The scientific study of dancers, now called Dance Science, is a young field of research. It dates back to the 1970s and only has existed in the United States as an academic degree since the early 2000s.
At Texas A&M University, studies related to dance began as a minor in 2002. A University Studies-Dance Concentration started in 2007, and becoming a bachelor’s degree of its own (B.S. in Kinesiology-Dance Science) in 2010.
Even in its infancy compared to more established programs, Dance Science at Texas A&M is a nationally recognized program. According to program director Christine Bergeron, the program gives a holistic approach to dancers that others don’t offer.
“Here, we give information that will give longevity to their careers, because students learn about injury prevention, nutrition, anatomy and physiology and the biomechanics of how the body functions in dance technique, Christine says.
Assessing the Dancer
It all starts when students first become part of Dance Science at Texas A&M. Dancers are assessed by physical therapy faculty and masters students in the Department’s Athletic Training program. A full body screening is done to see how their bodies are structurally and muscularly designed.
Since all dancers have different levels of flexibility and strength, even in opposite sides of their own body, a series of tests are conducted so the student and the faculty can learn about each new student in the program. “If I want a student to externally rotate or turn out more, I’m able to see through this testing, if they have the capability to achieve that,,” Christine says.
“Most programs don’t have the facility or faculty to implement a screening as in-depth as ours," Christine says. "We use a website (Dancer Wellness Project) so students and faculty have access to the information to help the student work on their imbalances. The website was developed by a team of dancers, physical therapists and dance scientists.”
This information, combined with faculty expertise, helps the dancers see what they have to work with and learn the science behind what they are doing.
“They are able to look at their own results, to see what is above average, average, or needs work,” Christine says. "It's helpful for them to see where they fall among other dancers as well as target their weak areas. The website provides information on anatomy, nutrition as well as exercises to help target specific areas that need improvement."
Dance science students are also required to take Pilates mat and apparatus classes and develop a personalized wellness program, to work on weaknesses brought up in their assessment. When they are seniors they also create comparisons of their screening over their four years as well as create wellness plans for fellow dancers in the program. No other program in the state digs as deep into the overall health and wellness of the dancer than the program at Texas A&M.
Taking The Stage
A common misconception is that students do only a few performances in dance science programs. That’s not the case with Dance Science at Texas A&M. Students participate in two student choreography showcases, an annual dance program concerts, senior concerts as well as attend conferences and festivals where they often perform. Seniors produce a concert where they are in charge of the full show, from the set work, design, costumes and choreography.
They are also tasked with the crew for backstage work, getting hands on experience with everything involved with putting on a performance. Working as crew gives students added learning on the behind the scenes part of dance, which proves helpful if they go into performing as part of a dance company or teaching to others.
Dance students also receive expertise from others in field. Guest artists from around the country come to campus to teach students. All facets of the program (modern, ballet and dance scientists) have at least one guest artist come in, with all students participating in the guest artist experience.
“Between three and five guests artists come in each year,” Christine says. “Many students have received internships with the artists and it opens many doors for them.”
A Dance Science degree has more possibilities for job placement than before.
Graduates have gone into the health field. Those dancers have gone on to medical school and are able to service the performance arts community. Students are taught how to tape athletic injuries, how to apply basic wraps and identify basic injuries. They also learn about cross training and nutrition for performances and off season. This knowledge is helpful for many dance companies; many which are implementing wellness programs and hiring staff that travel with the companies.
“It is financially better to have these people in place and get the dancers back and healthy sooner instead of dancers being out for a longer period of time and with more career ending injuries,” Christine says.
Other dancers use their expertise to help others.
“Some of our students go into physical therapy or dance therapy, which is similar to a psychologist using dance to help someone get past a traumatic experience,” Christine says.
Many of the students strive to teach dance at schools while many look to dance professionally, using what they have learned at Texas A&M to have longer careers. Other students continue on to get their MFA (Master of Fine Arts) with an emphasis in dance science.
“Students feel like this program is very well rounded,” Christine says. “They get the aesthetics of dance, they have many performances and lots of performance experience for those who want to perform or teach.”
The faculty strives to make the dance program at Texas A&M the most cohesive program of its kind in the nation. Bergeron emphasizes the importance of looking at the dancer from all sides; using the science to help educate dancers for their careers.
“We have a unique perspective that the dance world is going to, Christine says. “They are taking the science and bringing it to the stage and our program is already ahead of the game.”