is among the recipients of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship and celebrates their academic and creative accomplishments.

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Lumen Scholar leaps at chance to research impact of chronic injuries on dancers

Ashley King '17 is among the recipients of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship and celebrates their academic and creative accomplishments.

Ashley King '17, right, with her Lumen Prize mentor Joyce Davis, professor of exercise science.

By Sarah Mulnick ’17

Performing a leap equally well on each leg is important to dancers, who take pride in the aesthetic their athleticism allows. But an injury may compromise that ability, which is where Ashley King ‘17 and her research into the effect of chronic knee injuries on a leap during a dance comes in.

The saut de chat, the dance move that King has focused her research upon, entails leaping off of one foot, stretching into a split while in the air, and then landing on the other. It’s a popular and well-known dance move, easily recognizable as a common component in ballet. But when King started her research, she found just two articles even tangentially related to the leap. 

King, who is majoring in exercise science and dance science, discovered that few research studies have focused on the way dancers move when injured. Biomechanics research has focused on soccer players and runners, King said, but dancers have a very different movement profile from those sports. 

King should know: she danced for years, which is one of the reasons she was initially drawn to this research. “Dancers aren’t just running,” King says, “they’re doing it on their toes. They aren’t just jumping, they’re doing it with an aesthetic.” 

King’s research is part of her project as a Lumen Scholar, Elon’s preeminent research award. The grant provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements. 

Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to create and complete in-depth project on a variety of topics. Efforts include coursework, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development and creative productions and performances. The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon’s historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” the Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

King has been examining the way dancers moved during the saut de chat in the Francis Center biomechanics lab. She estimates that it took a year just to learn the equipment needed for her research before she began working with Elon dancers to determine how chronic knee injury may impact the way that the dancers moved through the leap.

She measured the joint angles and timing throughout the leap, as well as how long the foot was in contact with the ground on takeoff and landing, among other measurements. Each dancer stayed in the lab with King for two-hour sessions, after which she transferred the data to the computers and built a movement profile for the participants. 

Then, she ran the data through a statistical analysis to tell her whether the chronic knee injuries that some of the dancers had was changing the way they moved. It was.

“We found that dancers with chronic knee injuries don’t jump as high,” King says, adding that it makes logical sense. “[They have] have shorter landing times and there’s lateral movement in the knee when they’re moving. Dancers with injuries also had worse quadriceps-to-hamstring strength ratio.”

The strength that dancers showed with the injuries was closer to what researchers would expect from non-athletes. King, a dancer herself, is aware of the strength it takes to push yourself into the air and come down again — and do so gracefully. The effect that chronic knee injury had was more noticeable, she added, when dancers moved slower.

King worked with Joyce Davis, professor of exercise science, on the project. She says that while she was already interested in doing her research on something involving dance, it was Davis that really found her. 

For Davis, the opportunity to work with King was exciting, in part because the equipment that King would be using isn’t something that many students are interested in taking the time to learn. “I’ve had many students that I’ve introduced to the system, and once they’ve realized the amount of time it would take, they were out,” Davis said.

She added that King’s dedication to the project was just as inspiring. “Even if Ashley hadn’t gotten the Lumen, she still would have done this project. My favorite thing about working with Ashley is that she’s very consistent and very self-motivated. This was more of a collaboration, and I feel as though I collaborated on her project.”

King has presented her research both at Elon and abroad. She was selected to present at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science in Hong Kong last fall break, an experience that was made more memorable when a typhoon hit while she and Davis were there. She will present at the Southeastern American Colleges Board of Medicine in February 2017 and at Elon’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF) this spring.

In addition to her Lumen research, King works as a photographer for Elon News Network and the Athletics Department. She is the events coordinator for Elon’s ballroom dance club and is an Elon College Fellow.

Following graduation in May, she will attend Shenandoah University as one of five participants selected for the dual-degree program, where she will pursue her doctor of physical therapy and master of science in athletic training.

Overall, King said, the number one thing she’s learned from her Lumen project has been to be willing to go with the flow. “Research never goes as planned,” she said. “You have to accommodate that and stay flexible.”