Dance Science Considerations for Dance Educators

By Koff, Susan R. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Dance Science Considerations for Dance Educators


Koff, Susan R., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


There are many ways dance science affects tim curriculum and the training of the dancer, as well as the training of the dance teacher. This article discusses the use of dance science knowledge within the structure of any dance program and suggests new directions in dance research that will increase its application by dance educators who focus on modern dance.

The definition of modern dance has become increasingly broad. The hallmark of modern dance is individual expression; the hallmark of our postmodern era is that more than one truth exists. Therefore. each individual expression becomes its own truth. Today, many visions of modern dance coexist simultaneously and continue to develop. To state that I am a modern dancer, or that I teach modern dance, can mean something different to different people, depending on their perspective. Am I a Graham dancer, a Limon dancer, a Cunningham dancer, a Jones dancer? Do I train in forms that are not yet defined? Perhaps the only common interpretation is what it is not: it is not ballet. This broad definition of modern dance affects dance medicine by indirectly influencing both the care and prevention of dance injuries to modern dancers and the type of dance medicine information about modern dancers that is available.

Scientific areas of research related to dance, specifically in the areas of physiology and kinesiology rose in the 1970s (Brennan, 1982). In the 1980s, dance medicine and dance science began to emerge as its own separate field (Cardinal, 1993). In the 1990s, dance medicine and dance science became officially recognized areas within the dance discipline as evidenced by journals, conferences, and symposia devoted to this area (Cardinal, 1993).

In its earlier days, most research presented in dance medicine did not discuss the differences between ballet and modern dance (Rimmer & Rosentswieg, 1981-82; Washington, 1978). As the field became more specific, the literature began to differentiate between the forms (Chmelar, Fitt, Shultz, Rhuling, & Zupan, 1987: Dolgener, Spasoff, & St. John, 1980: Solomon & Micheli, 1986: Hardaker & Vander Woude, 1993: Rovere, Webb, Gristina, 1983), with a distinct preference toward research in ballet (Ostwald, Baron, & Wilson, 1994: Schon, 1993; see also Solomon & Micheli, 1986; Ballet Injuries, 1994). One reason for this ballet bias could be because ballet companies tend to be larger, presenting a better pool of subjects. It is also possible that the broad range of definition in modern dance discourages researchers from attempting to study it.

This range of definitions comes into play when the modern dance educator turns to improve the teaching of training practices and to implement injury prevention programs. I find that I must rely on understandings about the "dance" body that derive mainly from the study of ballet dancers. This relates to some, but not all, of what is covered in a modern dance class. I am also confronted by the fact that there is a greater range of differences in the students' physiques in a modern dance class than there is in a ballet company.

The dance teacher assumes the primary responsibility of injury prevention (Kerr, Krasnow, & Mainwaring, 1992; Hardaker & Vander Woude, 1993). This responsibility exists in the awareness of (1) the qualities of a good and safe dance environment, especially proper flooring, (2) what the students are actually doing, and (3) the proper instructions to students. Although dance medicine and performing arts medicine centers have been developed (Ostwald et al., 1994: Schon & Biddinger, 1994). these programs often focus on the treatment of injury, leaving injury prevention in the domain of the studio and teacher.

It is time to consolidate injury prevention and injury treatment in one field that includes both teachers and dance medicine specialists. This is already instituted at larger ballet companies (Schon & Biddinger, 1994) and larger university dance departments (Cardinal, Plastino, Bonbright, Newman, & Solomon, 1996), but the field needs this service in all areas and at all levels. …

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