the next generation of Dance as Art

The School at Steps Draws a Crowd for an Injury Prevention Workshop

On the evening of Sunday, April 6th 2014, an Injury Prevention Workshop wrapped up The Complete Dancer Series for the 2013-2014 academic year at The School at Steps. At $10 per ticket with student discounts, the event attracted an impressively large audience of parents, dance teachers, and dance students. Many of the children looked to be as young as eight or nine. They were by and large interested and attentive, with hands waving eagerly in hopes of getting a chance to use one of the “Magic Circles” during a Pilates demonstration or ask questions during the Q&A session. The kids were also thrilled to receive swag bags with items such as posters, resistance bands, article reprints, and hair accessories from Bunheads.

A hat tip to school director Kate Thomas for instituting the ongoing Health and Wellness Program of which this workshop, sponsored by Dance Spirit, was a part. The admirable goal is to teach the new generation of dancers how to maintain physical and emotional wellness during their training and throughout their careers. Check out the Healthy Dancer Tip of the Month web page, with an archive and resources.


The presenters for Sunday’s workshop were Andrew Price MD, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at New York University Hospital; Leigh Heflin, a kinesiologist from The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries; Robin Powell, a Pilates instructor at Steps and other venues around town; and New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns.


Dr. Price addressed the issue of bone growth and the need for calcium during puberty for girls. He also discussed avoiding the “Athletic Triad” of amenorrhea, eating disorders, and early osteoporosis with stress fractures. Finally, he emphasized the need for sufficient sleep, especially during adolescence, and he recommended aerobic activity to supplement dance lessons.


Ms. Heflin outlined the services available at the Harkness Center including weekly dance clinics, free injury prevention and pointe readiness assessments, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. She explained the difference between acute and chronic injuries and encouraged the students to speak up if they experience pain rather than toughing it out, which is in fact what dancers are prone to do. She also recommended cross training as a way to avoid repetitive stress injuries. That advice segued nicely to Ms. Powell’s explanation of the history and theory of the exercises devised in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates that are still the basis of what is taught today.

Four students, probably 12 or 13 years old, performed a series of core strengthening exercises that Ms. Powell referred to as “the powerhouse”. She invited those of us in our seats to do some of the moves and to try others later at home. A ripple of laughter went through the room as adults envisioned themselves accomplishing the challenging exercises that the girls were doing so well. I’m guessing that more than a few of the parents will now sign up for Pilates classes themselves!

Sara Mearns, who had finished performing at the Kennedy Center in D.C. that afternoon and caught a train to NYC, arrived just in time for her segment as the fourth speaker. She was utterly charming, announcing that she hadn’t even had a chance to take her hair out a bun. She then displayed the contents of her satchel, which were various rollers she uses to warm-up, and went on to regale the delighted students with insider stories about what goes on backstage. On a more serious note, she offered advice gained from her own experiences with injury and recovery.


After the Q&A, grown-ups and young people alike congregated around a table with refreshments before heading out into the spring night air still chattering about all that they had learned. On a personal note, I taught for many years at the school a long time ago and this event left me feeling immensely happy about the direction the training has taken since then. Keep up the good work! 

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