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CELEBRATE! profile: Bridget Kelly '11

What can dance instructors do differently to help novice students avoid injury? And how do advanced students help in that regard? For Elon University senior Bridget Kelly, answering those questions has earned her acclaim at a major international conference, and her work is the latest to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on undergraduate research to be presented during CELEBRATE! 2011.

Bridget Kelly '11

Kelly, of Walpole, Mass., has been an avid dancer since age 2 and first enrolled at Elon as a student in the competitive Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance program. She soon found she could combine her love for performing with a budding interest in exercise science through an independent major, dance science, which she created.

Kelly also knew from experience the challenges beginning dancers face when learning their craft, as well as their risk for injury. Interested in pursuing a career in dance conditioning and rehabilitation, she wanted to know: are there biomechanical differences in novice and advanced dancers that affect their stability?

“It’s an important thing to know, because dancers need to hold these positions for aesthetic value, but when you hold that tension, there’s a risk of injury,” says Kelly, who interned last summer at Northeast Sports Training and Rehabilitation in Warwick, R.I.

Working closely with faculty mentor Caroline Ketcham, an assistant professor of exercise science, Kelly recruited 12 dancers – six novice and six advanced – from Elon dance classes. She recorded the dancers as each progressed through tendus, degages and battements – ballet leg movements of increasing difficulty. Using the video as well as data recorded by the HuMan movement analysis software, she reviewed the dancers’ performances frame by frame.

Kelly found that, visually, novice dancers exhibited more torso and limb movement than advanced dancers. Yet the HuMan data indicated that advanced dancers, though appearing more stable, recorded significant movement as well.

Returning to the literature and drawing upon her own experiences, Kelly concluded that the advanced dancers, through years of training, had learned to move their bodies in a way that enhanced stability and minimized the risk of injury while maintaining enough control to produce an aesthetically pleasing movement.

On the other hand, novice dancers, who typically are instructed to keep their bodies as straight as possible when learning techniques, often contract their muscles, which negatively affects their stability.

“Understanding that allowing some movement can in fact increase a dancer’s stability is helpful for dance educators,” Kelly says of her findings. “Recognizing that this movement occurs in advanced dancers should encourage teachers to allow movement in novice dancers to help reduce injuries.

Interested in sharing her research and receiving feedback from peers in the field, Kelly submitted her paper to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science’s annual meetings in October 2010 in Birmingham, England. She was one of only a handful of undergraduates whose papers were accepted to the conference, yet she won the highest overall score in the event’s poster competition, receiving the President’s Award for Poster Excellence.

“When I looked into who was at the conference, it was all Ph.D.s and doctoral and master’s students from all over the world, and she beat them all,” Ketcham says.

Adds Kelly, “I enjoyed having the chance for people to ask me questions about my research and to hear other presentations. There’s so much new and interesting research to hear from other parts of the world.”

Kelly and Ketcham have spent much of the spring semester revising Kelly’s paper for submission to the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, a leading journal in the emerging dance science field.

“It’s so nice to have students like Bridget who drive their own learning,” Ketcham says. “Bridget isn’t an Honors Fellow or an Elon College Fellow – nothing required her to do all this research other than the fact she was really interested in the topic, in presenting at this conference, in networking with professionals in the field and making a difference for dancers.”

One of those dancers Kelly’s helping is, well, herself. A member of the Elon Dance Company who has performed in several campus productions, she says her research has definitely impacted her craft.

“I think scientifically when I dance,” she says. “I try to be more efficient and more effective now when I dance.”

- Written by Kristin Simonetti ’05, Office of University Relations

Eric Townsend,
4/27/2011 8:30 AM