Medicine meets movement when WVU majors collaborate for dancer assessments

Balance, pointe preparedness, core endurance and cardiovascular recovery are just a few of the physical markers health professionals evaluate while looking at a dancer’s overall fitness.

During a cross-campus collaboration between the WVU School of Medicine and the WVU School of Theatre and Dance, Athletic Training, Physical Therapy and Exercise Physiology students gained experience while conducting physical assessments for Dance majors.

“These events allow students to meet and work with other students outside of their discipline,” said Jill Descoteaux, director of the Dance Science Area of Emphasis within the Division of Exercise Physiology. “There is a lot of creative space between fields, and having something like dance science can open the door between students who appreciate performing arts and who enjoy patient care and medicine.”

Descoteaux began the assessments three years ago with the help of Yoav Kaddar, PhD, professor of dance and director of the WVU Dance Program and Corrie Mancinelli, PT, PhD, professor in the Division of Physical Therapy and the assistant dean and director of Physical Therapy Clinical Services.

The program screens freshmen and senior dancers to give them beginning and end-point data on their fitness and health while dancing at WVU.  

Using a station-based format where Health Professions students assess each dancer, the evaluations are overseen by Descoteux and Mancinelli. This year, more than 30 dancers participated.

“I was excited to be a part of the dancer assessments and bring the unique perspective of PT as human movement experts to a group of athletes whose craft is quite literally human movement,” said Emily Murphy, student in the Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency Program. “It was interesting to see and interact with other disciplines represented there, such as athletic training and exercise physiology students, and to learn more about their training and role in athletic screenings.”

Murphy performed leg length measurements for each dancer and also administered the Beighton Scale, a measure used to assess systemic hypermobility, or movement/flexibility beyond “normal” at multiple joints.

“I learned a bit more from this experience about athletic training and exercise physiology, and how we can all complement each other when screening and treating athletes as part of a care team,” Murphy said.

Magdalena Berry, a double major in exercise physiology and dance, had the unique experience of participating in the assessments as both a patient and a health provider.

“I loved learning how to both instruct dancers when it comes to doing the exercises, as well as going through the exercises myself,” Berry said. “I learned how to better communicate instructions. After going through the assessments, I learned how easily directions can be misinterpreted, so I became more aware of what exactly I need to explain.”

After each station, dancers are provided with immediate advice they can use to support their physical health. They receive information to come into the clinic if they are flagged for biomechanical issues or reported pain that needs further evaluation.

 “A great outcome of this assessment is building a relationship with the dancers so they know who is here to support them in times of pain or injury,” Descoteaux said. “And, exercise physiology, athletic training and physical therapy students gain experience in a population they don’t usually work with.”

For more information on majors at the School of Medicine, visit