Shaw Bronner conducts her research with a dancer at Alvin Ailey. Photo by Rachel Vianna / Uptown Radio
HOST 1: Professional dancers put a lot of strain on their bodies.
HOST 2: Which means they suffer a lot of injuries. There’s a field of specialized medicine dedicated to helping them, but only a few have access to proper care. Rachel Vianna looks at some of the resources that can help the rest.
The studio at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is full and the air is hot. Dancers glisten with sweat as they practice the same moves, over and over again. The instructor shouts like a coach.
NATSOUND: Jazz class at Alvin Ailey
INSTRUCTOR: 1, 2, 3…(Shouts and claps)
Dancers ARE a lot like athletes – their bodies are their livelihood. But for a long time, they couldn’t tap into sports medicine to treat their injuries. Physiotherapist Shaw Bronner experienced that first hand when she was a dancer in college.
BRONNER: I couldn’t go into the training room and ask for ice for an ankle sprain. But I always felt that we needed to establish the principles of sports medicine with respect to dancers.
So Bronner founded the ADAM Center for Analysis of Dance and Movement to study injury prevention for dancers. Her current research uses 3D motion capture to analyze what she calls the level of “jerk” in the movements of dancers. She is looking to see how a lack of smoothness in movement can cause injuries.
BRONNER: If somebody has a lot less control, which therefore would be higher jerk, I think they’re a lot more vulnerable. //There is never one factor that creates an injury. It’s usually a host of many. (11)
Big companies like Alvin Ailey have been relying on this kind of research to heal their dancers. They’ve realized it helps them drive down health care costs. But most dancers work with smaller companies and according to a study by a nonprofit organization dedicated to professional dance, 97 percent of part time dancers are uninsured. And the reality of the economic situation for dancers all over the country doesn’t help.
BAUM: You pay more money to be a dancer than you get paid to do the profession that you set out to do. (7)
Claire Baum struggles to make a living from dancing. Baum says that her company, Kitchen Sink Collective, spent four months rehearsing a show, but at the end each member earned only $78 dollars.
BAUM: I got paid as a professional dancer and I couldn’t pay for my metrocard that month. (6)
Let alone an insurance premium. Alexander Thompson is a dancer, who ended up with a $20,000 medical bill after being mugged in Prospect Park.
THOMPSON: So I turned around and saw two men walking toward me. The first one grabbed me from behind and put me on a chokehold and then the other guy continued to just punch me multiple times in the face until I dropped my phone and then they grabbed it and ran off. (14)
Thompson and other dancers also have to worry about work related injuries
THOMPSON: There is significant risk both physical and financial. And you’re doing it in place where anything can happen that might impact the thing that you do. It’s literally insane. (9)
HEFLIN: So it’s kind of not, you know, if an injury will happen, is when an injury will happen. (4.3)
It takes an expert to work with a dancer, according to Leigh Heflin of the NYU Harkness Center for Dance Injuries.
HEFLIN: We understand what a jete is, we understand a battement. We understand the terminology that dancers use daily and the demands of their rehearsal schedule and their class schedule, and also their life in the city. (14)
The Harkness Center also provides financial assistance to injured dancers. So they can get care when they need it.
HEFLIN: A lot of times dancers delay seeking care. So it’s an injury that’s been going on for a long time…and then finally it comes to the point when they can’t dance anymore and that’s why they call us. (9)
Physiotherapist Shaw Bronner of the ADAM Center, says the challenge now is to bring this assistance to smaller companies. There have been some unexpected allies in this shift of mindset, like a partnership with Nike. A study the athletic apparel company commissioned looked at how break dancers got injured during dance battles.
BRONNER: You can maximize how you can help a population by knowing what makes each of them unique and special. (7)
In the long run, Bronner hopes this is the kind of research that can encourage dance companies and insurance providers to understand the importance of specialized medicine in the field. Rachel Vianna, Columbia Radio News.