Dance Medicine and Science as a Career

Dance Medicine and Science

Medicine is the science and art of preventing and alleviating or curing disease. Dance medicine and science is the application of that realm to the specific life and body of the dancer. As a discipline it investigates the causes of dance injuries, promotes their care, prevention and safe post-rehabilitation return to dance, and explores the 'how' of dance movement. Some specific concerns include the biomechanical, physiological, and neuromotor aspects of dance, nutrition, psychological issues, and the body therapies and somatics area.

The training and self-discipline necessary for the individual to become a dancer are potential sources of physical and emotional strain that may result in temporary or extended disability. The performance of dance, in whatever form, can result in physical injury that may be acute or chronic due to overuse. Prevention of injury/illness is the concern of the educator and health care practitioner involved in dance medicine and science. Preventive recommendations are based upon:

  • The results of scientific analysis of dance technique and its impact on intensity of teaching, rehearsing and performing.
  • The results of clinical studies which examine the mechanisms and course of injury rehabilitation and movement re-education.

When injury or other related disability has occurred in the dancer, rational rehabilitative techniques based on these recommendations make return to and continuation of dance possible.

Definition of Dance Medicine and Science provided by the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (www.iadms.org)

Pursuing a Career

Currently, dance medicine and science is only defined by the actions and ideas of various health professionals, dance educators, alternative practitioners, and researchers that practice in the area of dancer health. Each discipline brings a unique perspective and body of knowledge to the health concerns of dancers. This diversity of perspectives is rightly perceived as a strength. However, this diversity prevents a simple answer to the question, "How can I learn about dance medicine and science?" The short answer is, "It depends." Students should be asked, "What unique skills, abilities, and knowledge do you currently possess and which ones do you want to acquire? Precisely how do you see yourself contributing to dancer health?" Focusing on the students learning objectives will clarify which discipline associated with dance medicine and science they should pursue.

Although there is no single existing education pathway that defines the required objectives for an education in dance medicine and science, there is much to be learned and multiple opportunities appropriate for every discipline. Not surprisingly, potential students will discover that their previous training and education objectives determine the format(s) of learning they can and should pursue. The existing formats of education of dance medicine and science are grouped as follows: 1. University/Academic Setting, 2. Conferences/Workshops, 3. Clinical Affiliations.

  • Generally, University/Academic formats are provided by an institution that has been reviewed by an accrediting body to insure that it meets certain criteria. Satisfactory completion of the program earns the student a "degree" (e.g. BFA, MA, PhD). Entry into these programs is highly regulated and requires various levels of previous education.
  • Workshops or conferences typically operate without an external body providing a review of the content or pedagogical design. Workshops and conferences generally provide proof of attendance, most often in the form of a certificate. Typically, entry into these programs is not regulated in any way, although some are explicitly aimed at particular disciplines.
  • Clinical affiliations (mentorships) are generally aimed at the practice of a specific discipline and occur within a treatment facility. These learning experiences vary widely in their time course and the formality of their structure. Examples in this category include the affiliations of the physical therapist student as part of the professional phase of an academic (college or university) education and the affiliation of the aspiring Pilates practitioner as part of an independent, commercial, education provider.

A few limitations in the current educational offering should be considered.

  • The majority of academic education in dance medicine and science is aimed primarily at students whose first discipline is dance. This suggests that there is currently no clear pathway for a student whose primary discipline is in health care or research to obtain an academic degree in dance medicine and science.
  • Generally, those academic programs that offer education in dance medicine and science offer it only as a "minor" or "emphasis" within a larger dance-oriented education.
  • The majority of the Clinical Affiliations for which information could be obtained are aimed at physical therapy students. This fact should not deter practitioners or students of other disciplines from contacting known leaders in the dance medicine and science community to inquire about potential affiliations at their treatment facilities.

Text cited from the Dance Medicine Resource Guide, Second Edition, J. Michael Ryan Publishing, Inc. Written and edited by Marshall Hagins, PhD, PT.