Journal Prompt: What kind of data do I need, and, now I have an inferiority complex.

In considering what sort of data I might need to collect, it occurred to me that I haven’t really narrowed my research question. Well, actually, that’s not true. I’ve done it in my head, but not so much within the context of these journal entries.

I’m applying for an interdisciplinary research fellowship, and what better way to narrow one’s focus than to have to write a proposal? I mean, a real one! Overall, I want to create specialized resistance training programs for dancers. I imagine having representative samples split into groups by gender and genre (specifically, ballet and modern/contemporary dancers). Women and men demonstrate different patterns of injury, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that hasn’t sprained an ankle at one point in his/her career. So I plan to control for type of injury by limiting the participant pool to dancers with previous lower leg injuries. My hypothesis is that complimentary resistance training will reduce the rate of re-injury (recurrence of the same injury or another (seemingly) unrelated injury), and improve performance in professional dancers. But the issue of defining performance remains.

In my view, that is where qualitative research comes in. For this fellowship, I’ve proposed a qualitative research project with the goal of defining performance based on physiological and aesthetic criteria. I hope to accomplish this through survey and interviews, collecting data from three sources: members of the dance community, dance patrons, and company directors (employers responsible for the hiring of dancers). After participants watch a diverse sample of dance (either live or on video) I anticipate asking some of the following questions:

  • Who was your favorite performer, and why?
  • What is it about his/her performance that impacted you the most?
  • What are three adjectives that describe your favorite dancer’s performance?
  • Does body type impact your perception of this dancer’s performance?
  • What physical attributes do you look for in a good performance?
  • Would you hire this dancer?
  • What do you look for in a “good” dancer?

and so on, and so forth. From this data I hope to match up qualitative aspects of performance with physiological characteristics, so that performance might be somehow “graded.”

And this is where I start to get overwhelmed.

If I limit my participant pool to Chicago, the possibility of a generalizable performance scale is slim to none, however I’m confident in my ability to recruit and implement the study in this area. Plus the follow-up study is likely to also have a sample of convenience due to the practicality of implementing an intervention in the place where the researcher (me) lives. If I try and spread my reach nationally or internationally, this is obviously a benefit to the validity and generalizability of the study, but people in Uganda and Canada are likely to have far different opinions about dance and the quality of a performance than people in Chicago. Perhaps herein lies the problem, and why I can’t find an existing model that convincingly grades aesthetic performance.

Somewhere in the Bernard, it says that some things just aren’t meant to be researched. Oh dear…. is this one of those things?

I’m just finishing the chapter on sampling (admittedly late), and thinking back to my ongoing survey research. There was little to no intelligent design when it came to the subject pool. I cast my line as far and wide as I could to get dancers to self-elect for this survey. The result, at present, is a sample of 400 dancers from all over, but highly concentrated in the Chicago area because of my reach. That, by the way, is an assumption because location is not an item we asked for (oops).

In the course of these past 500-ish words, rather than figuring out what sort of data I need, I’ve managed to strike a blow to my confidence instead. I’m reminded of the advice of Wolcott (paraphrased):

Get started. Practice research, even if you suck at it, because it’ll get better every time you do it.

I read plenty of lousy research studies, and one hopes that one won’t join the lot of them, but I suppose I can’t expect everything to be perfect the first few times around. I mean, if the IRB said that it was ok, it couldn’t have been that bad, right?!? Perhaps what’s important in doing and writing research is not eliminating flaws, but recognizing and acknowledging them.

Side note: I’ve been thinking a lot about something that was said in class last week in the round table with Dr. Brittian. I fully accept and honor the need to be rigorous in one’s work, and passionate to a fault. As such, I completely agree with the advice to specialize in qualitative or quantitative research. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel myself aligning with a qualitative approach to historically quantitative questions. However, my work, and my life in general, have always taken on an interdisciplinary nature. Perhaps I’m easily distracted, or self-deprecating to the point that I feel like I have to be good at everything, but I’ve also come to feel that my ability to transcend occupational labels has been an advantage.

The lack of inter-disciplinarians, in fact, is likely why dancers have little concept of the research conducted on dancers. So I’m left to wonder: is it possible to be rigorous at multiple things, particularly if it fills an existing gap?


Journal Prompt: power, social differences, and bias

Dance, believe it or not, is a man’s world. Perhaps it isn’t shocking in general society to note a gender gap in the number of women in leadership roles, but the staggering numbers of women in the dance community compared to men make it quite apparent that men are favored over women for the top spots at the top companies. There was some local discussion over this phenomenon recently, particularly regarding a Crain’s Chicago Business article highlighting a current renaissance of dance in Chicago, and featuring six prominent companies, all run by men.

Again, what makes this really interesting is the ratio of men: women in the dance market. My own research has echoed this disparity; of 405 participants (thus far)  in a survey study on trends in injury, cross-training and rehabilitation among dancers, 91% of the sample is female. Are women dancers, then, discouraged from leadership roles, because the men are so frequently singled out? What unique characteristics do female Artistic Directors display?

If I consider my research questions, and the work completed thus far in my preliminary survey study, can I assume that my results are only generalizable to women? And, with men predominantly in the driving seat of the big budget dance companies, will they be open to changing training practices if it’s uncovered that different training methods reduce injuries in female dancers? The culture in dance, perhaps because women are “a dime a dozen,” is that dancers are replaceable. Everyone is waiting for a shot. If you go down, there’s someone standing behind you to take your spot. Unlike athletes, who are paid to sit on the bench and get better, injured dancers state that symptoms related to a dance injury have impacted their lives in a negative way (p = .04). With 91% of my sample being female, we might again assume that this figure is generalizable to women.*

In considering all this, I fully admit that it’s difficult to let go of my biases. I “retired” from dance very early, and quite dramatically, due to a combination of injury, personal trauma, and power asserted on me by the director of the company I was working for. I carry this experience with me, and it fuels my passion for this work, but also furnishes a strong possibility that I will insert my pessimism against better judgement.

For example, when I look at the results of my unpublished survey, there are no strong indicators (or, at least, statistically significant ones) that injury leads to a loss of income or employment, and yet I found myself typing it two paragraphs above, and having to check myself for bias. In a way, I want to prove that MY experience is the collective experience of the dance community as a whole. On the other hand, I don’t want to prove that dance is this horrible, denigrating thing that abuses people and spits them out. In other words, I won’t be pleased – whatever the results say.

*data reported from unpublished study: Dancer injury, rehabilitation, and the return to work

Journal Prompt: Theory

When I began the first assigned reading on theory in educational research, I had a pretty major aha moment. This book, these readings, that on the surface contain little to no insight on my future line of research, referred back again and again to the writings of Marx, Plato, Aristotle, Durkheim, Rousseau… all writings I was assigned as a Freshman at Barat College for Philosophy 101. It was a class I signed up for “just for fun,” because if anything excited me about college it was the small bit of autonomy I was afforded in choosing my own educational journey, and in taking classes I wanted to take. Though very little recollection of the class remains, I remember the main theme well. An entire semester on the subject of nature vs. nurture. Are we – people – blank slates, inherently good, inherently bad, or a combination of the two? Shockingly (facetious here) we didn’t find the answer to that question, and having little use for the class again it faded from my memory. 

Until ED-502, when I started that aforementioned reading on theory and qualitative research.

When you make a dance, you start with a gesture, or a movement phrase, or a central idea. There aren’t many rules, except that this gesture, phrase, idea, is your guide. Stray from it, and all you’ve got is a bunch of moves. Maybe this is a stretch, but go with me here: It seems to me that designing a research protocol could follow the same logic as making a dance, and that little nugget (gesture, phrase, idea), in research, is theory. Theory grounds the work and gives it trajectory, context, and an informed prerogative. Without these things, it becomes really, really (really) easy to get lost in the literature, lost in the data. It also becomes easy to lose your purpose and ethical sensibility.

Essentially, your research becomes just a bunch of moves too.


Though I have clear ideas about my personal stances and theories on dance, I struggle to have any sort of overriding opinions or beliefs on Theory (capital T). Basically, I think I just haven’t read enough. I snickered at myself when I saw Marx referred in our text and pulled out my Karl Marx book – still on the bookshelf from Freshman year of college (verified by the $7 price tag from 1999). I read it back then, but I’m excited to return to these texts and Read them (capital R). What I mean is, who in her first semester of a college education can actually comprehend theory and apply it in any sort of informed way? Not me then. I was just worried about making friends and not embarrassing myself. Maybe not me now either. My priorities haven’t changed all that much (I kid). But maybe me in the future.

In Wolcott’s guide to Transforming Qualitative Data, the first step in any investigation (according to him) is reading. Admittedly, this an area I’ve neglected through the years. To quote Lizzie Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, “I am not a great reader, and take pleasure in many things.” I’ve been prolific in speaking, writing, doing…. but in order to fully form the foundation for my thoughts and opinions, I need theory (and Theory) to back me up. So maybe I’m going about this backwards – professing my hypotheses before I’ve laid the groundwork, but I guess this year is about figuring out whether or not my theories are founded on Theory.

By the way , if I were forced to describe my theoretical orientation, right now, it would probably look something like this:

Journal Prompt: Observation

photo (1)After finishing up my morning internship at Flames Athletic Center, at an excruciating 6am, I’ve opted to take myself out for breakfast at a nearby diner for this assignment.

We are charged with observing.

There are only two people in the dining room with me, two UIC police officers, and I’m just hoping that I don’t creep them out by using them as my subjects this morning. Three employees are working: the cook, a hostess and server. I’m actually surprised at how empty it is, but then, I guess people don’t often go for a nice breakfast on Monday morning at 7am.

Though honestly motivated by convenience, and a small pocket of hours I happen to have free, the choice of Hashbrowns cafe isn’t entirely random. Coffee shops, cafes, diners, etc. have always kind of fascinated me.

I wonder if these officers are just getting off of work or getting ready to begin, and why they chose this place. Because it’s pretty much empty, the hostess is checking her phone and the server is busying himself stocking creamer and butter packets. Will this place fill up as the morning wears on, or is this a typical day for them?

One officer keeps looking away out the windows. Is he making sure the neighborhood is safe? Watching the day come to fruition? Bored by his company? Do these two eat often together, and they’ve run out of things to say? The server chats up the officers, passing a bar towel back and forth in his hands and pacing his feet back and forth. The officers are much more relaxed, stretching their arms, leaning back, hands behind the head. It appears as though they frequent Hashbrowns and know the server. I can’t hear their discussion, but it seems casual -not just like small talk. The server continues talking as he clears their plates. Soon after the hostess delivers the check I hear the cook whistling to the Journey song that’s playing over the loud speaker, which is rather loud for 7am, if you ask me…

I’m finding it difficult to complete this assignment in such an intimate atmosphere without looking like a creep, and I think the officers feel me watching them. I suppose it’s their job to pick up on things like that. Now that their plates have been cleared they are much more animated in their faces and appear to enjoy each other’s company more. They are rising now, thanking the server, and exiting. Now with me as the only diner the server and hostess are pouring over their phones, leaning over the counter, while the cook leans against the fridge. I just now realized that there’s a prep cook behind the line with him, and after staring off blankly for a short time the cooks begin scraping the grill and busying themselves.

I think about the work ethic required to do a good job and stay on task when working in a place that is empty like this. “Time to lean time to clean,” seems to be at play here. Every employee finds something to do, mixed with casual little breaks, and there’s a fine line between working for a slow establishment and being a lazy worker. This reminds me of working at Starbucks, particularly at 10am when everything slowed down after the morning rush. But one has to wonder, how can the manager pay four employees to work a morning in which there are so few customers.

The server walks toward the front door, smiling at me, and peeks around the corner before coming back in. He now stands at the counter reading a newspaper.

A few minutes later a man comes in wearing sweats. “Morning, Coach,” the server says, and Coach sits at the counter, making conversation as he gives the server his debit card. Coach takes his breakfast to go, and “bro hugs” the server as he leaves. Perhaps, like me, Coach visits this place after morning practice with one of our athletic teams? This appears to be a regular occurrence for him.

I fear that this has been an unsuccessful attempt at this observation challenge, but then, some settings just aren’t that interesting. Much of research, I imagine, is not watching things happen, but rather waiting to watch things happen. Talking with friends last night, suggestions were thrown out as hotbeds for potential people watching: the brown line platform at 2am and the second floor of John Barleycorn’s bar in Wrigleyville were just a few….

The other part of this assignment is to place the shoe on the other foot, and have someone observe me. In light of this, I thought I would reflect on a somewhat recent performance art project for which I was lucky to be a subject.

Megan Pitcher’s And Me in My Place observes people in their natural settings. Pitcher videotapes subjects in the places in which they perform their occupations. She then uses her insight as a movement artist and somatic practitioner to offer suggestions on how to alter, refine, and reform the subjects’ natural tendencies. Pitcher came into my workplace, filming one of my resistance training labs – this particular one on dumbbell training.

Because I was instructing a group, she didn’t interject or change my movements in the moment; rather we conversed after about my body language and how my body positions differed from a traditional work setting, and also from what we imaged a trainer with a more traditional background might have.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation was how my body language changed from student to student. With really strong, male students, who clearly had a background in resistance training, I would puff up my chest and make a really big body position. My speech was more deliberate, my typical goofiness subsided. Amongst the women and the beginners I adopted a more casual stance, but in both situations it was clear to Pitcher that I was asserting myself as the authority figure, and controlling the room with mannerisms of power. We talked about what it would feel like to remain consistent in my body language and manners though the whole class, making me vulnerable to the students who might be perceives as “threatening.”

Later on, she sent me this note:

Things that I would say/ask as a running monologue if I were in your ear during this session: All of this makes me think about our brief intro to your work body. What is the physical expectation of a trainer?  Are the qualities of a “good” teacher/trainer limited to strength and positions of power? Is there a place for vulnerability?  You already bring a playfulness and mindfulness that I know is missing in other trainers. Is that something you embrace?

I’m accustomed to scrutiny and observation, having grown up in the dance world, so I didn’t find that I deliberately changed my behaviors based on the fact that I knew I was being watched. What surprised me, though, was that the observations she made weren’t entirely consistent with the perception I have of myself.

As I’ve been working through the section of this post about myself, the dining room of my cafe has started to fill up a little, with a couple (a college-aged woman and an older man) and a group of five construction workers joining me. The energy of the space has changed – the employees snap into “go” mode and take care of business. If nothing else, I appreciate the atmosphere created in this cafe, when it’s empty and full, and wonder about making it a Monday morning routine for me. I want to feel like Coach – coming in for a coffee and a bro hug to start off my week right.

Journal Prompt: What do I need and want out of ED-502?

The first day of class we introduced ourselves, and  I said I was taking Essentials of Qualitative Research in order to get out of taking Biostatistics. That’s not cheap humor – it’s totally true.

I’m pursuing a PhD, in part, because I’m not a fan of complacency, and have pretty much reached the ceiling in terms of what I can do with a Masters Degree in Academia. That’s not to say that I’m a huge fan of Academia, per se… I love learning and teaching, but if I had it my way, I’d let my colleagues do all the research and sit back to reap the rewards of distributing juicy tidbits to the future health professionals of America. My passions lie in the interpretation and communication of information, more so than the gathering of it, which is why I’ve shied away from formal research up to now.

“Data collection of any sort without theoretical guidance is what Foucault called ‘blind empiricism’… Such research yields data, but very little social explanation.”

As I worked my way through the introduction in the Anyon text, so many quotable moments piqued my interest. Generally speaking, reading about the importance of theoretical bases for research makes me perhaps realize why, up to now, I haven’t had much interest in conducting it.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve started to wonder if it’s just the numbers that I don’t care for. I’m enjoying getting lost in these readings, and qualitative data doesn’t seem nearly as daunting (or, frankly, uninteresting) as staring at numbers all day. In my admittedly limited view, I sometimes question the relevance of quantitative data because of its many limitations. With statistical significance comes a host of exceptions, limitations, and a narrow view of who or what this research actually means in the grand scheme… X is true given conditions A, B, and C, but not if L, M N, O, or P is true, and that is all…

When I read an academic paper, what I care most about are the limitations and the discussion section. The “so what” paragraphs that are grounded not in what happened, but what might happen, or what should have happened, are the bits that most appeal to me. Without those paragraphs, researchers might as well be working on assembly lines – managing endless conveyor belts of data that essentially amount to nothing.

And what of the limitations? I like to consider what might have been done to tighten up the methodology, in order to deem it most useful – to make it worth the while. The balance is a delicate one between creating an airtight design that will demonstrate validity and statistical significance without excluding away so much that the study fails to have any relevance.

I’m starting to think that these curiosities are where theory comes in, and since theory is the stuff of qualitative research, I hope to ignite a passion for in this course that will fuel the work ahead. In an effort to quantify performance, previous attempts to define “good” aesthetic performance in dance have equated it with increased lower body power and increased upper body strength. As someone who has seen a lot (a lot) of dance, I know that performance is not really a quantifiable thing. Olympic Weight Lifters have a lot of lower body power and a lot of upper body strength, but there’s something in the essence of a dancer’s performance – her facial expressions, her epaulement, her energy – that can’t be put into numbers. And this is something that I would bet every dancer can attest to. So then why are we trying?

Because scientists like numbers.

And so do grant organizations.

I work among exercise physiologists, kinesiologists, biomechanists – for lack of a better term, “hard” scientists – so I am charged with creating a research protocol that will cater to their need for statistical significance. By having a deep understanding of qualitative research methods, and creating a mixed method protocol, I believe I can effectively convince them that my passions have significance in the statistical and real worlds. Thus, this class in place of Biostatistics.


Journal Prompt: What are my research questions?

My questions tend to cross over a number of categories and disciplines because there isn’t a strong precedence for my area of interest (that I am aware of). Generally speaking, we know that dancers get injured. They experience a high rate of injury when compared to other athletic pursuits, and a relatively high rate of reinjury. Retirement ages are low, and because of the amount of focused attention required to pursue a career in dance, dancers are retiring in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s with few skills or resources to pursue alternative careers. We know that dancers are exceptional athletes, particularly given their relatively poor body composition and levels of cardiovascular conditioning.

Given this, my questions tend to skew toward the following topics:

  1. Training and performance
  2. Injury prevention
  3. The precedent or need for communication between health care providers and employers, and access to providers with expertise in dance
  4. Length and quality of the dancer’s career
  5. The recovery from injury, return to work, and subsequent pre-hab to prevent recurrence of injury

These topics are enhanced and infused by the following stream of consciousness:

  • Why are dancers so frequently injured, and is it injury that causes a shorter career than other athletic pursuits?
  • Dance training in no way mimics the training of other athletes or follows any of the literature regarding strength and conditioning, specificity, and periodization… why not?
  • Why do so many modern/contemporary dancers employ a daily ballet class when it, in no way, mimics the demand of the choreography (ignoring a basic training principle: specificity)
  • How do we define performance in dance? Is performance entwined in aesthetic preferences or is there a way to measure performance with quantitative measures (as we do other athletes)?
  • Assuming company directors (employers) and audience members (vital to sustaining the “industry” of dance) have different ideas about what makes a “good” performance, whose opinion matters more?
  • Does training like an athlete have an impact on aesthetic performance, and if so, is it a positive or negative impact?
  • Does training like an athlete affect the rate, severity, and recurrence of injury, thus (assumedly) improving the length and quality of the dancer’s career?
  • Perhaps most importantly: Is a hundreds years old tradition of dance training able and willing to adopt new practices based on research findings?

Journal prompt: What does the IRB say about human subjects?

While the Internal Review Board (IRB) can be a frustrating, time consuming, tedious body to deal with as a researcher, looking through the eyes of subjects (and the torrid history of human subjects research) helps me gain an understanding as to why standards of ethical practice are so necessary. When I think about the Nazi scientists who performed invasive experiments on unwilling participants, I’m struck by the questions: did these scientists possess any sort of moral compass that caused them to pause for a moment and question what they were doing? At any point, did the humanity of their suffering subjects creep into their minds? Surely not, or it wouldn’t be the stuff of ethics courses everywhere… Did they feel that what they were doing was moral, and just, and in the name of good science (and, ethics aside, I imagine some of it WAS good science)?!?

I imagine that it’s not terribly uncommon to become blinded by our needs and desires for seeking truths that have yet to be discovered. Few would disagree that the experimentation conducted during World War II was atrocious, however, today’s research still contains areas of gray when it comes to “justified” vs. “unjust,” and “right” vs. “wrong.”

I place these words in quotation marks because there is no true North on a moral compass. As an obvious example, some feel that animal experimentation avoids unnecessary and potentially risky research from being conducted on human subjects, while others feel that animals’ inability to give consent deems their use unethical.

I encountered this divide on a much less serious scale several years ago while pursuing my Master’s degree. As part of my project, I developed a survey with the hope of gathering information about dancers and their patterns of injury. This information was then to be used to inform the content of a website intended to serve as a “Web MD” for dancers. Having already been approved by the IRB at my institution, I approached another college about promoting my work in their dance department (something we are lacking at UIC).

Everybody freaked out.

Being a liberal arts college whose focus was not on research, the dance department was concerned that permission to promote my survey would be perceived as an institutional endorsement, by which the students enrolled might feel pressured or obligated to opt-in voluntarily. I was asked to submit another IRB application to their board, delaying the project several months (and, I might add, postponing my graduation by a semester – not that I’m bitter). Standing in front of the review board, I explained that I wanted to distribute postcards and give a promotional blurb in their classes, to which they simply said, “Is that all? Ok.”

The point is, I, the higher ups in that dance department, and both IRBs had differing ideas about the protection of subjects with something as “harmless” as a survey. The Nuremburg Code and the Belmont Report give specific guidelines regarding informed consent, relative levels of risk and grounds for termination regarding scientific exploration, essentially conducting a cost/benefit analysis that errs on the side of caution. However, there are varying degrees of interpretation surrounding those guidelines that is largely decided by the culture and precedent established by the place in which the work is to be conducted.

At UIC we have one of the most stringent IRBs around; I’d rather have the frustration of the IRB any day over a faulty research protocol that potentially places subjects at risk.