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Why Screen Dancers?

by Nick Allen, Clinical Director of Birmingham, Royal Ballet’s Jerwood Centre

Nick Allen, Clinical Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jerwood Centre, partner of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, discusses the existing use of screening in sport and its implementation in dance.

Vo2max testing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Professor Colin Fuller (FIFA Medical Assessment Research Centre) in his 2007 paper on pre-participation medical evaluation in professional sport in the UK reminds us that employers in the UK are required by law to inform current and potential employees about the risks to their health and safety arising from work activities and, where the activities require a minimum level of health, to implement medical assessments in order to confirm employees fitness to work. Prof Fuller does however acknowledge that there are no such legislative requirements for those participating in sport, although the risks of injury are likely to be much higher. Similar higher risks can be considered with participation in dance, yet again there is no mandate for medical assessments or screening in dance.

Some sporting governing bodies, like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, have produced recommendations for pre-participation medical screening.  At present, there is no singular governing body for dance in the UK, but a collection of well-meaning and motivated organisations striving to support dancers. The part of the development of the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science was to help fill the void by providing advocacy for best practice in the health and well-being of dancers in the UK.

As part of that strategy the NIDMS partners developed a Screening Working Group, exploring the composition of a screening tool for dancers and the evidence supporting its implementation. One of the challenges of modern medicine is the support provided by what is termed “evidence based medicine”. To achieve this, the evidence needs to be of a determined high quality. Within dance, like sport, this may not always be the case. It doesn’t mean the results are any less valid, just that the confidence in the results is not as high as they could be with higher quality research supporting them. The evidence behind the use of pre-participation medical evaluations has been recognised to lack the level of evidence based support needed to allow a strong consensus on its implementation. Despite that, you will find screening a fundamental component in most professional and Olympic sports within the UK.

Whether undertaken to reduce the impact of injury to performance, or to explore avenues to enhance performance, screening provides a valuable tool to appreciate intrinsic qualities that when combined form the basis of athletic performance.

Using the extensive combined clinical and research experience within the NIDMS partners a screening tool has been developed to assist dancers to realise their performance potential, and will be made available through the POP Healthcare system.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 89 – Spring 2015