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Toss that Tutu
Athletes try out modern dance to prevent injuries on the playing field.

Aug. 3, 2005
By Amanda Leff. Photo by Jeanna Duerscherl

Dion Byrum, a football player at Ohio University, frequently asked his friend and senior dance major Kathleen Turner to show him different stretches to relieve pain in his hamstrings and back. Turner, a former athlete herself, taught Byrum techniques from modern dance and Pilates.

Photo by Jeanna DuerscherlHis positive improvements prompted Turner to study the relationship between injury-prevention and modern dance.

"You hear about athletes taking ballet lessons all the time, but ballet is different from modern dance in the relationship to the ground," she says. "Ballet has a lot of control elements, but it doesn't necessarily explore the space."

Turner's study was funded by the McNair Scholar's Program, which requires participating students to conduct an extensive research project that is directly related to their major. As she trained in Pilates, she wondered what would happen if she worked with a group of people who were prone to a particular kind of injury, but who had a lot less flexibility than dancers, says dance professor Marina Walchli, Turner's Pilates and kinesiology instructor.

"Her hypothesis was that a combination of dance movement training and Pilates training would have an impact on range of motion, flexibility, and therefore a reduction of injury to this group," she says.

Because of her previous interaction with Byrum, Turner approached Ohio University football coaches in January 2004 with her desire to develop a training program for the football players. After getting approval from football coach Jeff Bleamer, she submitted a proposal to the Institutional Review Board to request permission to conduct a human subject study. The proposal was approved, and Turner began developing a syllabus for a six-week class that would be offered for credit to football players during the summer.

In preparation for the class, Turner observed the football team's practices to assess the goals of their training. She also watched football tapes and drew on her background in a variety of dance movements.

On the first day of class, all six of her students explained every injury they'd had. "We were able to work specifically on the needs of each athlete," she says.

She used Pilates as the primary base of realignment and strengthening and was able to apply modern dance directly to the drills football players used in their practices. She made movements less foreign to the football players by showing them that with a change in the speed or height, the "drills" they were doing were actually dance movements.

Turner was able to notice a difference in the players' progress through video recordings of their Friday classes. She saw improvements in muscular flexibility, increased range in their joints such as knees and ankles, increased strength in their abdominal muscles (their core), and most players had decreased pain in specific areas.

The beneficial results of her program have prompted Turner to seriously consider investigating dance as a source of injury prevention and rehabilitation as a possible future career path. She believes the athletic world would be receptive.

"Cross training in general is becoming a very popular thing for athletes," Turner says. "It creates longevity basically in whatever sport that you participate. It's really just not healthy for the body to train in one specific way for an extended period of time - especially as intensely as professional athletes and student athletes do."

Amanda Leff is a senior in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Jeanna Duerscherl is a senior in the School of Visual Communication.

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'Engage' A special edition of PerspectivesThis story will be featured in "Engage," a special Ohio University publication to be distributed this fall about undergraduate student research, scholarship and creative activity. Content for the magazine was produced by a special class of students from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and School of Visual Communication Spring Quarter. For more information about the project, contact Andrea Gibson at gibsona@ohio.edu.

Published: Aug 3, 2005 9:14:00 AM
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