Whitney Rowley massaging a dance student's foot after a physical therapy session (Kevin Taylor, courtesy Rowley)

Let's Get Physical: How and Why to Take Advantage of Your College's PT Resources

At first, visiting your school's physical therapist is like visiting a foreign country. It sometimes feels as though PTs are speaking a totally different language. ("Wait, what did she just say about my tendonitis?")

With time, you'll come to understand that physical therapy is one of your school's most valuable resources, whether or not you're injured. College is an incredible (and unique) time in your dance career where you have unlimited access to qualified physical therapists. But in case you're still feeling a little culture shock, we talked to the experts about how to make the most of your visit.


How to Know When to Go

Long story short, there's no wrong time to visit your school's physical therapist or athletic trainer. While, of course, it's important to seek help from a professional if you're injured, you might want to make time for a consultation even if you think nothing's wrong.

"A lot of times, you can get muscle imbalances without even noticing until they start to cause a different issue," says Whitney Rowley, licensed athletic trainer and adjunct professor at Point Park University. "Certain choreography might be heavier on one side or leg, so there's a lot more force on that side—we can try to balance those things out."

Rowley emphasizes the difference between an injury and a complaint: A complaint is when you start to feel pain but it doesn't necessarily result in time lost from dancing. An injury is when that pain escalates, resulting in time lost—even one day off from normal activity. "Don't wait for it to become an injury," she says. "Come in when it's a complaint."

Rowley and a student are in the PPU physical therapy office. Rowley is applying a heating pad to the top of the student's thigh, and the student is laughing a little, sitting on the examination table.

Rowley applying heat to a student's muscles to help increase blood flow (Kevin Taylor, courtesy Rowley)

Asking the Right Questions

Garfield Lemonius, chair of the dance department at PPU, says to think about the big picture, not just about your current injury or the performance you're gearing up for. "It's an overall approach to prepare you for an art form which is only going to get more demanding as you get to be a professional," he says. "What do you need to prepare yourself for a career in dance?"

He suggests working with your physical therapist or athletic trainer to further develop a true understanding of how the body works. Ask questions about anatomy and physiology, and about medical jargon you might not understand.

In order to best take advantage of the resources available to you, Rowley recommends doing research beforehand. "Look up the professionals at your college, look at their certifications, and if you see someone with a certification that's applicable to you, go in and ask about it." And of course, any physical therapist who lists prior dance medicine experience is going to be a major asset.

Rowley looks up at a student as she massages her foot with some kind of cream from the white container on the examining table. Rowley is smiling at the student, but the student's face isn't facing the camera.

Rowley working with a PPU student (Kevin Taylor, courtesy Rowley)

The Most Common Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them

Like Rowley says above, the biggest mistake is waiting too long to meet with a PT or trainer. "We try to educate freshmen especially, just coming in, that if you start to experience pain, you should come in right away," Rowley says. "But we definitely still have students coming in and saying 'Oh, three weeks ago this started hurting, and now it's too painful to dance.'"

She adds, "Another big thing is that a lot of people come in with an injury that they dealt with before college, that they let go over the summer. They show up for fall semester and think it'll work itself out—it almost never does."

The most important thing is to be proactive. College is a rare moment in your dance career that you'll have consistent access to many qualified physical therapists and athletic trainers. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not recognizing how valuable this can be.

"Use it or lose it," Lemonius says. "When you have these resources available to you, you don't take them for granted."

Latest Posts


All photos by Joe Toreno. Grooming throughout by Lisa Chamberlain for The Rex Agency.

How Mark Kanemura—Artist, Activist, and All-Around Icon—Became Our Internet Dance Mascot

Twelve years ago, a baby-faced Mark Kanemura appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 4. The Hawaiian-born dancer—whose winningly quirky style found a perfect vehicle in Sonya Tayeh's creepy-cool "The Garden" routine—quickly became a fan favorite. Kanemura made it to the Top 6 (Joshua Allen took the title that season), and a star was born.

But the world didn't know how bright that star was going to shine.

Fresh off "SYTYCD," Kanemura started booking jobs with Lady Gaga: first the MTV Video Music Awards, then the Jingle Bell Ball. Soon, he was a staple on Gaga's stages and in her videos, and he began to develop a dedicated fan base of his own.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Courtesy MSG Photos

#SocialDisDancing: A Look at Rockette Taylor Shimko's At-Home Dance Life

From the most famous choreographers to the newest of dance newbies, we're all going through the same pandemic-related struggles right now. So, how are the pros coping with it all? To find out, we've started a new interview series, #SocialDisDancing. Over the next few weeks, we'll be catching up with some of your favorite dancers to see how they're step-ball-changing their way through this unprecedented moment in dance history. We had the chance to speak with Taylor Shimko, who's been a Radio City Rockette for more than 10 seasons. (Be sure to check out Taylor's takeover of our Instagram for an inside peek at her day in the #SocialDisDancing life.)

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Taylor Goldberg, Jordan Goldberg, and JT Church attending REVEL's virtual convention (courtesy Leslie Church)

What It's Like to Attend a Virtual Dance Convention

During this new era of social distancing, the dance world has gotten pretty creative. Tons of teachers, studios, competitions, and conventions have stepped up to the plate to help fill our living rooms with virtual dance content. But what's it really like to attend a dance convention online?

Dance Spirit followed JT Church, "Dancing With The Stars: Juniors" pro and "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" runner-up, as he spent the weekend attending REVEL's "Rev-Virtual" online convention experience.

Hey guys! I have been a special guest faculty assistant for REVEL Dance Convention for the last four years. So I was excited to find out they'd be hosting a series of online convention weekends. With everything that's going on, I've been missing conventions so much. I knew it'd be great to be able to keep up my training.

Two of my best friends, Jordan and Taylor Goldberg—I dance with them at Club Dance—asked me to come over to their home studio so we could take REVEL's online classes together. Here's how it all went.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
contest
Enter the Cover Model Search