Arts and Entertainment | Dance

Promoting health and preventing injury: Physical therapy training sessions for dancers at Barnard

Twist, crack, pop. It’s every dancer’s nightmare—injury. The body is a dancer’s instrument and without full functionality, movement can feel restrictive instead of liberating.

The best way to avoid injury is to prevent it—so dance scholar, Columbia professor, and former Chair of the Department of Dance Lynn Garafola originated the idea of open physical therapy workshop sessions in the Barnard department of dance. “They’re not necessarily part of a curriculum; they’re not part of health services; they’re part of our interest in promoting healthy bodies and healthy dancers,” she explained.

Garafola invited Andrea Zujko, clinic manager at Westside Dance Physical Therapy and anatomy professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, to lead a series of workshops that each focused on one region of the body. The first session on Oct. 2 targeted foot and ankle stability, and the second on Oct. 30 concentrated on alignment of the hip, knee, and ankle through core engagement. Zujko combined her expertises in applied physical therapy and scholastic anatomy to teach a program that was both intellectually educational and physically applicable to student dancers.

Zujko can identify with the session’s participants on many levels. A former dancer and graduate of Barnard College, she knows what it’s like to have passion for both academics and dance, and how vital physical wellness is to finding fulfillment in these interests. “Andrea was a history major [at Barnard] but when she left she decided she wanted to move into physical therapy. She had trained very seriously as a pre-professional dancer and was already a trained Pilates instructor, but she decided that wasn’t enough. So the rest is history,” Garafola said.

“I brought you guys half a leg. Happy Halloween,” Zujko told the participants, dangling a limb from a fake skeleton in front of the class. She then proceeded to detail the anatomy of major bone structures, muscle groups and their connective tissues. While the title of the program suggested a focus on pelvis stability, the interconnectedness of lower body muscle groups drove conversation to lead up toward abdominal strength and down to hip, knee, and ankle alignment. Following the brief anatomy lesson, participants were prompted to palpate different muscle groups, beginning with abdominals. “If we didn’t have this,” Zujko said, motioning around her lower torso, “we’d be a loose bag of bones. We’d fall apart.”

Given the interconnectedness of each body part, injury remediation for one impairment often involves the entire body. In this case, dancers should, and often do, seek help from a physical therapist. “That’s not offered by the Barnard Health Services. … A number of dancers really clamored to have something related to physical therapy,” Garafola said.

Physical therapy sessions are expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, and recovery time can easily extend beyond what’s covered by medical insurance. Barnard’s Department of Dance is attempting to support its students with preventative programs; however, it’s understandable that with a departmental budget that stretches to host guest artists and musicians among other things, the department can only offer a handful of educational sessions each semester.

The next dancer health and physical therapy training session with Zujko will be held on Nov. 30 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in 306 Barnard Hall, and will focus on the thoracic spine and shoulders. The session will be open and free for any student who would like to participate. | @lexa_armstrong


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