California State University, Long Beach
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Professor Aims to Reduce Injury to Dancers

Karen Clippinger

CSULB’s Karen Clippinger recently took a long step in the direction of realizing her dream of reducing the risk of injury to dancers with the publication of a textbook already hailed by the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science as the definitive text on dance anatomy, dance kinesiology and dance conditioning.

The member of the Dance Department since 1998 (and tenure-track since 2002) is the author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology from the Illinois-based Human Kinetics. The 532-page book, her first, provides an essential addition to dance educators and students by combining anatomical principles, references, resources, a stellar index and numerous conditioning exercises and real-life applications.

“My goal was to present something that was scientifically accurate but accessible,” said Clippinger, who has taught dance anatomy and kinesiology at UCLA, Scripps College, the University of Washington and the University of Calgary. “Another goal was to offer numerous illustrations and visual diagrams to complement the written text. Up to now, if dancers wanted the answers to certain questions, they often had to look in anatomy, biomechanics and conditioning texts to get what they wanted. Now, they have it all in one place in this text.”

The illustrations, schematics and photographic images address a broad range of content including looks at synovial joints, basic anatomical axes, joint movements in different planes, key muscles of the body and common injuries. Clippinger sees one of the book’s most valuable elements as the “Dance Cues” which give the anatomical basis of verbal cues teachers commonly use when teaching technique. Examples include “Bend the Knees to the Side,” Release and Recover,” Bring the Heel Forward,” “Pull Your Shoulders Back,” “Point from the Top of the Foot,” “Don’t Stop Your Plie,” “Land Softly” and “Go Through Your Foot.”

The text itself is divided into eight chapters including the skeletal system and its movements, the muscular system, the spine, the pelvic girdle and hip joint, the knee and patellofemoral joints, the ankle and foot, the upper extremity and analysis of human movement. What follows are clear explanations of joint structure and movements, functions of individual muscles, ideal alignment and common deviations, body mechanics, conditioning work, specific injuries and injury prevention and applications.

She hopes her book will help dancers to be better dancers and teachers to be better teachers. “I want to enhance dancer’s longevity by explaining more about injury prevention and optimizing their performance,” she said. “There are dancers I see with the potential to go further but there is a knee injury waiting to happen. This book provides tools to enable them to better protect their bodies and improve their performance. I want dancers to better understand their personal limitations in terms of executing different moves and teachers to better understand how to teach dancers with various limitations.”

For instance, in the dark ages of dance, dancers with back injuries were told to lie in bed and do nothing. “Now we know that was wrong,” she said. “This text explains what can be done to maintain as much strength as possible and to try to improve the strength of muscles to support the spine and reduce the stress on an injured area.”

Clippinger has served as a consulting kinesiologist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet since 1981 and has consulted for the U.S. race walking team, the U.S. Weightlifting Federation and the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. She has given more than 350 presentations in the United States and abroad. She wrote an exercise column for Shape magazine for four years and served as one of the founding co-editors-in-chief of the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science from 1996-2005. She worked in rehab centers between degrees and in Seattle at sports medicine clinics from the 1980s through the early 1990s, and then at Loma Linda University Medical Center. She received her bachelor’s degree in dance therapy from Sonoma State and her MSPE in exercise science from the University of Washington in 1984.

The more student dancers understand about their bodies -- that their bodies are their instruments of expression -- the more they will be able to refine those instruments, Clippinger believes. “If dance students read this book, it can enhance their ability to become true artists,” she said. “They won’t be limited as much by physical constraints and hopefully their careers will not be stopped early because of injuries. The more they understand about their bodies, and the more they understand about preventing injuries, the better will be their chances of dancing for many more years.”