For the first time, the Department of Music and Dance at Swarthmore will be providing physical therapy for students enrolled in dance classes. Julie Green and Kristen Shelley from Performance Ready Physical Therapy will rotate weekly Wednesday visits to campus.
Performance Ready Physical Therapy provides services to Pennsylvania Ballet, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and other major dance institutions in the area. Green and Shelley are both experienced physical therapists that specialize in treating dancers, and will be on campus most Wednesdays for twenty weeks out of the year. Twenty minute slot appointments from 12 to 4 p.m. will be offered to any students enrolled in dance classes.
There are six dance majors in the classes of ᾿20 and ᾿21, roughly twelve prospective majors and minors in the class of ᾿22, and as many as 300 students enrolled in dance classes in a given semester. Prior to this year, students suffering dance related injuries were encouraged to visit the Worth Health Center or seek out a dance specialists which required a trip into Philadelphia.
Olivia Sabee, Assistant Professor of Dance, described how the past conditions resulted in the hiring of the new physical therapists.
“Past chair Tom Whitman and I brought a proposal to the Provost’s Office for physical therapy in Spring 2018 in response to student concerns about lack of access to PT that were brought up that year, but since this occurred outside the normal budget cycle, the proposal could not be considered until the following semester. We learned in May 2019 that it had been approved and were able to get the program up and running this fall,” wrote Sabee in an email to The Phoenix.
Sabee also believes that this is an important program for the Dance department.
“I’m very happy that we’re offering physical therapy services this year. I’m personally very thankful that the Provost’s Office was willing to fund this initiative, as I think it is tremendously important for students in dance — both those with lots of experience and those starting their formative training at Swarthmore — to learn to take care of their bodies so that they will be able to keep exploring dance safely for as long as they want to after leaving Swarthmore.”
Lia D’Alessandro ᾿21, a double dance and biology major, is encouraged by this recent improvement in health resources for dancers.
“Freshman year I remember particularly a lot of people were getting really badly injured, and it was difficult because as the dance department we didn’t have access to trainers because we’re not an athletic sports team, and there are just certain regulations that make it that way. But it’s unfortunate that when it came to students’ health we didn’t have access to the proper treatment for any injuries or even just injury prevention that is really essential … With the introduction of the PT I feel like people have been a lot safer this semester, and now they can kind of nip injuries in the bud before they get too bad.”
D’Alessandro has used the new PT training in treating her own recurring ankle injury.
“It’s really improved, for myself, my own ankle injury that I obtained my freshman year. I jumped and twisted my ankle and it’s been weaker than the other one ever since then, which I’ve like noticed throughout my training .. and I’ve had to be kind of more cautious with everything. So visiting the PT I got exercises to strengthen it, and I’ve noticed an improvement so it’s been really nice to have that experience because prior to it I’d never seen a PT before,” said D’Alessandro.
In addition to treating existing injuries, new physical therapists will be a wellness resource to help dancers learn more about their bodies, prevent muscle imbalances, and treat minor issues as they arise to prevent them from developing into major injuries.
Lydia Roe ᾿20, another dance major, was quick to emphasize the need for physical therapists to aid in injury prevention.
“We’re doing this as much as a sport, using our bodies in a really physical way for multiple hours a day. Especially when you’re rehearsing something the same muscle gets used over and over, the same set of steps can stress your body in the same way, so it’s helpful to have someone there.”
The physical therapists will also provide expert knowledge on dance-related injuries, that are not the specialty of other health faculty on campus, as appreciated by D’Alessandro.
“I didn’t know if it was a really bad sprain … but there was nothing associated with a specialist understanding the strain of dance, which is the essential part about having a PT who does understand dance, because a PT for dance is different than like a PT for other areas”
While the improvements are undoubtedly helpful, some students, such as Sophie Gray-Gaillard ᾿20, feel there is still much more to be done.
“Here at Swarthmore, I dance between ten and fifteen hours a week. I try as hard as I can to take care of my body, however with limited resources and help to do so, it’s been difficult. Having a PT is amazing and honestly long overdue.” said Gray-Gaillard. “In years past, I have gone off campus to see physical therapists for minor injuries. It’s time-consuming and quite frustrating because there are trainers here on campus that the athletes have access to. However, we have to go through Worth Health Center to get a prescription to see the athletic trainers. So, if we have a minor injury that happens during an evening rehearsal or over the weekend, we have to wait until Worth opens to get a prescription. ”
However, Gray-Gaillard would like to see increased access to PT for dancers.
“Right now, the PT we have is only here once a week for a few hours. Not many students are able to see her because they have class or lab (like two to three students sign up per week). She’s been really helpful, however, we have to wait a week in between sessions,” she said. “The dance department is also so small, I think it would be reasonable to set up some sort of arrangement with the athletic trainers and other athletic facilities (such as access to ice baths) to accommodate the majors and minors — which I believe is only like ten people. This would really improve our practice and the department as a whole.”
D’Alessandro also would like to see the hours for PT expanded.
“You can’t see them outside of the timeframe just because of funding which is I think unfortunate … it’s just the beginning of the progression change and improving the situation for dancers physically.”