Bodywise Dance health professionals

Dr. Luke Hopper
President ASPAH . WAAPA Lecturer
What is ASPAH? How will teachers and students benefit from their work?
ASPAH, the Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare, was formed just over 10 years ago primarily by clinicians and researchers who predominantly worked with performing artists. They recognised that performers needs were different from the general population and sports people, and created a communication hub for a network of clinicians to swap information on performing arts heath. This has helped to improve awareness and the quality of care for performing artists.

Its great because teachers and students have access to a number of performing arts health care resources as well as an extensive network of practicing health care professionals all of whom have a background in performing artist health and wellbeing.

They understand the demands and needs of performing artists – what dancers do, how they use their bodies. Just think about the way dancers use their feet for pointe work, the pressures and loads on the foot, it’s very different to anything else in other physical disciplines. Also, the motivations that dancers have to train, the pressures behind them for improving and getting back into class, for good or bad.

Understanding where a dancer is coming from and where they want to go is really important.

Tell us about your work with Harlequin?
I first connected with Harlequin at the start of my PhD. I sent them an email to say I’m interested in doing some research around dance floors – what are the standards, what are the needs, how are the floors produced and created for dance-specific purposes? A testament as to why they’ve been great to work with is that they immediately got back to me; it was actually Guy Dagger, Managing Director of British Harlequin (his father Bob Dagger started Harlequin many decades ago).

They are dedicated to dancer health and wellbeing but by the same token have respect for the research process.

They were really supportive of and interested in seeing what the research outcomes could provide whilst seeing a separation between the commercial drivers and demands, and the research requirements to maintain that standard and rigour through the research. It’s that openness to new ideas and that recognition of the relationship between a commercial entity and a research institution that works really well.

How has dance medicine and science research impacted on today’s dancers?
There’s less of a stigma around illness and injury in dance although there’s still a long way to go. Dance will continue to change quite a lot over the coming years. But certainly the engagement of dancers with supplemental training and looking at other ways in which they can keep their bodies in shape, and being smarter about the way they used and trained their bodies has improved. They’re more open and understand that dance is difficult.

You have to push your body to an extent but you also have to be clever about managing your body.

Dancers are more proactive in their approach to their training and engage with the available information more readily.

If there is a problem dancers are starting to see the problem rather than hide it or push through it.

They’re really trying to be sensible about the way that they approach training and use the health professional community. Maximising and being smart about what training dancers are doing when they’re in good health is important too. Then if they become ill or injured, to be sensible about the rehabilitation and seek advice from professionals that understand dance and can help the dancer get back into the studio.

What’s next for dance science?
Over the past two decades, dance medicine and science has really established the frequency of injury, the severity of injury and the impact of injury on dance in the community. This has probably had the most impact on the community as it has built awareness and opened up the conversation around injuries.

Now, its great to see all this proactivity occurring in the field looking at injury screening, best practices in rehabilitation, and also loads monitoring and the amount of activity that dancers are doing.

To look further ahead I think the biggest areas yet to come forth are: the workloads of dancers, managing the amount of effort dancers are putting into their training, and ways of developing efficiencies through that training so they’re more proactive about preventing overuse injuries.

There are of course psychological and physical aspects to that.

Both a dancer’s psychological and physical well-being needs to be maintained, so they’re really getting the most value from their training but not pushing themselves so far that they’re get these overuse, over-training and burn-out type symptoms.

Advice for aspiring performers?
I would really encourage the readers to

engage with the different publications and websites such as ASPAH and IADMS, and to use the available resources.

The more demand for these resources, the more that the dance medicine and science community will produce.

ASPAH is running a symposium in November. For more information |

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Dr Hopper completed a PhD specialising in the biomechanics of dance and injury prevention at the University of Western Australia's School of Sports Science, Exercise and Health in 2011. Dr Hopper coordinated the biomechanics module in the pioneering Master's of Dance Science at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2010 before commencing as a lecturer in bio mechanics at the University of Notre Dane Australia. Dr Hopper's work in dance science and performing arts health has involved several collaborations with international ballet companies such as Birmingham Royal Ballet and with industry partners Harlequin Floors. Dr Hopper continues to work with the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science and the Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare in the development and dissemination of health evidence in preventing injury and illness in performing artists. In his position at ECU, Dr Hopper is developing a health education and research program for biomechanics 3D motion capture facilities and in collaboration with WAAPA staff and students