications are an invaluable resource to draw upon in lesson planning, rehearsal and the creation of movement ideas, to be able to experience her wisdom in a workshop setting added a multi-dimensional and applied perspective to embedding the principles of anatomy and kinesiology to dance-based movement.
This is the first in a series of blog posts about the shoulder girdle.  The IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee will soon be publishing a new resource paper on the shoulder, to help dance teachers, educators and students to understand the complex anatomy of the shoulder girdle.  We will include activities to aid your understanding in an applied context.  Keep an eye out for our next post.

Further Resources
Dowd, I. (1990). Taking root to fly. Northampton, MA: Contact Editions.

Dowd, I. (2016).  From spirals to horizons: Choreographic teachings created by Irene Dowd.

Martin, R. M., & Fish, D. E. (2008). Scapular winging: anatomical review, diagnosis, and treatments. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 1(1), 1–11.

Paine, R., & Voight, M. L. (2013). THE ROLE OF THE SCAPULA. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8(5), 617–629.

Sweigard, L. E. (1974). Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation. New York: Allegro Editions.

The Thinking Body website provides a range of information about Irene Dowd’s work specifically and other practitioners working in this field.  It also charts the development of the work which informs much of Irene’s practice from Mabel Todd and Lulu Sweigard.  A comprehensive bibliography of Irene’s writings is also annotated here.

There are numerous clips of Dowd’s work on youtube as well.

Elsa Urmston MSc, PGCAP, AFHEA is a Dance Educator based in the UK.  She is the Chair of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee and sits on the One Dance UK expert panel for Children and Young People.  She works with a wide range of institutions including Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance, London Contemporary Dance School and Bird College.
Elsa's Wordpress

Tags:  Annual Conference  movement session  shoulder 

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IADMS 2017 DUEL: Cryotherapy - help or harm?

Posted By IADMS Promotion Committee, Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This year's Annual Conference will host a few IADMS DUELS!

Here, we will introduce you to the two duelists debating CRYOTHERAPY - HELP OR HARM?


Speaking for the HELP of cryotherapy:

Valerie Williams, PT, PhD, Brunel University, London, United Kingdom


Photographer: Neil Graveney



1.          Could you tell us about your presentation theme at the 27th IADMS Annual Conference?  

My presentation is part of a the IADMS "duels" series. My colleague and I are debating the benefits and risks of cryotherapy using the available evidence on both sides. I am advocating the "help" of using ice in therapy, while she is arguing the "harm".    



2.          Why is it import to discuss this topic with the IADMS community? What are the implications of this topic to the dance sector/dance health professionals?    

This topic is important because there is evidence to support to use of ice in therapy and evidence against it. We are presenting research and recommendations on both sides to help clinicians make informed decisions in their practice and education of dancers.  


3.          What are your thoughts on IADMS relevance for your field of work? 

 IADMS is very relevant to my field of work because it connects me with other clinicians and academics who work with dancers.   


4.          Personally, what is the importance of attending to IADMS annual conferences? 

Attending IADMS annual conference is important to me because to provides an opportunity for me to meet with and listed to presentations of professionals from around the world. It helps to keep me up to date on research, and it also motivates me to continue working on my own projects to present and share.   


5.          What do you think you are most looking forward to on this year’s conference? 

This year I am most looking forward to the opening symposium on what dance medicine and science can learn from sport.


Speaking for the HARM of cryotherapy:

Rosie C. Canizares, PT DPT, SCS, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States, PASIG, Orthopaedic section, American Physical Therapy Association


Photographer: Duke Photography


1.      Could you tell us about your presentation theme at the 27th IADMS Annual Conference? 

I am presenting in the IADMS 'Duel' called "Cryotherapy- help or harm?"  Additionally, I am a co-author of the posters "Associations among age, experience, and injuries of dancers presenting to a dancer wellness clinic" and "Musculoskeletal effects and injury risk in collegiate Indian classical and ballet dancers."  


2.      Why is it import to discuss this topic with the IADMS community? What are the implications of this topic to the dance sector/dance health professionals?   

It is important to discuss cryotherapy with the IADMS community because many dancers use ice when they are in pain or injured whether they know why they are doing so or not.  Dancers and the health care professionals who treat them should understand they why behind this intervention so that it can be used safely and most effectively so that it is helpful and not harmful.  


3.      What are your thoughts on IADMS relevance for your field of work?  

I am so excited that IADMS exists as an organization!  It is great to know that there are so many people in the world who share my interests and are committed to the health and wellness of dancers.  It is also reassuring to be able to refer my dancer patients to other health care professionals that understand their unique needs, and it gives my physical therapy students an avenue to pursue their passion for dance medicine. 


4.     Personally, what is the importance of attending to IADMS annual conferences?  For me personally, the IADMS annual conference is a fantastic opportunity to network as well as stay on top of the research in the dance medicine world.  I am also pleased to represent the Performing Arts Special Interest Group of the American Physical Therapy Association to the larger world-wide dance medicine community. 


4.      What do you think you are most looking forward to on this year’s conference?  

I am most looking forward to seeing my dance medicine colleagues in person, particularly those members of the APTA's PASIG, and I anticipate meeting new colleagues and expanding my network. 



Tags:  Annual Conference  cryotherapy  duel 

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IADMS2017: Top 10 Things to do in Houston, Texas

Posted By IADMS Student Committee, Sunday, October 8, 2017

Top 10 Things to do in Houston



1.       Houston Zoo-  The Houston Zoo is one of the top attractions in Houston, and the Number 2 most visited zoo in the country!  Come see some awesome exhibits, and even feed giraffes!




2.       The Galleria - If you want to shop, this is definitely the place to do it! There are over 375 stores in this mall making it the largest one in Texas!! There is even an ice skating rink in the middle of it!




3.       Museum of Fine Arts Houston - They say that art is truly meaningful only when it is shared.  Come check out the 63,000 different artworks in this museum!



4.       UPDATE! Wortham Center was damaged in the Hurricane Harvey floods Houston experienced last month and will not reopen until Summer 2018.

Wortham Center - A beautiful theatre that is home to the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera. 



5.       Discovery Green Park -  The “Central Park” of Houston! Relax at the park after a busy afternoon of being in the city!




6.       Houston Arboretum and Nature Center - The Arboretum is a nature sanctuary for the native plants and animals of Houston!




7.       Cockrell Butterfly Center - A glass enclosed butterfly habitat, with a 50- foot waterfall! Houston’s very own rainforest!



8.       The Miller Outdoor Theatre – A huge performance space where audience members can enjoy the fresh air and a show almost every night of the week!




9.       NASA Space Center Houston - You can take a tram tour of the space center. The space center in Houston has served as “mission control” in many past space expeditions, most famously, the Apollo 13 expedition! 



10.   Houston Museum of Natural Science - One of the most visited museums in the country! You will be amazed at all the cool archeological finds that are here!


IADMS Student Committee


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IADMS 2017: Student Events!

Posted By IADMS Student Committee, Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Annual Meeting is upon us and there are some exciting student events this year!


Our student social is a great way to meet new faces during the conference and to network with Dance Science students from across the globe! This years’ student social will take place on the Friday night of the conference - meet us at 7.30pm in the conference hotel lobby and we will go from there!


Student committee members will be present throughout the meeting - look out for us at registration and in the Lamar room where we are setting up an interactive Q&A board - here you can post your questions to professionals and they will respond!


Other student events and sessions include our student and young professionals networking event and a panel discussion on building your career in dance medicine and science – see details below!



Student and young professional networking workshop

An opportunity for students to connect with professionals and to build networks in their area of interest.


You will meet professionals from a variety of fields including education, research, medicine, athletic training, nutrition, and massage therapy in a fun speed-networking style session!


Thursday 12th October, 5:30 - 6:20pm


Sam Houston Room


Student Social

Our student social is a great way to meet new faces at the meeting in an informal setting and to network with Dance Science students from across the globe!


Networking and drinks (and possibly some ice cream…) with IADMS student members


Friday 13th October, 7.30pm


Meeting in the lobby of the conference hotel - look out for members of the student committee there!


Building your career: a panel discussion on avenues to careers in dance medicine and science


We will be hearing from experts in research, medicine, physical therapy, athletic training, and education. Please contribute to the discussion by submitting questions to the student committee located at registration!


Sunday October 15th, 12:30-1:15pm.


Navarro/Hidalgo room


We look forward to welcoming you to the conference next week!


Your Student Committee


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IADMS 2017: Speaker Brooke Winder

Posted By IADMS Promotion Committee, Monday, October 2, 2017

Introducing a featured speaker at this year's IADMS Annual Conference - Brooke Winder, PT, DPT, OCS. Brooke is faculty at Cal State Long Beach and serves as a committee member in the American Physical Therapy Association's Performing Arts Special Interest Group!



1.      Could you tell us about your presentation theme at the 27th IADMS Annual Conference?


The focus of my presentation is a synthesis of current research regarding pelvic floor dysfunction, including varied diagnoses such as incontinence and pelvic pain, in dancers. The goal of this presentation is to present hypothesized risk factors for pelvic floor dysfunction in the dance population and to highlight needs for future research and clinical screening.


2.      Why is it import to discuss this topic with the IADMS community? What are the implications of this topic to the dance sector/dance health professionals?


This topic is important because pelvic floor dysfunction imposes significant limitations in the quality of life of performers who experience symptoms. These symptoms are often underreported due to their sensitive nature. If knowledge in this area can be expanded within the dance community I believe we can become even better equipped to educate dancers and help healthcare professionals spot and take care of these issues more frequently.


3.      What are your thoughts on IADMS relevance for your field of work?


 As a Doctor of Physical Therapy and professor of Dance Science at California State University, Long Beach, I think IADMS is an extremely important organization in my field. Through IADMS I can stay connected to current research and clinical trends in dance science with perspectives drawn from an incredibly wide range of locations and experiences. I can also help bring the most current information to my undergraduate and graduate students and help them to become more involved in the dance science community.


4.      Personally, what is the importance of attending to IADMS annual conferences?


 I feel that attending the IADMS annual conference is important for me in many ways. The research, clinical pearls and movement experiences at IADMS annual conferences help me to feel inspired by those around me doing great work and advocating so well for performers’ health and well-being. It helps me to widen my vision about where my own research can go and how I can more creatively and effectively help my patients and my students.


5.      What do you think you are most looking forward to on this year’s conference?


 I am looking forward to dialoging face to face with others who share the same passion as I do for the field of dance science. I look forward to connecting with the faculty from other dance science programs and other dance physical therapists to share ideas. And, in general, I am excited to learn from this year’s varied programming.


Tags:  Annual Conference 

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