Science in the studio—the rise of performing arts medicine

Specialized care for athletes has grown exponentially in the past few decades. Now the performing arts community is ‘getting into the act’ so to speak.

Two Lehigh Valley area organizations have started Performing Arts Medicine programs in hopes of bringing care to a growing community in the performance and athletic communities. Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) and Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network’s (GSRN) brand-new programs address the specific needs of performers with facilities and professional dedicated to serving the unique populations.

“For several years, we’ve identified a need for this patient population,” says Susan Sokalsky, MPT, DPT director of Outpatient Rehab Services for LVHN. “But a highly skilled, specific clinician was needed.”

Enter Gayanne Grossman, PT, Ed.M., director of dance wellness and part-time lecturer for anatomy and kinesiology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown and staff physical therapist at LVHN. With almost 30 years of experience in dance and dance therapy specifically, Grossman was the ideal individual to launch the LVHN program.

“Any physical therapist can make the pain of tendonitis go away,” she says. “It’s key to understand the specific biomechanical challenges faced by dancers to address the specific problems.”

Grossman’s following in the local dance community helped to grow the program at LVHN, while Susan Sokalsky handled the marketing and spreading awareness that “we have this skilled clinician who has handled this specific therapy throughout her career.”

“For some time, I’ve felt that performers in this area have needed expert care,” continues Grossman. “I want to have these performers leave me as better dancers than they were when they arrived.”

“It’s an educational and a medical model,” says Sokalsky. “Gayanne’s work at Muhlenberg allows her to train and educate the dancers, but now she’s become part of the medical portion as well.”

To that end, Grossman has done extensive work with peer-reviewed research and putting into language dancers and their instructors will understand. “You can’t treat a dancer if you can’t educate them,” Grossman summarizes. “My role is to be a liaison between the science and the studio.”

A Brand-New Facility

Cathie Dara, PT, DPT, OCS, STC, site manager for the Good Shepherd Performing Arts Rehabilitation Center, says that a significant growth in the Lehigh Valley performing arts community was the main factor in the opening of their specialized facility.

“There are specific facilities set up to treat sports injuries, to treat headaches, back pain—before this, there was really no specific site to treat performing artists,” explains Dara.

Thus far, she says, the support from the performing arts community has been excellent. A specific marketing representative was hired to do outreach to local performing artists. ‘We’re getting the word out that we will cater to their schedules and their needs,” says Dara.

Dara gives credit for the idea to Dan Danish, PT, MHS, MTC. “He had this vision, which we were able to put into motion,” she says. “We knew we wanted to dedicate a whole facility to this concept.”

The new facility on Eaton Avenue in Bethlehem is what Dara says sets the program apart—dancers enjoy a professional dance floor, complete with a ballet barre and mirrors. The facility also has a soundproof music room for performers who play specific instruments to receive evaluations from Dara and the physical therapy team.

“As with athletes, when you’re working with a unique population you need to be able to meet their demands. Working around performances, classes and recitals, you can’t just be a 9-to-5 facility,” summarizes Dara. “As we evolve, we hope to have the expertise and the equipment to get these performers to where they need to be.”