About the Task Force

Mission

The mission of the Dance/USA Task Force on Dancer Health is to maintain the health, safety and well being of professional dancers.

What we are: We are a group of health care professionals who are volunteers with a narrow focus on professional dancers/companies in North America. This Task Force was formed at the request of the Council of Managers for Dance/USA and provides annual reports to Dance/USA. Members of the Task Force on Dancer Health are health care professionals who provide medical services to professional dancers.

What we are not: We are not a dance medicine association, an educational meeting, a board of directors or a research group.

Goals of the Task Force

  • To provide experienced and expert health information and support to professional dance companies regardless of size or budget

  • To decrease time loss to injury with early problem recognition and education

  • To encourage the Annual Post-Hire Health Screen as an industry standard

  • To analyze injury patterns and links

  • To support health and wellness of the individual professional dancer

Officers and Committees

Executive Committee

Co-chair: Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT 

Co-chair, Kathleen Davenport, MD

Secretary: Selina Shah, MD

Screening Chair: Catherine Hagan Vargo, PT, DPT 

Dance/USA Board Liaison:  Nancy Kadel, MD 

Research & IRB Committee 

Chair: Heather Southwick, PT

Injury Surveillance & Data Program/Storage Committees

Chair: Gary Galbraith, MFA

Pick-up Companies/Freelance Dancers Committee

Chair: Lauren Elson, MD

Informational Papers Committee

Chair:  Catherine Hagan Vargo, PT, DPT

Contact:  Dancerhealth@nulldanceusa.org

History of the Task Force on Dancer Health

MISSION

The Mission of the Dance/USA Task Force on Dancer Health is to maintain the health and safety of professional dancers. 

WHO ARE WE

Meeting under the auspices of Dance/USA, the Task Force on Dancer Health is composed of dance medicine practitioners who work directly with professional dancers and dance companies. Among these are physical therapists, physicians, athletic trainers, specialists in movement and injury, nutritional experts, and mental health specialists. The Task Force communicates directly with the council of managers and executive directors of North American dance companies of all types – ballet, modern and contemporary.

INFORMATIONAL PAPERS

The Task Force produces informational papers on a regular basis that serve as brief educational overviews on topics important in the professional dance community. These papers are meant to help guide and inform the dancer and are not meant to take the place of the advice of a medical professional. All the papers are listed on the “informational papers” tab. 

The first subject explored by the Task Force was nutrition and disordered eating. This led to the release of Guidelines for Professional Dance Companies on Healthy Nutrition that was distributed to companies in the United States and Canada. Next, the Task Force addressed the issue of smoking cessation among dancers. Since the inception of these two white papers, several informational papers have been written. 

SCREENING INITIATIVE

In the winter of 2005, the Dance/USA Council of Managers requested that the Task Force explore and make recommendations on preventing injury and illness in professional dancers. Over a series of meetings and in cooperation with the dancers’ union (AGMA), the Task Force unanimously concluded that the most important step that companies can take is to screen dancers for risk factors that contribute to injury and illness, then counsel each dancer and recommend interventions based on the screening information. In February 2006, the Task Force presented An Annual Post-Hire Health Screen for Professional Dancers: Phase One of a Preventive Healthcare Program for Professional Dance Companies at the Dance/USA Winter Council. Notably, the program recommended by the Task Force focuses on a preventive approach to general health, nutrition, and mental health in addition to injury prevention.

 Task ForceFour leading companies employed the Task Force Health Screen and the Associated Protocols as part of the 2006-2007 Pilot Program: Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Each company reported 100% dancer participation. Based on feedback from the pilot companies, the Screen was streamlined. 

Over the years, the screen has been updated to incorporate evidence-based research, dance-specific functional tests, and sports medicine literature. Prior to COVID, there were over 30 companies all sizes using the Task Force Screen for their dancers. This screen is also being used in freelance dancers often in voluntary health screening days held in various cities throughout the United States. 

The goal of the Task Force Screen is to make preventive health care a routine part of every dance company. The Task Force views this work as an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the welfare of dancers across the industry. In addition, the use of a standardized preventive health protocol provides the opportunity for cooperation between companies and the sharing of expertise. Lastly, such a cooperative effort among professional companies provides an invaluable body of information on the characteristics and qualities of those who dance for a living. Though a fair body of data has been collected on schools and students of dance, this information has been missing from the field of professional dance. The Task Force Screen is a historic first that benefits everyone who works in the field of dance.

INJURY SURVEILLANCE

In 2014, the Task Force began the process of creating a dancer exposure data collection to help contextualize dancers’ injury patterns. This project was designed to record the amount of exposure dancers have to dance activities in class, rehearsal and performances and to track injuries that meet a time loss definition but also allows for the optional recording of musculoskeletal complaints. This information has been collected since the 2015-2016 season.