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

Breaking Boundaries: Interview with Trinity Laban student Nefeli Tsiouti

Nefeli 1

MSc Dance Science student Nefeli Tsiouti is a dancer and researcher totally dedicated to her passions. After facing an injury in dance, she has worked hard to manage her own project to prevent dancers’ injuries. Walking into our interview on crutches, she tells me about the challenges she’s overcome, and the adventures she has yet to face.

Tell us about your life in the dance world before embarking upon your MSc in Dance Science.

I’ve been dancing for 21 years now, and professionally for the last 8-9 years.

I was a ballerina all my life, but I started breaking because I was inspired by watching breakers dancing. I would dance on marble outside in the streets with them all the time. There was no guidance really – I was just seeing and doing. Because of this lack of awareness, I got seriously injured – I had to have major surgery on my shoulder. I was told I wouldn’t be able to dance again, so I just felt I had to back out of my passions. I experienced depression… my life just switched all the way around. But I had to stay true to dance. I decided I could maybe take a theoretical route in dance, and that’s when I decided to move to the UK, studying MA Choreography at Middlesex University.

It took me 2-3 years but I got into breaking again, because I found a coach – maybe the only coach worldwide – DJ Renegade. He took me under his wing and he’s been training me ever since 2011. Frustratingly, I kept getting injured, and I noticed that the surgery actually had a knock-on effect on the rest of my body. I learned that the body is a kinetic chain; everything is connected. This realisation taught me that it’s better to prevent injuries than cure them. I have too many injuries to fix them now, so all I can do is just make sure I condition myself and keep progressing. I am very passionate about preventing other people’s injuries, so they don’t have to go through what I am going through. That’s when I created Project Breakalign in 2013.



I had been thinking about the idea since 2011, but I was too scared to say it. It was still nurturing in my head! When I finally decided to speak about it, One Dance UK came on board straight away. From the first day I spoke to them, I had amazing people join me in helping the community.

What made you decide to study at Trinity Laban?

I chose the MSc because I was looking to do a PhD afterwards, and to do that the MSc is a prerequisite. I was also acting upon advice I received from One Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme. I was partially funded by a Trinity Laban Scholarship, which gave me a boost. It was a great decision to come here.

Nefeli 2

Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

What are the biggest challenges of studying the MSc Dance Science?

Continuing all the work that I’m doing and studying at the same time is the biggest challenge. It’s hard to be on top of my game in everything that I do. Project Breakalign is international now, so I have a lot of responsibilities. I’m trying to still help people, still continue the research, start slowly writing up papers and publish at the same time. But it has been very difficult to balance the two or the five… I don’t know how many things!

Tell me about the Healthier Dancer Programme 2016 Conference.

The Healthier Dance Programme 2016 Conference I have been invited to be involved with is the first conference ever in the UK – as far as I’m aware – that focuses on health for hip hop and circus artists. It’s something we’ve been working on since September 2015, and will be happening in London in November this year. The speakers are going to be really high level, established people. It will cover a lot of different areas that artists need to know about, and maybe they’re not aware of yet – but we are trying to make it as financially accessible as possible.

What does your role on the steering committee involve?

The steering committee is compiled of people that come from all different backgrounds, so obviously Project Breakalign had to be on board – there aren’t many people doing something like this. Being on the committee means that I suggest speakers for the areas covered for breaking or hip hop dance, so I’ve given my suggestions for that. I’m helping with organising the day too. One Dance UK is leading this, but we are just helping out.

Nefeli 4

Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

What’s next for you?

After I complete my Masters in August or September, I plan to move to the USA. I’m applying for lecturing jobs over there. I might apply for an internship – maybe at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York, so I can continue exploring Dance Science.

I also got a great funding opportunity last year from the Centre Nationale de la Danse in Paris. It has offered to fund me to formalise the Breakalign Method – a methodology like Yoga or Pilates, like a supplementary programme for breakers specifically. It’s a very long journey myself and my team have already begun; and we are going to spend two months testing the methodology on different age and experience groups in the summer. I actually just applied for more funding and I hope I get it. We hope to prove it actually prevents injuries and aligns people’s bodies – hence the name!

Then in January 2017, I’m going to present the methodology in France to the funders and hopefully the Breakalign Method will be successful enough to travel the world. Eventually I want to get it to deprived communities such as the Phillippines for example, where there is nothing like this. Prevention of injuries doesn’t even exist as an expression there.

Nefeli 3

Catch the Flava 2015 Slovakia

What’s your long-term plan?

The dream is to get the Breakalign Method universal. On top of that, I’d like to do a PhD, or even just find a good lecturing position that makes me happy. I might not be the most experienced researcher, and I’m pretty young, but I think the experience that I have as a dancer and as a breaker is so essential in the type of research that I’m doing.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR


Trinity Laban Health Induction Activities 2015

On Monday the 7th September, we embarked on what tend to be the busiest few weeks of the academic calendar, induction. The Trinity Laban Health department forms part of the student services team and as such, we look forward to welcoming new students from across the globe as they begin their training at Trinity Laban. We know that dance related injury incidence is high the UK and therefore it is likely that at some point throughout training, dance, and or musical theatre students may need to seek advice or support from a member of the TL Health team. Whether this be in the form of treatment, a rehabilitation programme guided by one of our physiotherapists or to simply pop down for a quick chat our door is always open. The department does not only seek to support dance students however; musicians can experience physical problems too. Instrumentalists and vocalists like all performing artists often have to perform to the limit, with intense practice schedules and late night performances. As a result, the risk of acquiring injuries that can lead to difficulties or an inability to play or sing can increase. At Trinity Laban Health we seek to help prevent injuries through educating and empowering students and to support students in the management and rehabilitation of existing injuries. This year we put on a number of events in order to personally meet as many new students as possible and to highlight the support services, treatments and workshops on offer. Here’s a quick look at what we go up to.

Physiotherapist Tania Amorim discusses some safe stretching techniques to a busy studio of new BA Contemporary Dance Students.

Physiotherapist Tania Amorim discusses some safe stretching techniques with a busy studio of new BA Contemporary Dance Students.

Our first ‘Healthy Performing Artist’ session for new BA Contemporary Dance students attracted nearly a hundred students. In the session we provided an overview of the Dance Science and Health Musculoskeletal and Fitness Screen. This service allows students access to information about their own physical capabilities and can help to identify potential injury risk. It can help inform and empower to students to know more about their own bodies as they embark on their training. In line with this idea, Trinity Laban Health Physiotherapist Tania Amorim provided some safe and effective warm-up, cool down tips along with some practical ideas for safe stretching techniques.

Physiotherapist Isabel Artigues Cano discusses the theory behind important warm-up principles for musicians.

Physiotherapist Isabel Artigues Cano discusses the theory behind important warm-up principles for musicians.

The second in our series of Healthy Performing Artist talks was delivered by Physiotherapist Isabel Artigues Cano to new Music students. Musicians’ attendance rates were the highest we have seen in recent years and it was great to meet so many of the new cohorts personally at this session. Isabel discussed the signs and symptoms of common injuries for both instrumentalists and vocalists and provided invaluable warm-up, cool down and injury prevention tips.

Aside from our presentations, our stall remained on the ramp in the Laban building for the duration of the two week long induction. This was another opportunity for us  to meet as many new students as possible as well as greet some familiar returning faces. Our brand new survival kits for both musicians and dancers were also available for purchase here and included spiky balls, resistance bands, foot rollers among other items.

Physiotherapist Katy Chambers demonstrating a calf muscle release exercise with spikey balls that were available in our survival kits.

Physiotherapist Katy Chambers demonstrating a calf muscle release exercise with spiky balls available in our survival kits.

We also had the chance to get to know a number of new graduate school and BA Musical Theatre Performance (BAMTP) students. Physiotherapist Katy Chambers, provided some alternative warm-up ideas, using Yoga techniques for BAMTP students. This was followed by a muscular release based session with the aim of using these techniques to help prevent injuries. Our postgraduates engaged in a discussion around safe dance practice from the perspective of both dancer and choreographer with Edel Quin Programme Leader of the MSc Dance Science.

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Finally to round off a very busy two weeks, a few members of the team attended the international student event. The British style picnic with outdoor games and entertainment was the perfect way to end the induction period. This was another fantastic opportunity to get to know new students and we hope this continues over the coming weeks.

The Trinity Laban Health Team



Treatment and Rehabilitation

In the first blog piece of this series we explored the signs and symptoms of ‘shin splints’ and considered some preventative techniques. But what should you do if you are already suffering with shin splints? In part two we explore some possible management and rehabilitative tools for dancers diagnosed with the condition. Continue reading

Top Tips for the Touring Musician

Musicians’ hands are vital to their musical performance. Rapid, complex and coordinated movements are required and they frequently have to play in less than ideal postures and environments; usually without the support of a medical team and with poor facilities. Touring increases the hours of playing with reduced sleep. Noise, alcohol levels and pressure can be high. In summary, musicians as well as singers and other performing artists often have to perform to the limit of their abilities physically and emotionally. As a result, the risk of acquiring injuries that can lead to difficulties or an inability to play or sing can increase. Continue reading

What is the difference between using Ice or Heat for an Injury?

It is common among all performing artists to face injury at some point in their career.  We have all been told to ice or apply heat to an injury, but when do we apply ice? When do we apply heat? And for how long? How often?  Do you apply ice immediately after being injured, or is it better to apply heat? Applying ice or heat at the right time can help speed the recovery of an injury, if incorrectly applied it can actually cause more damage to the injury.

There are many different ideas about when to apply ice and when to apply heat.  If the injury is acute or chronic depends on if heat or ice should be applied.

  • An Acute Injury is when there is immediate pain, inflammation and swelling. It is usually a result of impact or a traumatic event, for example, a sprained ankle.
  • A Chronic Injury refers to a progressive injury, one that may come and go. It often begins with mild symptoms and progressively becomes worse over time.

Ice to Injury

Treating an Acute Injury

Ice should be applied to an acute injury as it reduces the pain and swelling seen from the onset of an acute injury.  The ice causes the blood vessels to narrow therefore limiting any internal bleeding at the injury site. Ice should be applied immediately to the area for 10-15 minutes and repeated every 2-3 hours for 24 to 48 hours. Ice therapy can also be used in treating overuse injuries, common in performing artists. For example, if a dancer suffers from knee pain from long hours of rehearsals ice can be applied to the area to prevent inflammation. It can help with pain relief and the relaxation of muscles. After 48 hours heat can be applied to the area through heat pads, deep heat etc., as bleeding in the area should have stopped.  The aim changes from restricting bleeding and swelling to repairing and remobilising the tissues through rehabilitation such as physiotherapy, sports massage, exercise and stretching. The heat will cause the blood vessels to open up and encourage more blood to the area, therefore stimulating the area to heal the tissues. Applying heat also has a soothing effect on the body and helps to relieve pain and spasms. It can also ease stiffness making the tissues more supple.  It is important to only ice a new injury; applying heat can make the injury worse. It will increase bleeding in the area and cause further inflammation, which could make the injury worse.

Treating a Chronic Injury

If the injury is chronic heat should be applied throughout the area.  If muscles or joints are sore or stiff, heat can help to relax the muscles as circulation is increased in the area.  Heat increases the blood flow in the injured area, stimulating the area to heal.  It also has a direct soothing effect and helps to relieve pain and spasms.

There is one exception to the rule.  If you have acute lower-back pain heat can be applied to the area as a lot of pain in this case is caused by muscle spasm.  Heat therefore would be more beneficial then ice.

So Always Remember:

ICE is for INJURIES: Reduces inflamed damaged tissues.

Heat is for MUSCLES: Takes the edge off pain.