Internship Experience: Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Anna May Williams

MSc Dance Science student Anna Williams (pictured) tells us all about her insightful experience at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Last year I was granted the wonderful opportunity to take up an internship at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York, USA. As a part-time student of the MSc Dance Science programme, I was on a ‘gap year’ and was looking for relevant work experience and productive ways to fill my time off. With very little industry experience at the time, and being based 5000km away, it was a very pleasant surprise to receive an email of invitation. Some people asked me why I resigned from my full-time job to head to the US for an unpaid internship, but I assured them that it was worth it. I hope to enlighten you as to why this experience was worth the sacrifices, how it has prepared me for further study towards my masters and into my career in the dance science sector.

After an eight-hour flight and two days of settling into my home for the next two months, the first day of the internship arrived. Receiving clearance from the medical and immigration departments at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, I was ready to meet the Harkness team. On arrival I was warmly greeted by Trinity Laban graduate Leigh Heflin, who now works as Programme Coordinator at the Harkness. We had an informal meet and greet, spoke about my interests in dance medicine, and created my schedule for the next six weeks.

The internship mainly consisted of observing and shadowing many of the practitioners working at the organisation. I spent a lot of time at the Harkness’ Physical Therapy Department, where I shadowed many physiotherapists who were treating dancers following a variety of complaints and injuries. Some dancers had chronic, long term injuries, and others were in rehabilitation following surgical repair. Every therapist I worked with was friendly, ensured to involved me in the conversations with the patient, and were all happy to answer any questions that I had. As an intern, my additional duties in the clinic involved maintaining the general upkeep and cleanliness of the studio and ensuring that all equipment and resources were ready for use. I was always pleasantly greeted every day by everyone at the organisation, from therapists to reception staff; I felt at home almost immediately.

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I had the opportunity to sit in and observe many Injury Prevention Assessments; a service offered by the Harkness which involves an evaluation of dance technique, strength, flexibility and a review of injury history. These allowed the dancer to learn more about their strengths and weaknesses with the aim to prevent them from injury in the future. At the end of the session, the dancer is given an educational hand-out, detailing an individually specific exercise program. Upon completion of my internship, I had the opportunity to take part in an Injury Prevention Assessment myself, kindly offered by Athletic Trainer, Megan.

The internship allowed me to travel around New York and meet dancers from external organisations. I accompanied two of the Harkness’ Athletic Trainers to visit Dance Theatre of Harlem. As well as having the great opportunity to meet the company dancers (and get a sneaky peek of them in rehearsal!), I learned about the role of the Athletic Trainers on their twice-weekly visit to the company studios, providing immediate care to company dancers with a wide range of complaints. I also accompanied another member of staff to PACE University, to meet their dance students and observe a lecture and practical workshop on dance injury prevention. As well as visiting various locations around the city, I had the pleasure to take a picturesque train ride out of the city, and travel up-state to SUNY Purchase College, where I observed Athletic Trainer Lauren work with student dancers.

Another fascinating part of my experience was shadowing at the dance clinic. Most of the patients had been referred to see one of the orthopaedic physicians for an array of reasons, including diagnosis of symptoms, X-rays, MRI scans and also for surgical procedures. Likewise with the physiotherapists, all of the doctors I met were extremely friendly and happy to answer my questions. This part of the internship was particularly educational, as I had the chance to see some X-rays and scans, and to discover what injuries physically look like from the inside. It also taught me so many new anatomical terms, and educated me on several injuries that I had never heard of. A personal highlight was observing a patient successfully walking unaided for the first time after reconstructive knee surgery. Through the dance clinic I also met the Harkness research team, and learned more about their injury tracking research project, of which I got to assist with some data collection and data entry.

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Throughout the experience I met dancers of all ages, ranging from childhood to retired adults. They were from all dance disciplines, from classical and contemporary to hip-hop and breakdance. Every dancer had a different story; some were in full-time training hoping to dance professionally or were already performing in New York dance companies, some were teachers and others just danced recreationally. Some dancers I would only meet the once, others on a weekly basis, getting to know them quite well over the course of my visit. I loved the variety of the internship, I was learning something different and meeting new people almost every day. I liked making my journey on the subway every morning not knowing what to expect from the day ahead.

I would thoroughly recommend the experience to any student interested in progressing into or already studying dance science; or to anyone from other related fields such as physiotherapy or sports therapy who are interested in working with dancers. It was a highly insightful experience to learn more about and be part of the dance medicine field in the US – which further convinced me to continue my work in this rapidly growing field back home in London. I came home very excited for what my future career holds, looking forward to returning to Trinity Laban and diving back in to my MSc programme.

Working life abroad was an experience I enjoyed enormously, and would recommend to anyone. I had visited New York previously so was somewhat familiar with the city itself – but needless to say it wasn’t any less exciting! Although travelling so far completely alone was a daunting and apprehensive experience to begin with, I very quickly settled into the New York lifestyle, and made great friends with the people I lived with as well as great contacts in the field. I had the privilege to enjoy living in a fantastic city, all while participating in one of the most rewarding, educational and insightful experiences of my career thus far. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

To find out more about MSc Dance Science, please visit the Trinity Laban website.

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