Dagmar Sternad is a professor of biology, physics, and electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University. She's also a bit of a dance obsessive. And her innovative work with ballet dancers could have far-ranging implications for the worlds of both medicine and robotics.

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Dance & Science
Amar Odeh/Unsplash

Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.

That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.

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Site Network
Amar Odeh/Unsplash

Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.

That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.

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Dance & Science
The confidence students learn through dance can be transferred to many other fields. Photo by Damon Plant, courtesy STEM From Dance

As an audience cheers, three teenage girls cross the stage in a line, to the high-energy beat of The Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down." They're dressed in head-to-toe black, but each of their shirts is decorated with bright bulbs, flashing and blinking in various colors as they move.

The performance is a product of STEM From Dance, a New York City-based nonprofit founded by Yamilee Toussaint—an MIT grad who's been dancing since age 5. The program targets middle and high school girls of color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and might not otherwise see STEM as an option or be encouraged to try it.

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Health & Body
10 minutes of midday sun could keep you out of the PT's office. Photo by Unsplash

File this under news that sounds too good to be true: A study published in last month's International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that one little nutrient—vitamin D—could improve dancers' strength and decrease their risk of injury.

Known as "the sunshine vitamin" because of our body's ability to produce it when exposed to sun, vitamin D has long been a sore point for dancers. Many have chronically low levels, most likely because of their restrictive diets and all the time they spend indoors in studios and theaters.

That's a serious risk: Our bodies need this vitamin to absorb calcium and keep our bones strong. Other studies have shown that a lack of D also correlates with a lack of muscle strength.

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Health & Body
Make an active recovery plan for your time off from dance. Photo by Unsplash

Have two or more months off from dance this summer?

With a little planning, your body can reap the full benefits of your layoff—and transition back into the studio with ease.

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Health & Body
Time away from dance lets your body and brain reset. Photo by Thinkstock

It's the end of a long season: Your body is exhausted, you're emotionally drained from back-to-back performances and you're feeling ready for some serious time on the couch.

But as soon as you start to relax, the doubts creep in. What will happen to my physique if I'm not in class? Will I lose muscle, flexibility or stamina if I'm not dancing?

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Health & Body

Sore arches may be one of the peskiest pain spots dancers deal with. This small area on the bottom of your feet may seem minor, but it actually does a lot of work: Your arches are what allow your feet to support the weight of your entire body.

While any sharp, unbearable pain should always be checked out by a doctor, a dull ache after a particularly long rehearsal can usually be alleviated by giving your feet the extra care they need. Here, two podiatrists weigh in on what causes arch pain and how you can manage it.

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Dance Training
IADMS is looking to honor someone who's made a substantial impact through teaching dance. Photo via Thinkstock

Great dance educators with smart, scientific teaching practices are invaluable to the dance field. How else could we create healthy, beautiful dancers?

The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science is looking to honor someone who's made a substantial impact through teaching with its annual Dance Educators Award—and the committee is asking for nominations.

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Health & Body
How do you warmup? Photo by Jim Lafferty

For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.

Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.

According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."

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Health & Body
Are you slumping over a screen too often? Photo by StockSnap

In the studio, dancers obsess over proper form to mitigate the risk of injury. In the rest of our lives, however, we rarely examine our alignment in the same way.

But our downtime habits can directly impact our bodies and, if left unchecked, could cause problems over time. A few simple adjustments might save you from an injury waiting to happen.

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Dance Magazine Awards
Marika Molnar working with Ana Sophia Scheller. Photo by Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher

Since George Balanchine first asked her to care for his dancers in the 1980s, Marika Molnar has helped heal icons as varied as Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Natalia Makarova, Judith Jamison, Twyla Tharp, Chita Rivera and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Some patients call her their guardian angel.

"Marika has always answered all my (sometimes ridiculous) questions with the patience and respect that can only come from a deep love of us patients and what we do," says New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder. "Without her help during and after my pregnancy, I would never have been able to come back to the stage at full capacity."

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Dancers Trending
Quinn Wharton

Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:

Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time

In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.

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Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.

But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.

A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.

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Health & Body
Quinn Wharton

Dancers are masters of multi-tasking. Performing a series of steps on stage while portraying a character and making a split-second change from a single to a double pirouette is no problem, but no coincidence either. Dancers' brains appear to be programmed differently from non-dancers' brains.

Studies at the University of Maryland in partnership with the University of Houston during the past three years reveal that dancers use multiple areas of their brains simultaneously while dancing: one part controls movement without expressive intention, another part imagines movement qualities and these parts work to execute movement while also making higher-level decisions.

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Health & Body
Jim Lafferty

"So why did you quit?"

It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.

"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."

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Health & Body
Danza Contemporanéa de Cuba. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We already know that dancing is basically the greatest thing you could do for yourself. (Even if, ahem, your feet end up without toenails during sandal season.)

But it's always great when science proves us right.

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Health & Body
If you're stuck in a rut, try something new. Photo by Thinkstock

Let's face it: The demands of a dancing life are extraordinary, and sometimes we would just rather not.

“We all know those days where you have to wrench yourself out of bed and you're shuffling to the shower because you're so tired and it's about all the effort that you can muster," admits Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Alexandra Kochis.

There are times when the rehearsal process just feels stagnant, when class becomes mind-numbingly repetitive, when you simply can't psych yourself up to take Pilates class after yet another six-hour day of dancing.

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