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Physical Screening Procedures

This is an excerpt by Janice Gudde Plastino, PhD from Preventing Dance Injuries, Second Edition edited by Ruth Solomon, John Solomon, and Sandra Cerny Minton.

This chapter introduces a basic screening model to teachers, choreographers, directors, and health professionals who care for dancers’ well-being. The procedure described can be used to increase the artistic ability of dancers in any technique or at any level in the dance world.

Physical evaluation of student and professional dancers before actual participation in dance programs has increased in the United States and many other parts of the world over the last 10 years. For example, Rachel Rist, director of dance at the Arts Educational School in Tring, England, has established a very rigorous screening program for dancers that begins with the audition for acceptance to the school and continues throughout their course of study (Plastino 2003b). Similar screening programs exist in Israel and the Netherlands (Plastino 2003a).

Physical screening is the process of evaluating dancers for general health and anatomic parameters and for existing and previous injuries that might eventually affect their dance career. This process is a well-established requirement in the athletic world; no self-respecting amateur or professional sport program would begin a training season without a preparticipation examination of all performers.

The screening program in dance at the University of California at Irvine was developed to reduce dance injuries and teach student dancers more about their bodies. It originated with this author (who is a kinesiologist), in collaboration with the athletic department trainer and his staff, and an orthopedic surgeon who, as a sports medicine specialist, was seeing all injured dancers at the University Student Health Service. We believe that this plan, modeled after successful athletic screening programs, is the best available to us for screening large numbers of dancers in the limited time allowed. Due to budget and personnel changes, the program has undergone major modifications over the years.

With the cooperation of the physician just mentioned and qualified faculty and students in the dance department, the physical exam is completed in one intense afternoon session at the beginning of the university year, before the students start technique classes. Auditions are held the previous day, so the results of the screening and the audition can be used to place each student at the proper level of technique class.

The Screening Process

There are two basic parts to the screening: (1) taking an injury history and (2) analyzing posture and body type as they relate to various types of dance, with specific evaluation of the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine. For testing, women should be dressed in a two-piece bathing suit, men in trunks, and both should be barefoot. It is desirable that the dancers bring with them any shoes and orthotics used daily or in class, rehearsal, and performance. An exam progresses faster if the examiner has a recorder; also, for liability protection, more than one person should be present during the process. Other tests can be carried out in the studio, with medical problems referred toa health professional.

The main problem facing the faculty at Irvine, given the large dance population (170 majors), was the amount of time needed to advise the dancers based on the audition or placement exam and the results of the screening. The last station of the screening process is a consultation with the dance kinesiologist, who is a techniqueteacher, choreographer, and ex-professional performer. Any problem found by the examiners is conveyed to the kinesiologist, who in turn brings it to the attention of the dancer. On the basis of this information the kinesiologist may recommend alternative or additional training procedures, alteration of the level or number of technique classes to be taken, or both. For the student dancer, rehearsal and performance schedules are an integral part of the evaluation, though the pressing need to complete university requirements for graduation often takes priority over other considerations (in the private school or professional company situation the dancer’s rehearsal and performance commitments carry more weight).

Ultimately, the appropriate advisor must have access to the findings of the screening; follow-up with proper advising of each dancer regarding his or her physical and aesthetic progress is a necessity. It takes less time to evaluate each body than it does to assess each examination and then advise each dancer, yet there is no doubt that the time spent in this way can help dancers know more about their bodies and how they may help themselves to become stronger and healthier in their craft.


Learn more about Preventing Dance Injuries, Second Edition.

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