Dance Reviews

For the Health of the Dancer: IADMS Conference 2011

By Leigh Schanfein

The weekend of October 14th, 2011 held a lot of excitement for me and others devoted to dancer health, as it was time for the annual conference of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS).  Delegates from all over the globe converged on Washington DC to present, learn, observe, network, and draw inspiration from colleagues involved in every aspect of dance. 

IADMS formed in 1990 to address the rapidly growing awareness that dancers have very specific needs when it comes to overall wellness.  Sports medicine and science has been developing for decades.  The dance world has finally reached a point where art can meet science in a respectful and successful way.  The mission of IADMS is to enhance the health, well-being, training, and performance of dancers by cultivating educational, medical, and scientific excellence.  The culmination of activities directed towards this goal is the annual IADMS conference, which draws several hundred attendees every year from more than 35 countries.  The three-day conference is directed at those involved with improving the health of dancers. Guess what? That includes you!  As a dancer or dance instructor, it is part of your job to create, maintain, and improve the body as an instrument.

Opening Remarks 2011 IADMS Conference. Copyright Jake Pett 2011

Each year, the IADMS conference consists of three primary components: lectures, movement sessions, and social/networking events.  The lectures include brief presentations as well as longer symposia, and are always followed by question and answer sessions. Lecture topics cover a wide range of scientific, medical, and educational subjects.  Just to give you an idea of their scope, a few lecture titles included: “Bone health for dancers,” “Balance training and its implications for risk of dance injury,” and “Teaching tomorrow’s stars: common problems associated with exceptional talent.” 

The movement sessions are one-hour blocks dedicated to hands-on learning.  Much like the lectures, a wide range of ideas that could fall under exploratory concepts or clinical concepts are shared.  Some examples from this year’s conference included: “Sacroiliac motion in dancers: hands-on appreciation,” “Recovery and prevention in motion: performance psychology in action,” and “Evidence-based dynamic warm-up for dancers of all ages.”  The lecturers and movement session leaders truly wish to disseminate the most useful information to as many people as possible who can then pass on what they’ve learned to their colleagues and students. 

The third networking component may have the least amount of conference time dedicated to it, but it is just as important as the others.  When you can get face to face with someone you are creating a canvas for the exchange of ideas, the birth of inspiration, and the spread of knowledge.  The key to the conference is the people.  You listen, inquire, and share.  Derrick Brown, a former dancer and dance instructor with a Master of Science degree who now teaches dance science in The Netherlands, has attended the IADMS conferences since 2005.  As a scientist, he attends to present and hear the latest research as well as to network with colleagues and discuss the future direction research should take.  Derrick points out, “Our little science world is still very young,” and, as an educator, some of his interest lies in not only encouraging the pursuit of knowledge and expanding our world of dance science, but also in effectively getting that knowledge to the dancers. 

Dr. Matthew Wyon is a Professor of Performance Science at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, and has been attending the IADMS conferences since 1998.  As with everyone I’ve asked, Dr. Wyon attends the conferences to find out about the newest research, present his own work, and to meet up with friends and colleagues.  In fact, not only was he able to meet up with three potential graduate students who might join his lab at Wolverhampton, he also figured out a multi-institution research study with colleagues in both the USA and the UK.  Dr. Wyon emphasizes that the conference is not just for lab rats, “There is something for everyone involved in dance whether a teacher, practitioner, dancer, therapist, PT, doctor, or scientist.  Also, it is the friendliest conference I go to where we mix good research with having a good time.”  

William G. Hamilton, MD, accompanied by his wife Linda (left), receiving the Lifetime Service Award from IADMS board member Marika Molnar (right). Copyright Jake Pett 2011.

The IADMS conference truly is designed for anyone who is interested in, or thinks they might be interested in dance-related science.  Don’t be turned away by the term; ‘science’ is anything but a dirty word!  Dance-related science applies to clinicians, teachers, dancers, and other practitioners in the related arts and sciences.  The people who attend the conference range from dance students, to former dancers who now teach/research/treat and to non-dancers who find themselves servicing the dance industry, such as physical therapists and doctors.

IADMS recognizes what every dancer knows – it is critical that clinicians understand the specific needs of dancers.  IADMS also knows how important it is that dancers and dance instructors educate themselves and are receptive to information garnered though scientific research.  Science does not ignore or impune tradition. Science supplements it.  If the information we are getting from scientific research can help you prevent injury, jump higher, positively direct your emotional energy, and have a longer healthy career, wouldn’t you like to find out about it? 

Kumiyo Kai, a dance student from Japan who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the University of California Irvine, USA, has attended three IADMS conferences.  She has found that the conferences provide great inspiration and have introduced her to many different aspects of the field, as well as some great friends.  With regards to this year’s conference she notes, “We had many students and young researchers; it was nice for me to feel that I am not alone!”  We both left the conference with the excitement of new ideas to explore. 

The IADMS conference 2011 was a success.  From the first hour, we could tell it would be a special event with the opening address delivered by the inimitable Suzanne Farrell, who shared with us that even George Balanchine engaged in dance science when he helped develop a new stage floor design – for a sprung stage.  We saw her company perform an evening of Balanchine work two days later. 

The Lifetime Service Award honored Dr. William Hamilton, MD, who is truly another one of “Balanchine’s Legacies”, as the orthopedist for dancers from companies such as New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater for over 30 years.  In his address, Dr. Hamilton said that those who help cultivate art, such as a doctor treating his dancer patient, are as much artists themselves.  And I think we can all agree that to extend the life of the art, we must first consider the health of the dancer.

I strongly encourage you to attend the IADMS conference if it is ever in a city near you.  Even if you can’t attend, you can find lots of information online at including a slew of downloadable and print-ready resource papers on a range of topics.

Top photo: Moira McCormack from the UK, a speaker for Teacher’s Day, discussing the content of her talk on hyper-mobility.
Copyright Jake Pett 2011.

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