EU’s Dance Department implements athletic assessments

Beginning this semester, Eastern University’s dance department, in partnership with NovaCare, will be administering athletic assessments for dance majors and minors.  This is an unprecedented first for EU’s  dance department as we emphasize the needs and unique attributes of each dancer as an individual in our new Dancer Wellness Program.  The assessments will identify the risk factors specific to each dancer, which may predispose them to injuries or complications. The assessments will also reveal strengths and weaknesses,  which can help each dancer and their professors more clearly target their training regimens for optimal results. The specific goals of our Dancer Wellness Program include assisting in a more efficient training regimen for each  dancer, preventing injury, learning rehabilitation for current injuries or effects from surgical procedures and assisting therapists and athletic trainers, who work with the dancers, by providing quantifiable information about the dancers that is not necessarily gleaned during studio work or rehearsals.
Dancers in well-known professional dance companies receive excellent, specialized attention for their health concerns. What about the large group of dancers who are on their way up, the hundreds of thousands in school and private studio dance programs who dream big dreams, but often do not have access to the same high level of care?
In the world of sports, the scientific method is frequently used to create and inform new approaches to training; athletes, and those who help them achieve exceptional levels of human performance, have come to embrace science for the advantages it can provide. As a group, dancers are just beginning to appreciate the potential for using science to improve dance training and performance; some specific performance improvements science may help dancers achieve include: higher extensions and arabesque, longer leaps, cleaner turns and more effective use of turnout.  Once dancers, and those who train them, begin to experience some of the benefits of using science to inform the dancer’s approach to training their instrument of their art form, the human body, the adoption of science-based enhancements is likely to become as popular among dancers as it is among athletes.
Senior dance major Theresa Ford states, “As a dancer, taking my art and my body seriously is really important to me. Being assessed will help me know how to better take care of my body as well as give me new ways to increase strength and flexibility. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses will help direct my further training and conditioning.”
This past week, I was privileged to experience this ground-breaking start to a new practice here at Eastern University. Professor Janine Bryant, who currently earning her PhD in Dance Medicine and Science, got the ball rolling on dance assessments. We are assessed on several things, including but not limited to the alignment of the spine, flexibility of the hip joints, ability to jump certain distances and cardio health. Freshman dance major, Rachael Lyons stated, “I had fun seeing how well I could tackle the different assessment exercises – jumping, stretching, strength – and it made me realize that I should put just as much effort into the challenges in my dance classes.” The assessments will be continued annually to help dance majors, like Lyons, be able to assess their progress. As a freshman, Lyons will benefit from four assessments to track her progress over her four years in Eastern’s dance department!
I personally struggled with achilles tendonitis on my right ankle, which is an inflammation of the calcaneal or achilles tendon right above the back of the heel. This inflammation was a result of excessive time wearing pointe shoes. When I was assessed by our new Athletic Trainer for Dance, Liz Todd, she was able to tell that I had trouble in that area on that side, purely from taking a look at some exercises that I was doing. I was compensating on my right foot in all sorts of ways to make up for the tightness and injury that had occurred there years ago. With this knowledge, I can move forward in my training and hope to correct any misalignments.
Senior dance major, Hannie Brake said, ” I think it is important for dancers to know the nuances in their body so that they can avoid injury as well as work on strengthening and stretching those parts of their bodies that are in need of such attention. My assessment will help me become a better dancer because it will allow me a chance to understand my body and it’s quirks and unique qualities in a new way.”   
When it comes to the physiology of the body, dancers in collegiate dance programs as well as dancers in the professional world are coming to realize just how important knowledge acquisition of anatomical limitation is, and Eastern’s dance department is right on trend providing this service to their majors and minors.
Eastern’s dance department would like to thank Head Athletic Director, John Post, for his encouragement and assistance with getting the assessments off the ground, for providing the necessary guidance for success and for referring Novacare’s Athletic Trainer, Liz Todd, biomechanical genius and dance lover, to perform our  assessments.

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