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The Mecca for Dance Medicine: The Harkness Center Celebrates 30 Years of Treating Dancers

Photo courtesy of Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

When orthopedic surgeon Dr. Donald Rose founded the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital 30 years ago, the average salary for a dancer was about $8,000, he says.

"It was very hard for a dancer to get quality medical care," he remembers. What's more, he adds, "at the time, dance medicine was based on primarily anecdotal information rather than being based on studies." Seeing the incredible gaps, Rose set out to create a medical facility that was designed specifically to treat dancers and would provide care on a sliding scale.


Thirty years later, the Harkness Center has more than 15,000 physical therapy visits each year, a number that Rose points out rivals the number of visits at NYU Sports Medicine. Each year, the Harkness Center's Dance Clinic sees about 1,200 dancers, regardless of their ability to pay.

And Rose says that they are not done growing.

A World Without Dance Medicine

In 1990, dance medicine was not the widely accepted specialty that it is today. Even if a dancer could afford treatment, they were often being seen by medical professionals who knew little to nothing about dance.

Rose says that it was not uncommon for a dancer to go to see a doctor and be told, "You should just stop dancing." The result was that dancers would avoid medical intervention. "This often led to dancers reaching a point where they could not dance because they had not received any, or appropriate, treatment," he says.

Early support and partnership from NYU Langone Health made Rose's dream for dancer-centered care a reality. The new Harkness Center was designed to treat dancers and to have an education and research focus to advance the nascent field of dance medicine.

Focus on Prevention

While treating injured dancers is always at the heart of the work, Rose says that over the last several years Harkness has dramatically increased preventative care and valuable ancillary services like acupuncture and athletic training.

Education is a key component of their injury prevention initiative. They teach dancers, parents of dancers, and teachers about the role of things like nutrition and mental health. Rose says that they currently do about 50 injury prevention workshops per year with dancers in settings ranging from high schools to Broadway shows and professional companies.

The Harkness physical therapists also conduct approximately 400 preventative physical therapy screenings annually to help dancers identify potential injuries before they happen.

Dreams for the Future of Dance Wellness

While the number of practitioners working in dance medicine has dramatically increased to better meet the unique needs of dancers, Rose is still concerned that dancers aren't getting treatment early enough or frequently enough. "Dancers should be running towards the health practitioners that understand them so that injury doesn't end their career prematurely," he says. He remains frustrated with the barriers to care that many dancers face. "Hopefully in the future the healthcare environment will provide better access because the cost of care should never be a barrier."

Even with the increase in dance medicine practitioners, ensuring proper care of the dancer means more doctors need to be educated on their needs. "We have to find areas where we can increase the education of practitioners who might come in contact with the dancers," he says. "They may be an excellent practitioner, but they may have never seen many of the injuries that are very specific to dancers." He cites examples like iliopsoas syndrome, which is often mistaken for a labral tear, but does not require surgery. Or the os trigonum, an extra bone at the back of the ankle that dancers may need to have removed.

As Harkness enters its fourth decade, Rose wants those who have an interest in dance medicine to use Harkness as a resource. And you don't have to be a dancer to be a great dance medicine provider he says—Rose was national champion in rowing crew.

There are many career paths in dance medicine: physician, physical therapist, dietitian, athletic trainer, and so many more. "We need more of all of them," he says. "Ask us," he says. "We always try to be accessible even if we are busy. How can we help you get to where you want to be?"

News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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