On Conferences and Free Agency

The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) conducted its 25th annual meeting this weekend in Pittsburgh, rejoicing a quarter century of research and scholarship in a field that, prior to IADMS, had little support or visibility.

To be honest, I don’t know how much support or visibility dance science has today beyond the individuals who are passionate about it, plus, conferences are kind of weird, but that’s not exactly the point of this post.

The net result (for me) of most professional conferences is a laundry list of things I can and should do better, and a chance to engage IRL with people I’ve only read about or seen on the Internet. Being one of those people who is passionate about dance science, a gathering of this magnitude is intensely exciting and energizing. Continue reading


Reactions to Action Plans (Part II)

Being a blogger, I’m always hesitant to make posts that are really long, but, I also mentioned in the previous post on action plans that I had to make two.

Before I do that, let me substantiate my claim that the first action plan was so totally awesome. Though simple, the structure of the lab session I created on coaching exercise technique was hugely beneficial to the students (they *should* corroborate that).

More than just observations on how they are coaching, a secondary objective of the session was to learn how to GIVE feedback, not just how to receive it. This is an invaluable skill they will need when working with clients. We discussed how negative feedback is better when sandwiched between compliments, and how best to deliver criticism.

The incessant feedback loop in KN-240 is really critical to its success. Students are continually evaluated and re-evaluated, and the addition of peer feedback is a new element I haven’t played with until now. From what I can tell, it can only benefit the students to observe and reflect on one another, rather than always having a top-down approach.

My second action plan was designed for EXCM-201 Physiology of Exercise as a way to better execute data analysis and reporting in their lab write-ups.  This particular template aligns more closely with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy:


You can think of this as loosely relating to college levels as Remember = 100, Understand = 200, and so on and so forth.

Before I reflect on how it went, here’s the plan:

Class: EXCM-201

Improvement Goal: Increase student engagement to work toward mastery of practical skills, data analysis, and reporting of data in lab write-ups


This class will revisit Lab Report #1 and identify areas of opportunity in which improvements can be made. Refinement of lab reports will result in students being awarded poinst back (up to half of those missed in round 1).

Content Focus:

This class reintroduces measurement of energy expenditure, as well as fundamentals of scientific writing, CMS formatting and citations, formulas and charts in Microsoft Excel, manipulation and analysis of group data. 

Student Learning Outcomes (SLO):


Taxonomy Level

Lecture Objective: Students will be able to:



  •  Articulate understanding of measurement of energy expenditure
  • Demonstrate detail-oriented focus toward lab write-up guidelines



  •  Effectively and accurately synthesize, analyze and report data to articulate the “so what” underneath it.
  • Utilize provided resources and deductive reasoning to seek answers to questions they don’t know or understand.



  •  Develop strategies for more effective data collection and storage in future labs to facilitate lab write-ups

Key Words: Articulate, demonstrate, synthesize, analyze, utilize, develop strategies

Class Outline (verbs, adjectives, nouns) (ILO):

  1. Review general notes pertaining to lab reports applicable to the whole class

  2. Divide the room into quadrants and ask students to identify areas of greatest need

    1. Excel – formulas, tables and charts

    2. CMS – formatting and citations

    3. Math – calculations and interpretation of solutions

    4. Writing skills

  3. Give each group 15-20 minutes to work together to resolve issues of concern and confusion

  4. Report discoveries and remaining questions back to whole group

Class Learning Assessment (CLA):

Students will work independently to revise lab report 1 and receive points back for any improvements up to half the total points missed.

Achieved my goal                  
Somewhat achieved my goal              
More work to get close to my goal  √ 


I REALLY liked this lesson plan, but it had quite a different result than I expected… mainly because I didn’t get the opportunity to execute it. I had this planned for after the students took an exam, and the amount of time spent on the exam varied among students by over an hour. In an effort to not keep students waiting that long, I ended up giving whispered verbal feedback individually and outlining my comments in a shared document for them to review later. That’s fine, but not at all what I had hoped for.

It became clear to me through reading their reports that this particular group of students needs instruction in the basics of using Excel and scientific writing. When I assigned the report I made an assumption that they had a skill set they don’t actually have.

Old Lauren would have thrown up her hands and typed out a philosophical manifesto on the degradation of high school education and the unpreparedness of students and how it’s not my job to teach them these things.

New Lauren thinks: why not? Somebody should take the time to teach them, and it might as well be me. I’m not super awesome at endocrinology, but I can use Excel like a ninja. I’ve been trying to figure out where my value lies within this particular classroom, and I may just have found it.

So, while I didn’t get to do this lesson exactly how or when I planned it, it’s still worth doing at some point during the semester.

Reactions to Action Plans

Forgive me if this sounds arrogant, but teaching action-oriented classes comes naturally to me.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

My first semester as a doc student was all about qualitative research, and it kind of changed my world. When I glanced at the schedule of spring classes, nothing seemed to really “fit.” So, this semester is a whole different ball game. I’m taking a course on college teaching through the Graduate College, which is proving more beneficial for my job than for my journey as a student, but I’m not gonna lie – the timing couldn’t have been better. I’m experiencing a bit of a lull after a number of disappointing experiences dealing with students in the past two semesters, and the process of reflecting on my teaching has been totally cathartic.

The past two weeks, we’ve been charged with creating lesson plans designed to maximize student engagement. Honestly, I sat and stared at a blank sheet of paper… for quite awhile…

The thing is, I don’t really have a lot of practice with making formal lesson plans.


Sometimes grad students have homework, too.

I mean, I make lesson plans, which typically consists of a post-it tucked into my grade book. That makes me sound like a horrible teacher. I plan – I promise – I just haven’t been, to date, that teacher who has stated goals, objectives, and measures of assessment planned for each class period. I’d like to think that’s because it comes naturally…. and, because I’ve learned a lot through trial and error what works and what definitely doesn’t.

This task takes me back to the days when I used to design ballet classes. Every component mapped and beautifully planned. Pedagogical methodology behind every decision I made. Damn, I was good in those days (if I may say so). And what is action-oriented learning if not the stuff of dance classes? I am continually amazed at the transfer of skills from teaching three-year old creative movement classes to teaching college.

We’ve created two lesson plans in as many weeks, and it’s been really interesting to implement a strongly designed lesson plan. In this first example, I developed a new lab for my students in KN-240 Instructional Techniques in Fitness.

Class: KN-240
Level: 200
Duration: 110 minutes
Resources: Weight room equipment, white board, student notebooks

Student learning outcomes (SLOs): Always state what the students in your class will achieve because of their engagement in your class

  1. Students will gain practical experience watching, doing, and leading one-on-one exercise instruction.

  2. Students will evaluate trainer effectiveness through peer-driven feedback, instructor feedback, and group reflections

Instructional objectives (IOs): State the things you will do as a teacher to help students achieve the intended learning. In other words, what will you do to get the outcomes you desire?

  1. Instructor will divide class into groups of four at random, and each group will select roles as the trainer, client, or observers.

  2. Working in these roles, the trainer will conduct an interview of the client to establish goals and needs, executing a mini-workout session of three exercises from a pre-selected list.

  3. Observers will share peer-to-peer feedback within groups before switching roles, and the cycle is completed three more times.

  4. Convene as a whole class to share observations and reflections.

Class pre-work: State what students should have prepared (you too) to engage in this class.

  1. Students should have reviewed chapters on communication and exercise coaching technique.

  2. Supplementary technique clinics have been offered

Student Engagement Techniques (SETs):

  1. Instructor, TA, and UTA will circulate the group probing the observers on what they see.

  2. Instructors will witness peer feedback sessions and supplement where necessary

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

  1. Verbal feedback from Instructors

  2. Peer feedback

  3. In-class evaluation of coaching technique (in a later class)

The verdict? A rousing success

Journal prompt: To Code, or not to Code?

I was surprised to find that I have an affinity for coding.

Maybe this is a wrong use of a tool, but I ended up downloading a free trial of Atlas.ti and using it to help me weed through the literature review for my research proposal. I figured, if I can use this thing to organize my own data, why can’t I use it to code organize others’ data too?

A couple weeks later, I’m at capacity with what I can do with the trial version… and I want more… so I’m seriously considering investing in this thing. Can anyone say educational tax deduction?!?

Anyway, I didn’t expect to be “a coder…” Prof. Webb says there are coders, and there are not-coders, and whether or not you do it depends on your theoretical orientation, the types of data you collect, and the nature of your research question. Sure, but I also think it has to do with how your brain works. My brain likes to collect things in bins, and coding works well for that. As I started to navigate my research proposal I was getting really (really) confused, and taking a few steps backward – going back through the literature with a more deliberate approach while looking for codes really helped me to figure out what the heck was going on.

So I guess I’m a coder. And honestly, my whole research proposal is sort of about looking for “codes,” in trying to find what really matters when it comes to dance performance. As I sifted through the literature for the… fourth?… time, I coded en vivo the qualities that were cited in different models, and then looked for similarities to group those en vivos together under an umbrella term (that is, until the trial version wouldn’t let me create any new codes and still save the project… but that’s fine for now, provided my computer doesn’t crash).

In reading and coding Prof. Webb’s interview transcripts as a class exercise, I found this coding activity slightly more challenging, perhaps (as we discussed in class) because I am not as “intimately connected” with that data. This is an important lesson to learn, because someday when I’m a famous dance researcher I will be in a position to hire individuals to help with data coding and analysis, and they won’t be as “intimately connected” with my data. While I could be tempted to respond to that struggle with, “Huh? How could you not think this is important? You mean, you don’t know anything about dance?” The likelihood of that being a worthwhile approach to the problem is slim to none.

Journal Prompt: The Instrument

In preparation for my research protocol, I’ve identified that I want to combine interviews (what people say happens, with direct observation (what actually happens). We are charged in this journal entry with creating the instrument, and since I intend to use free listing and a pile sort in my interview protocols, I suppose now is as good a time as any to figure out what that looks like.

Here’s my plan:

Interview 1: “Hey there, dancer person, today I’m going to ask you to complete a ‘free listing exercise,’ in an attempt to identify qualities that make up good dance performance. What that means is, you can use this sheet of paper to write whatever comes to mind when you hear the phrase, ‘good dance performance.’ I’m going to leave the room to give you some privacy, and I’ll come back in 5 minutes. After you’ve finished, I might ask for clarification on some of the items that you’ve listed, so that I can understand what you mean. Does that sound alright?”

From this data, I will create a scree plot to identify the attributes that occur most, and visualize those attributes through photos taken of the company being observed. These photos will be used for Interview 2.

Interview 2: “Hey there, dancer person, today we’ve identified some recurring attributes based on an analysis of the free listing you and your colleagues performed a few months ago. For this interview, I’ve created some photos based on those attributes, and I’d like to ask you to look at the photos, and arrange them into categories. You can place the photos into piles however you want – based on how you think they should be organized. I’m going to give you a few minutes to complete this activity, and when I return I’d like to ask you some questions about why you categorized the cards the way you did. Does that sound alright?”

From this data, I will conduct a cluster analysis based on the categories selected and compare them across dancers, genders, role within the company, and between the two companies. This will then be compared across studies who have developed models through different theoretical lenses. 

For example, if a dancer has six photos, he/she could categorize them as such:

  • Pile 1: Pictures 1, 4 and 5
  • Pile 2: Picture 6
  • Pile 3: Pictures 2 and 3

I then ask why they’ve categorized them this way. The dancer might say something like, “1, 4, and 5 appear to have really beautiful lines, 6 has amazing feet, and 2 and 3 look really confident and powerful.”

Ok, great. So then, sort of like the NBA playoffs, I narrow those attributes to line, physical characteristics (feet), confidence/power, assuming that, according to this person, those are the things that matter in good dance performance. When I compare those things with the attributes identified by other people at that dance company, and across companies and existing models, well, minds could be blown.

When I read this chapter in the book, it all seemed a bit quantitative-y to me, but really it’s not – I’m still dealing with words here, and feelings and associations. I find this to be of utter importance when it comes to answering the question of how to measure performance, because ultimately, dance, or any artform for that matter, is about dialogue, and interpretation, and perceptions of the world around us. What can p values and chi squares tell me about that?


Epistemology: The theoretical framework behind the knowing of things (i.e., how I know what I know, you know?)

In order to frame my research proposal, a number of key assumptions and theoretical stances must be stated, the first of which is that defining performance is both possible and necessary. If one believes that aesthetic beauty associated with other artistic mediums exists, then one might suppose that this characteristic is transferrable to dance, despite its highly ephemeral nature (i.e. unless captured on video, dance performances exist only in memory).

Furthermore, aesthetic beauty and high-level performance do not always go together, especially where contemporary and avant-garde dance forms are concerned. It then follows that determination of a “good” or “bad” performance must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and is likely to vary from viewer to viewer. As such, this study proposed a purposive sampling model, free from any presumed generalizability.

In week 9, we are asked to think about our research interests, research questions and the research proposal we plan to submit, developing a sampling plan that will allow me to generate the population I want to investigate.  

After experiencing a degree of anguish over sampling, I realized a really convenient theoretical perspective of my research proposal:

Generalizability, when it comes to dance performance, is probably not possible.

Nor is it particularly necessary.

Khecari's Oubliette, a grotesque dance quartet performed in a small box. photo credit: Ryan Bourque

Khecari’s Oubliette, a grotesque dance quartet performed in a small box. photo credit: Ryan Bourque

When it comes to an individual’s perceptions of art, characteristics such as aesthetic beauty, technical difficulty, and expressivity are in the eyes of the beholder. Good dance doesn’t have to be pretty, nor does it have to be technically hard or particularly expressive. When I review dance shows, the question of good and bad often comes down to a feeling in my gut, and sometimes my gut surprises me.

So then, if qualitative aspects of dance aren’t generalizable and don’t, ultimately, contribute to overall notions of performance, why am I bothering to try and identify a scale of performance? Well, because I said so….

But really, it I think about the quality of a dancer’s performance with respect to other dancers in a particular company, or two different dance companies performing the same work, or choosing which dance show to see on any given weekend, perceptions of what’s “good” DO matter, to the dancer, her employers, and the audience members who go to see her shows. Perceptions of what makes a performance good or bad is what keeps the business and industry of dance afloat. So, money, really.

As such, I’m proposing a purposive sampling strategy that consists of two local dance companies: one ballet company and one modern/contemporary company. They should be similar in budget, number of dancers, number of annual productions, etc., but they are divided due to the fact that these two factions of concert dance, though the dancers may train similarly,* share little in terms of a desired aesthetic and/or end product. They will be in the same location, with equal access to potential patrons, advertising, and funding opportunities.

Though gender won’t necessarily matter in terms of a particular sample’s perceptions of dance performance, it could, as could the role an individual plays within the company. Men and women differ in the types of movements and roles they portray, and they respond differently to training stimuli. Therefore, groups will be stratified into samples that are controlled by gender, role, and genre of dance. So let me summarize:

All data will be collected in two big lumps, the ballet people, and the contemporary people. Further, we might subdivide the data for cross-tabulation into the following categories:

  • Ballet: men dancers
  • Ballet: women dancers
  • Ballet: men directors
  • Ballet: women directors (if we can find one)
  • Ballet: men choreographers
  • Ballet: women choreographers
  • Contemporary: men dancers
  • Contemporary: women dancers
  • Contemporary: men directors
  • Contemporary: women directors (if we can find one)
  • Contemporary: men choreographers
  • Contemporary: women choreographers

Ideally, each group consists of at least 4-5 individuals, but as each company is likely to have only one artistic director and a small handful of choreographers, it is likely there will be greater representation in the dancer groups.

You may have the curiosity: what distinguishes between directors and choreographers? Sometimes they are one in the same, particularly in small companies, however larger companies often bring in choreographers from outside the company, even from different regions of the country or the world. These individuals bring with them a different set of criteria for “good” and “bad” dance, and variable viewings of dance and past experiences.

I am fortunate in my connections within the Chicago dance community that I already have my eyes on two companies with which I can imagine conducting this study. Is there such a thing as a “purposive convenience sample?”


Journal Prompt: Writing Fieldnotes


Class jottings of the film “Rabbit Proof Fence”

As a class assignment we were charged with attempting participant observation. In other words, we were enacting the role of an ethnographer in the field and asked to submerge ourselves into a scenario, and record our observations. I happened to choose the Great Chicago Fire Festival, and in considering my experience after the fact, a number of observations come to light:

1. I am either ill equipped at participant observation or ill equipped at selecting an appropriate venue for participant observation.

Ultimately, the Fire Festival was too broad a venue to grab any level of detail, and as an observer I had to pick my observational battles. I had to either filter out the noise and focus in on pinpoints in the mass of visual data, or scan broadly for a general sense of what’s going on. Most of the time, I opted for the latter. The result was a descriptive field note that’s not particularly descriptive.

I deliberately chose to enter the scene without a notebook, in part because I am very comfortable with jottings and in part because I didn’t want to stand out. In a crowd of thousands upon thousands, it’s unlikely that “standing out” would have been an issues, and in hindsight I really regret not bringing a notebook into the crowd. Had I done so I might have managed to capture the evening in more detail, and work in the more “human moments” that I experienced as a participant.

2. People, in general, have little patience for the mundane.

When thousands of people turn up on a cold night for a grand spectacle, they expect to get one. We can’t know what really caused the festival to flop – whether it was Mother Nature, negligence, lack of planning, or something altogether completely out of their control, Redmoon made a promise it wasn’t able to keep.

One only really gets one chance to make a first impression and I fear that despite all the good intentions, all the preparation, and an otherwise pretty good experience, the festival’s inability to make a big, impressive fire ball on the river might have screwed its chances of ever attempting it again.

The next day, social media was aghast; with everyone bashing Redmoon, the city, the mayor, or whomever could possibly be to blame. The spectacle, apparently, was in the aftermath rather than the festival itself. So, one could call it the grandest of failures.

On the other hand, its a well-known platitude in the arts that bad press is good press, and the day after the fire flop Redmoon was the topic of nearly every conversation in Chicago (a slight exaggeration, no doubt). So in that regard, it might be said that, fire or no fire, the Great Chicago Fire Festival was the epitome of success for a small, relatively unknown theater company in Pilsen with a knack for pageantry.

Reflection: The above are examples of two types of fieldnotes. Number 1 represents a methodological fieldnote, in which the researcher describes his/her methods in documenting a scene, and take-away points from the perspective of the researcher as the instrument. Number 2 is an example of an analytic fieldnote, in which the researcher synthesizes what has been observed to draw theoretical conclusions. The third type of fieldnote, descriptive, is detailed in the previous post. I was quite satisfied with the result and did not feel the need to rehash it here.
Personally, I found it much more comfortable to write in the realm of methodological and analytical fieldnotes than descriptive. But this is true of everything I write. In truth, I’ve been criticized for not providing enough real-time description of what occurs onstage at a dance performance, but I so prefer to dive deep into what it all means in the greater context of Dance (capital D).
Ultimately, though, I see the value in descriptive fieldnotes, no matter how mundane they may be, and the need to “get it all down” on the page. As a real anecdote, recently I happened to lose recordings from three interviews, and found it so difficult to create an article with no direct quotes to rely on for substance. The ability to say exactly what happened, is, I suppose, invaluable, particularly when the researcher is an ambassador to entire cultures and regions of the world that are yet to be described to the “mainstream.”
It goes without saying, however, that description with no analysis or reflexivity is futile.

Journal Prompt: An attempt at participant observation

The Great Chicago Fire Festival

It was a chilly walk from dinner to the river front downtown for the first Great Chicago Fire Festival. Many other pedestrians were on the sidewalks, and we all seemed to be walking in the same general direction, though perhaps not entirely knowing where we were going. As I approached the river front the sidewalks became more and more congested. I turned onto Wacker Drive and in walking from State Street east to Wabash the walk way completely filled up. A few vendors were positioned on the sidewalk selling arts, craft, and food items. Each stall had a placard above it indicating representation from select neighborhoods around the city. 

I arrived a few minutes before 8pm, and people were crammed against the ledge on all three tiers of the river walk. There were wooden houses floating in the river lit in pink and purple. They were meant to represent the style of house that filled Chicago in 1871. I couldn’t see the houses well; every once in awhile a head would shift to the side and I’d catch a glimpse, but I was about 8 people deep from the edge of the middle tier, and it seemed like as good a spot as any. People were standing on the ledge, kids perched on their parents’ shoulders, iphones extended into the air to see an obstructed view of something we all thought to come downtown and see live.

What I DID have a view of was a shiny city skyline and people watching from the windows of Trump Tower on the other side of the river. The friends I had come with made jokes about the label across the mid-section of Trump Tower:

“What if the Trump sign sets on fire?” said Gretchen

“or there’s an electrical failure and the sign just turns off” said Philip (perhaps shadowing things to come).

“I’d prefer if just the ‘T’ turned off,” I said, eluding to the humor of Trump tower becoming “rump” tower.

The jokes would continue into the night. Philip often held up his iphone so we could get a view, but nothing seemed to be happening and he’d put his arms down, indicating they were tired. People around us started to leave at about 8:30pm, and we theorized that this was a test of endurance. As three groups left, the mass would shove forward to get six inches closer to a still-obstructed view.

An announcement came over the crowd, stating all of the sponsors and giving an overview of the history of the Great Chicago Fire.

(Paraphrasing) “It was 1871, the driest summer ever in Chicago. The whole city was dusty and dry.” and then some more sponsors. From the screen of Philip’s iphone, I observed some little boats with cauldrons of fire and men in old fashioned firemen uniforms circling the wooden house structure in the middle of the river. A torch lit the house, and it went up in flames….

and then pretty quickly fizzled out.

Nothing happened for about thirty minutes, when the same voice came over the loud speaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are having some technical problems and we are switching to manual ignition. Thank you for your patience, and hang tight…. it’s gonna be huge!” His voice grew in intensity, although the crowd had already begun to disperse a bit, and those who remained were growing increasingly sarcastic in their comments. This loud speaker announcement didn’t pan out either, as a second attempt to light the house on fire was less successful than the first. Being cold and feeling snarky, I opted to leave at this point and skip the conclusion of what was promised to be a “grand spectacle.”

(It’s incredibly unfortunate that the Great Chicago Fire Festival was a pretty great failure. I have interviewed a few people at Redmoon in the past, they are brilliant, and certainly capable of putting on a spectacle. But, why would anyone think we could recreate an event that only resulted from perfect conditions? The houses and cauldrons sat out in the river, uncovered, for at least a week prior to the event. It’s been cold and rainy, and anyone who’s attempted to start a fire with cold wet wood knows how that goes. This was a chance for Redmoon to propel it’s name into the limelight, and some are now saying the whole event is a laughing stock. I was pleasantly astounded by the huge turnout… reporters said that the crowd exceeded the expected 30,000 people. The intention was for this to be an annual event – called the next Mardi Gras. I doubt that to be the case after this showing…)

Journal Prompt: What is already known?

I thought that a method of scaling aesthetic performance in dance didn’t exist.


An assignment to search the literature regarding my research questions couldn’t come at a better time, for in less than two weeks’ time I’ll be overseas presenting my survey research (slow, big gulp).

Anyway. On to the business of defining performance.

Krasnow & Chatfield (2009) state that there is a “lack of dance studies examining the effects of technical and training variables on performance quality,” and “until researchers design effective ways of evaluating changes in performance, such studies are not possible.” I couldn’t agree more.

Krasnow & Chatfield developed such an evaluative tool called the Performance Competence Evaluation Measure (PCEM). Subjects were videotaped performing the same dance combination eight weeks apart, judged by members of the professional dance community to establish reliability for their theoretical framework, based from three previously published studies (as of 2009) attempting to define performance. Chatfield & Byrnes (1990) created the Aesthetic Competence Evaluation (ACE) using concepts from somatics such as space/time/energy, phrasing, and presence.  Parrott (1993) built a scale based on the Federation for International Gymnastics Code of Points, focusing on alignment, clarity of movement intention, precision of movement, expressivity of the body, and musicality, but her scale demonstrated a low inter-rater reliability coefficient. Koutedakis and colleagues (2007) created a more contemporary model: a schmorgasbord system devised from various sports including gymnastics and figure skating. The scale incorporates posture and alignment, use and articulation of upper body and arms, use and articulation of lower body and feet, total body coordination, and presentation of movement.

Perhaps before we broach the subject of assessing performance, we must first define it. Easier said than done, but in this particular study Krasnow & Chatfield conduct a review of the literature, citing slightly different interpretations of dance performance from Chmelar & Fitt (1991/1992) and Chatfield & Byrnes. These two studies differentiated between dance technique and qualitative elements of dance, which together are assumed to make up “performance.” As to be expected, dance technique was defined as the “physical range of motion, explosive physical capability, endurance capability, dance-specific movement skill,” and a sort of neurological panache by which certain rhythmic or highly coordinated skills are mastered. The qualitative element of dance was connected to “movement flow, kinesthetic communication, rhythmic precision, spatial integrity, range of expression, and individuality” by Krasnow & Chatfield, and “range of vocabulary and skills, use of space/time/energy, phrasing, presence, concentration, and performance sense” by Chatfield & Byrnes. The authors also cite Pokora (1988), who added “dramatic range and the ability to adapt to various styles” to the mix as performance qualities. This addition lends itself to a SYTYCD interpretation of defining excellence in dance… that the dancer can no longer excel at one specific style of dance, but instead must be able to do it all!

The PCEM drew concepts from Bartinieff Fundamentals and the work of Rudolf Laban on defining movement quality based on effort and shape, and expanded on the ACE model created by Chatfield & Byrnes (how convenient that Chatfield is an author on both papers…). The scale divided qualitative performance into four categories:

  1. Full body involvement in movement
  2. Body integration and connectedness in movement
  3. Articulation of joints and body segments
  4. Movement skills in dance

Each dancer (assumed to have some degree of training) is scored between level I and III for each category, and, this particular scale boasts a strikingly high intra- and inter-reliability coefficient (0.95 and 0.94 respectively on the composite score).

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Dancers can (probably) all agree on certain qualities that align with “good” or “bad” performance, but what about audience members – people with an untrained eye who tend to think most things are amazing? What would happen if we used them as judges, and what would those results imply?

And, how do choreography and production value factor into this? Krasnow & Chatfield used rehearsal video of students in a studio, but there’s a difference between good dancers doing bad choreography, bad dancers performing in a show with good production value (fancy lights, costumes, etc), and so on, and so forth. How do we scale these things in our interpretation of performance?

It seems that the objective in these studies is objectivity when it comes to defining performance, but I’m finding these qualitative scales mundane and laborious in their effort to capture something so fleeting and, in many ways, utterly subjective. Perhaps because of this I’m finding myself drawn to a qualitative analysis of qualitative performance elements. I imagine a situation where the dancer is treated as an indigenous culture to be understood, and captured through something other than charts and graphs, but rather participant observation and ethnography. In the same way that quantitative analysis may never fully capture identity, I wonder at its ability to truly define performance.


  1. Chatfield, S. J. & Byrnes, W. C. (1990) Correlational analysis of aesthetic competency, skill acquisition and physiologic capabilities of modern dancers. 5th Hong Kong International Dance Conference Papers, 79-100.
  2. Chmelar, R. & Fitt, S. (1991/1992). Conditioning for dance: the art of the science. Kinesiol Med Dance, 14(1):78- 94.
  3. Krasnow, D. & Chatfield, S. J. (2009). Development of the “performance competence evaluation measure” Assessing qualitative aspects of dance performance. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 13(4), 101-107.
  4. Parrott, A. A. (1993). The effects of Pilâtes technique and aerobic conditioning on dancers’ technique and aesthetic. Kinesiol Med Dance, 15(2) :45- 20. 64.
  5. Pokora, S. L. (1988). An investigation of imaging as a facilitator for the development of the dancer. Masters Abstracts International, 27(3), 318.

Journal Prompt: Week five (and an attempt at a research protocol)

One of our prompts this week reads:

  • Do you see yourself as a qualitative researcher?  Why or why not?

Totally! I’ve been thinking a lot about this, actually, and there are moments cushioned between total freak-outs when I think that qualitative research might be the answer to all my problems.

I’ve been struggling to define myself as a researcher, thinking of it as something I have to do. Qualitative research seems a better fit with my budding theoretical perspectives, writing style, and general approach to investigating a query. As a matter of fact, I submitted a proposal a few days ago purporting myself as a qualitative researcher, and it felt pretty damn good. In repeating it here, perhaps it will reveal the things I’ve learned (having absolutely no previous experience with qualitative research), and things I still desire to learn.

Professional dancers are inundated with physical, psychological and financial stress. Stress contributes to a high incidence of injury and burnout, negatively impacting overall performance (1). Increasingly, the trend is to view dancers as athletes, requiring intentional training and continual care to thrive. Previous studies recognized the high frequency of dancer injury, and importance of continuing research on injury prevention and treatment (2).


A study of hip-hop dancers indicated that health care practitioners should be wary of the seriousness of dance injuries (3). A preliminary analysis of ongoing exploratory survey research gathering self-reported profiles on dancers indicates an overwhelming majority of participants (94%, n = 387) have experienced dance-related injuries, with 21% having more than 5 serious injuries throughout their careers (4). Despite research indicating that dancers are not fit enough to meet the demands of their occupation (5), and evidence that strength training can improve dancers’ performance (6,7), access to personal training or strength and conditioning programs through their dance companies (4).


Utilizing preventive teaching and training methods that replicate evidence-based practices in sport, implementation of complementary resistance training programs may be an effective pre-habilitation method for professional dancers, thus reducing injury rates and improving performance. The question of how to define “performance,” however, remains an ambiguous one. Models borrowed from sport have failed to recognize aesthetic aspects of dance, and the dance community has yet to embrace strength training modalities, perhaps due to stereotypes that it will cause a decline in dancers’ elegance and grace.


The goal of this proposed study is to develop a qualitative assessment for measuring degrees of aesthetic performance in professional concert dancers. In an effort to establish a method of scaling performance that incorporates both the technical and aesthetic aspects of dance, qualitative approaches including targeted interviews and participant observation of dancers and company directors will be utilized in rehearsal and performance settings. By partnering with a small professional dance company and documenting field notes on everything from auditions to the final curtain call, this study will approach the work as an anthropologist might, working toward a universal theory on qualitative aspects of professional dance performance. Concurrent physiological data collected on the dancers such as fitness outcomes such as blood pressure, muscular fitness, body composition, fatigue and injury status, as well as technical standards of toe point, range of motion, line, etc., will aim to establish patterns of physical criteria correlating with the yet to be defined, “je ne sais quoi” inherent in the performing arts. This qualitative assessment will be compared with existing models, and used in future research to measure the effects of strength and conditioning on dance performance and injury prevention.

This looks quite different from the data I thought I’d be collecting, and ultimately, I think that alone shows the learning curve I’m on. After submitting this proposal, I ran it by a colleague with expertise in dance from a quantitative perspective, and he made a bunch of suggestions, which immediately made me doubt myself. Needless to say, getting feedback is a good thing, and this version of the protocol is improved over the one I submitted, and I’m pretty sure I can do this without money anyway.


  1. Grove, J. R., Main, L. C. & Sharp, L. (2013). Stressors, recovery processes, and manifestations of training distress in dance. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 17(2), 70-78.
  2. Russell, J. A. (2013). Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives. Open access journal of sports medicine, 4, 199-210.
  3. Ojofeitimi, S., Bronner, S., & Woo, H. (2010). Injury incidence in hip hop dance. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 22(3), 347-355
  4. Warnecke, L., Doyle, M., Coumbe-Lilley, J. E. (2013). Dancer injury, rehabilitation, and the return to work. Unpublished data.
  5. Rafferty, S. (2010). Considerations for integrating fitness into dance training. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 14(2), 45-49.
  6. Stalder, M. A., Noble, B. J., & Wilkinson, J. G. (1990). The Effects of Supplemental Weight Training for Ballet Dancers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 3.
  7. Koutedakis, Y., Hukam, H., Metsios, G., Nevill, A., Giakas, G., Jamurtas, A., & Myszkewycz, L. (2007). The effects of three months of aerobic and strength training on selected performance- and fitness-related parameters in modern dance students. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(3), 808-812.