Vibrancy and Transparency: Fascinations of a Fulbright Scholar

Headshot_Madison McGrew

Image by Megan Moore

Madison McGrew, a student from the University of South Florida, has received a US Student Fulbright Award to enable her to study MSc Dance Science at Trinity Laban. Here she talks of her journey as a dancer and her dreams in osteopathy.

What attracted you to study at Trinity Laban?

It is hard to say what first attracted me to study at Trinity Laban, but I think dance injuries had a lot to do with it. I accrued nine musculoskeletal injuries throughout my time training at a dance studio in small-town Florida. Side-lined, I often read articles from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries and the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS), and I noted that most of the research informing those articles came out of Trinity Laban.

Later in undergraduate school, I visited the Harkness Center in New York City where I met Leigh Heflin, alumnus of the MSc Dance Science programme; I was in awe of her vast knowledge-base and ability to cohesively communicate dance and science.

Not long after, I attended Performing Arts Medicine Association conferences where I met other notable scholars in the field of dance science who spoke very highly of the opportunities at Trinity Laban—and with it being the first institution in the world to offer a degree in dance science and subsequently contribute the most to dance science research, publications, and conference presentations—I could not dispute them!

I remember when I first visited the Laban Building in 2015, there were two themes quite literally built into its architecture: vibrancy and transparency—which not ironically, I find are values that streamline the conversation between dance and science and have been pivotal in my learning journey thus far. Moreover, with Trinity Laban situated in London, a pulsating, centralized hub of culture and innovation, there is no room for lag in applying scientific theory to community dance practice, and that is equally exciting!

What was your reaction to finding out you would receive the Fulbright Scholarship?

I was speechless. I held off telling anyone for a couple days for fear it was all a dream. Even today, it remains unfathomable. Sylvia Plath, Linus Pauling, James D. Watson…they were all Fulbrighters. And now I am one too? I cannot believe it.

How do you feel the Scholarship will change your life?

I feel it already has. I have always felt a sense of civic and global responsibility, but now with a Fulbright Scholarship and the support of two nations, the responsibility has only grown. In short, I feel empowered because someone out there believes I can make a difference.

The almost year-long application process alone changed my life. I was challenged to reflect on my experiences and examine how I can use those experiences to benefit others; it made succinct my views of the world and my purpose within it.

The Scholarship will allow me to uniquely explore, side by side, two research areas that are important to me but have long been remarked as being at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Dance science as a field is largely unfledged in the US. While there are certainly pioneers and providers dedicated to dancer health and performance, nothing quite like Trinity Laban exists in the States.

But perhaps the most life-changing will be the people I meet. With this opportunity, there is a strong promise of friendship. At Trinity Laban, I will be surrounded by a diverse group of individuals all working toward the common goals of enhancing dancer potential and investigating the means in which dance impacts populations. And through the Fulbright Commission, I will join like-minded students called and inspired to increase mutual understanding between countries, cultures, and peoples in their own creative, thought-provoking ways. I cannot wait to exchange ideas and shape these relationships.

Kyle Scharf_Madison McGrew

Image by Kyle Scharf

What do you wish to achieve while studying here?

Beyond the curriculum of the Dance Science programme, I hope to use my independent time to get involved in other research and community initiatives. Recently, I worked with a ballet professor on a film using movement themes to raise awareness for human sex trafficking. The project helped me realize that as many times as I have relied on healthcare for my dance injuries, I have conceivably relied on dance as a form of healing far more.

How might you use your degree to further your career?

Witnessing my own relationship with dance, a healthcare system, and healing, I became interested in pain tolerance. Just as dance is a crucial line of communication, so too is pain. It has been said that dance artists experience the world differently, but perchance they perceive pain differently. I think dancers, and myself included, use pain as a behavioural motivator. Dance is so intimately linked to our self-identity that pain becomes an identifier by proxy. A constant subjugation to pain, however, alters our internal points for pain evaluation. Therefore, when medical intervention becomes necessary, the line of communication between dancer and practitioner can get altered as well.

I recently read an article online in which Marijn Rademaker of the Dutch National Ballet recounted being asked by a nurse: “Don’t you think it’s time to find another job? I don’t think your knees are going to be okay for this line of work.” I do not believe this sort of exchange should be encouraged between any individuals, much less between practitioner and dancer; but it’s this sort of dialogue that perpetuates miscommunication. While at Trinity Laban, I want to look at the psychological and physiological bases for pain tolerance in dancers, and evaluate the role these factors play in communicating pain. It is my greatest hope that upon completion of my degree, I will be able to contribute to the conversation on effective pain communication and treatment straight away.

In undergraduate school, I took all of the prerequisites (apart from taking the MCAT examination) to progress to medical school in the United States. I shadowed a great deal of osteopaths during that time and I believe their holistic approach to medicine echoes a dance science view of the integrated self—the mind, body, and spirit. The MSc Dance Science will provide me the keys to unlock a career as a judicious doctor of osteopathic medicine specializing in dancer care. I hope to continue to help build the dance science community in the States, and I hope that by being a physician housed under the Western model of healthcare, I can encourage others outside the field of dance science to embrace dance as a powerful tool of expressing and assessing sensation that bridges demographic divides.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR