by Jan Dunn, MS
As summer starts, and many schools / companies take a break until fall (or have “summer intensives”), it made me realize that now is a good time for directors to think about possibly implementing a dance screening program, to begin as things gear up in August -i.e, there’s time to think and learn about it / gather your resources together…Hence this article….
I’ve had the good fortune to be able to start a dance screening protocol at two university dance programs where I was working–one at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (LMU), in 2006, and the other at the University of Colorado-Boulder (UC-B), in 2010. I had known about screenings for many years, from conferences / articles /and listening to dance colleagues about how they worked at their school or company. But my LMU and UC-B initiatives gave me valuable knowledge and personal experience on how to implement such a tool for a dance program with limited resources. This article is written from my own experiences with those programs, and suggestions on how to move forward to implement something similar in your own school / company.
First, what IS a “dance screening”?
It is looking at the dancer in several ways:
– from a physical perspective of skeletal build / muscles, and other attributes — such as strength / flexibility / aerobic capacity, etc.–i.e, criteria commonly used to assess physical capacity in different physical activities. These are usually assessed by a physical therapist or doctor, using standard strength / flexibility measurement tests (and others), from the medical realm.
– from a dance perspective, by a teacher or trainer who is knowledgeable about correct technique, and is familiar with current dance medicine information – and who knows a good deal about anatomy / biomechanics, and other aspects of healthy use of the body with “efficient movement” (also called “biomechanical efficiency”).
(A Side Note: We’ve mentioned “efficient movement” in past articles in our Dance Wellness column. This term means that you are using only the muscles necessary to accomplish the movement. For example, efficient movement of the arms in dance would be where the dancer has good strength and stability in the scapular (shoulder blade) and upper back area, supporting the shoulder girdle (which consists of the scapula / clavicle – “collarbones” – arms) and upper spine – with no unnecessary tension of muscles in the neck or upper shoulder area (such as the trapezius, on the top of the shoulder).
Chronic “Inefficient movement” – i.e, chronic tension in the muscles – can lead to injury down the line. In our example of arm movement, that would mean hiking up the shoulders and thus having too much ongoing tension in muscles such as the trapezius and neck stabilizers — instead of the stabilization coming from the scapular / upper back muscles).
– a screening can also include information about the dancer’s eating patterns, sleep, general health, etc. –i.e, other important factors that play into the overall health of the dancer.
– some screenings also include a psychological questionnaire — as stress / anxiety / depression can affect the dancer’s health and their physical capacities (we will have an article on THAT important topic – Dance Psychology – sometime later this year).
The first step in starting a dance screening, from my perspective, is finding a physical therapist (PT – or “physiotherapist” in the UK / EU), or other medical professional, who is interested in working with you. This person may or may not be a dance medicine expert. Their job is to do the actual physical assessment — if they are familiar with dance, that’s an added bonus, but it’s not mandatory.
At LMU, we had a PT (who WAS dance familiar) already working part-time at the dance dept., but at UC-B, our PT came from the University’s Health Clinic, and had no knowledge of or background in dance. She was only available for a few hours, so we structured our screening times around her limited schedule, giving each dancer a 30 minute slot. At LMU, we were able to allow 45 minutes per dancer, as our PT was on-site.
I conducted the dance technique analysis portion of the screening at UC-B, and at LMU, that aspect was shared by myself and another dance faculty who also had a dance medicine background. This portion of the screening was always done AFTER the physical therapy assessment – so that the PT could first provide any necessary input that might be needed.
There are suggested dance technique screens that can be researched (some resources are provided at the end of this article). One particularly good site to investigate is the Dancer Wellness Project at Case Western University, a comprehensive program that includes screening – although in my personal experience with the two programs mentioned, we were unable to utilize that particular resource, because of limited time and lack of computer resources (which the DWP requires). We kept our screens fairly short and basic, looking primarily at the dancers’:
– overall standing alignment (“posture”)
– demi plie in parallel and first position
– tendu front-side-back
– developpe front-side-back
– port de bras
– balance on one foot (eyes open, then closed)
We also used both a foam roller core stability test (leg lift with no hands on the floor), and a plank test, which provided us with a good deal of information on what might need strengthening from the aspect of core work.
At both schools, we also had a paper questionnaire for them to fill out, on general health concerns / eating and sleep patterns, etc. We did not include a psychological component.
The information gleaned from a dance screening can be of great value for both the dancer personally, and the teacher / director. It can provide knowledge about areas of strength or flexibility that may need some additional work outside of class (i.e, conditioning — which we’ve talked about a lot in this column!), as well as technique errors that could play a part in possible future injury–and most importantly, it gives the dancer empowering information about their own body.
And sometimes, a screening can illuminate a situation that may need additional input from a medical perspective, such as Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. At both LMU and UC-B, we found several dancers who fell into this category (as identified by the PT), and were referred out for additional evaluation and feedback.
Ideally, screenings are done when a dancer first enters the school or company, or at the beginning of the term (usually fall)–i.e, to provide a baseline. Follow-up screenings can then be done periodically (given time and financial constraints), to see what progress has been made in any area of extra work that may have been suggested to the dancer.
Screenings can also provide good “ammunition” for a school or company that wants to start an on-site conditioning facility, such as a Pilates room with equipment. Having the data from the screens can be used to help convince Boards of Directors, and other financial supporters, of the need for including these aspects of a Dance Wellness program.
If you have already started a screening program at your school / company – terrific! And if you’re interested in starting one, I hope this brief introduction, and the resources below, will help get you started. As always, I am available (via email – firstname.lastname@example.org) for any questions or help. 🙂
“Screening in a Dance Wellness Program” – IADMS Resource Paper – www.iadms.org
The Dancer Wellness Program at Case Western University – www.dancerwellnessproject.com
“Screening Your Dancers” – Dance Teacher Magazine, May 2006
“A Screening Can Improve Your Dancing” – Pointe Magazine, February/March 2010
Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance. Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs
Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.
Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.