April 15, 2013

Bridging the Gap

by Jordan Chapman

Dancers at Adelphi

Literal or abstract, scientific or artsy, Adelphi Associate Professor Andrea Ward, Ph.D., refuses to believe that the distinctions made between the left and right brain are that pronounced. In fact, she’s already built and traversed the bridge.

The creator and professor of Adelphi’s Anatomy of Dance class, Dr. Ward has successfully combined her own lifelong passion for dance with her professional work, helping Adelphi dancers fine-tune their performances by understanding the capabilities and limits of their bodies. “The idea [of the class] is to give dancers a better idea of their own bodies…What scientific information can I convey to better their art form and their careers for greater longevity?” Dr. Ward said. “We watch film and analyze movement, they break down movement, as far as what a muscle is doing,” she continued, noting that she even brings physics to the class, teaching students how even a small body adjustment can help them jump higher and turn more.

The class is divided into three sections, the first two dealing with anatomy. Students examine the spine, knee, ankle, hip and more to see how each area works best, and what kind of alignment issues dancers should be concerned about. “We talk about what tendencies dancers do that cause problems and we go over injuries, how to rehab those injuries, and how to prevent them,” Dr. Ward. In the last portion of the class, students conduct experiments in the studio. “Here we put all the anatomical information they’ve learned into practice,” she said.

The Anatomy of Dance is a reflection of Dr. Ward’s lifelong pursuit of perfection. Even as a 5-year-old enrolled in her first ballet classes she constantly challenged herself to think through the science that would improve the art. “When I was dancing, I spent a lot of time trying to figure how I could do my steps better. I wondered how I could look better on stage, how I could get my leg higher, how I could jump higher,” Dr. Ward said. As she carried her passion through college and into her studies for a Ph.D. in Biology, the idea for the class began to grow legs.

By the time Dr. Ward had graduated with a Ph.D., her interest in what her body was capable of on the dance floor morphed and matured into a broader sense of study that benefits our understanding of human anatomy. Her passion for dance and study of the body is also the inspiration for her research. Currently, she is studying the link between anatomy and locomotion, observing how adverse environments affect the vertebral growth of fish.

“It’s all sort of connected,” Dr. Ward said, smiling. “I enjoy my work and I love that I can incorporate all of my interests into one day at Adelphi.”

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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

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