Here’s What Happened When Dean College Brought an Athletic Trainer into Technique Classes

Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:


Dean College students in "Albedo Rondo" by professor Kristina Berger

Scott May, Courtesy Dean College

Performance Enhancement and Injury Reduction

"Normally, an athletic trainer in the collegiate dance setting would be in the athletic training clinic, where students could schedule an appointment for an injury evaluation or prevention assessment, or backstage during a performance run, where I manage acute injuries and emergency care," says Donahue. "But because I'm also in the classroom, I have the opportunity to see and understand exactly what their daily physical demands are." In the studio, she talks to dancers about the anatomy involved in executing a movement efficiently and equips them with exercises or warm-ups. Sometimes she helps to choreograph where students should inhale and exhale throughout the movement, and helps encourage a greater use of their core.

"Ours is a triple-track program in which students intensively study ballet, modern and jazz techniques, in addition to a number of related dance forms," says Marc Arentsen, dean of the Palladino School of Dance. "In a biomechanical sense, our dancers are not unlike elite athletes and we recognized that advanced dance training and injury prevention should go hand in hand. Now the integration of athletic training strategies with the outstanding technical preparation our dancers receive has become part of our culture."

Since Donahue joined the Dean College dance community as a full-time dedicated athletic trainer six years ago, the total percentage of students who sustain an injury each year has decreased from 65 percent to 35 percent. "When students understand what muscles they should be engaging and the basic biomechanics of the movement, it enhances their performance, too," says Donahue.

Donahue teaches a student how to apply athletic tape.

Courtesy Dean College

Better Communication Between Teachers and Athletic Trainers

"Having the ability to work with and not only for the dance faculty is really unique for an athletic trainer," says Donahue. "And I learn just as much from them as they do from me." She says watching the teachers give students external physical cues for movement or noting what warm-ups they use gives her information she can incorporate into rehab sessions. "I can say, 'Remember how you did this in class? Let's go back to where you're initiating that movement,' " says Donahue.

From working side by side with an athletic trainer, Berger has come to realize how much of Horton technique already incorporates cross-training. "Going from stag position to lateral T actually helps develop hip stabilization, and all the deep floor vocabulary can be directly connected to a lot of what you see in yoga, Pilates or strength training," she says. "Amanda will give the students an exercise and I think, 'That's just like Horton.' "

Kristina Berger infuses her Horton technique class with athletic training strategies.

Courtesy Dean College

More Fluent Dancers

Donahue says Dean students have a greater understanding of healthy warm-up techniques, the importance of cross-training and how to manage injuries. "They start to use the same language I use to describe exactly where their pain is. They'll say, 'It hurts more in the peroneal tendon,' instead of, 'It hurts on the outside of my leg.' This especially helps if they're off-campus and seeing a doctor who doesn't normally treat dancers," she says.

Courtesy Dean College

Ability to Personalize Training

Dean guides students through a process of addressing their strengths and weaknesses, which might be something dancers are left to figure out on their own at other schools. "They might be coming from a studio where, unfortunately, no one taught them how to support something as simple as standing on one leg," she says. But, from day one at Dean, dancers have a one-on-one evaluation with Donahue, who helps them set up a training program based on their history, what injuries they might have right now and what they're struggling with in class. "I'm also given that information so I can try to address what I can in the studio," says Berger. "I can't formulate the class around one dancer, but everyone can benefit from some corrections that address an issue several students are working on."

Courtesy Dean College

Graduates with a Career Edge

Berger believes that students leave Dean with the ability to set up their own training program tailored to what they'll face in the working world. "If they book a job on a cruise ship that's three shows a day, they have the tools to figure out that's X amount of leaps in each show and here's how I can prepare for that," she says. "These dancers know not only how to manage their time but also their bodies, even early in their careers."

Getty Images

Q: Are there good sources to find replacement dance teachers? When I go through standard employment services, I get people who are not properly trained or lack experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Courtesy of Susan Jaffe

Throughout Susan Jaffe's performance career at American Ballet Theatre, there was something special, even magical, about her dancing. Lauded as "America's quintessential American ballerina" by The New York Times, Jaffe has continued to shine in her postperformance career, most recently as the dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She credits the "magic" to her meditation practice, which she began in the 1990s at the height of her career. We sat down with Jaffe to learn more about her practice and how it has helped her both on and off the stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Reviewing a simple recording of your voice when you're teaching can help you hear how you sound to your students. Taking the time to play back your instructions, corrections and compliments throughout class will help you find any weak spots as well as recognize some of your strengths. It's a great technique to help you evaluate your instructional ability and make improvements, and pat yourself on the back for things you are doing well. Plus, it's super-easy to do!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Including ballet competition standout Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Congratulations to the 39 talented dancers just named 2020 YoungArts award winners! This year's group of awardees includes several familiar faces from the competition scene.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Brian Babineau, courtesy Burghardt

When Alicia Burghardt entered Dean College in Massachusetts as a freshman dance major, it hadn't occurred to her that the Boston Celtics had a dance team. A competition kid with aspirations for Broadway, Burghardt never imagined herself as an NBA dancer. But by the time she was finishing her senior year, she'd not only joined the Celtics Dancers, she was choreographing a number for a major playoff game. And after finishing her rookie year, surrounded on that TD Garden parquet floor by uproarious fans, she couldn't help but stay for another. "It's unbelievable performing for Boston fans," she says. "They're so loyal to their team. It could be third quarter, down 20 points, and they're still cheering."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
"The Greatest Show on Earth." Photo by Brenda Rueb, courtesy of Vona Dance

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

"No formal training. No dance studio. No mentor," says Erik Saradpon about his beginnings in hip hop.

"I think that's why I'm especially tough on these guys, because I don't take the relationship for granted," he says, referring to his students. "I'm like a dad to them. I had a shortage of role models in my life. I wanted that so badly. I project that onto my kids."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From Coppélia. Photo by Toshi Oga, courtesy of MOGA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Nanette Grebe/Getty Images

Have you heard the story about the dancer who needed a double hip replacement…at age 16?

It's not an urban legend—just ask iconic choreographer Mia Michaels. In a video series about dance injuries, produced by Apolla Performance Footwear, Michaels tells the tale of a teenage comp kid who pushed so hard she ended up in surgery.

That dancer's harrowing story was one of the inspirations for the Bridge Dance Project. The new initiative—brainchild of Jan Dunn, co-director of Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and Kaycee Cope Jones, COO of Apolla—aims to connect members of the competition and commercial dance communities with dance science experts. While many academic and professional concert dancers have benefited from recent advances in dance medicine, that information hasn't made its way to most of the young students in convention ballrooms. And as the technical demands on those students increase, so does the number of injuries.

We talked to Dunn and Jones about how the Bridge Dance Project was born, the initiative's long-term goals, and why young competition and commercial dancers should make injury prevention a priority.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
From "Boston—Our City." Photo by Rachel Hassinger, courtesy of BalletRox

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox