Like all athletes, dancers are prone to injuries, and the risk increases among those performing at the elite level. From stress fractures to overuse syndromes, dance injuries have a serious impact on a performer’s current and future ability.
York dance Professor Donna Krasnow first began conducting research after she personally experienced a series of injuries. Now she has become a leading expert in dance science, with numerous articles and publications dedicated to injury prevention, conditioning for dancers, motor learning and motor control, and the psychological aspects of dance injuries.
For three decades, Krasnow has been refining her research into C-I Training (conditioning-with-imagery), a body training system she developed which incorporates conditioning exercises for muscular strength, endurance and flexibility, as well as visualization and imagery work for neuromuscular re-patterning (or movement re-education), alignment work and mind-body connectedness.
She has presented and delivered this system internationally, trains and certifies C-I Training instructors and since 1999 has created and distributed instructional videos for purchase. Through this work, she has helped thousands of dancers with injury prevention, appropriate warm-up procedures and improved training practices.
Left: Co-authors Jordana Deveau (left) and Donna Krasnow sign books at the launch
Krasnow’s latest publication, co-authored with dancer, choreographer and certified C-I Training instructor Jordana Deveau, presents her established C-I Training system in book form. Conditioning with Imagery for Dancers (Thompson Educational Publishing, 2010) was launched recently at Toronto’s 509 Dance Studio, home of the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.
“While the videos and C-I Training classes are ideal for practice and training, many people asked for a more in-depth explanation of the science and the underlying principles on which I built the system,” says Krasnow. “The book is an ideal resource for any performer who is looking for a deeper and richer understanding of how to use C-I Training in her own practice or with dance students.”
The training section of the book includes over 300 photos of dancers executing the C-I Training exercises, with detailed explanations of the posture and movement as well as coaching suggestions on how to optimize the exercise. Details of common postural problems and muscle imbalances, and diagrams of skeletal and muscular systems, are also included to help readers spot potential areas of improvement in themselves or their students.
Right: From left, research collaborators University of Toronto Professor Lynda Mainwaring, Donna Krasnow, chair of York Department of Dance Claire Wootten and Keith Thompson, president of Thompson Educational Publishing
Theories in motor control suggest that voluntary movement (like reaching for a book) is controlled by conscious areas of the brain, while involuntary movement (heartbeats, reflexes etc.) is of the non-conscious domain. Dynamic body alignment, a primary injury prevention consideration, is predominately involuntary and making improvements to one’s alignment is a gradual process that relies not only on muscle conditioning but also on retraining one’s non-conscious motor patterns. Krasnow’s approach was one of the earlier systems to blend both the conditioning and the imagery simultaneously in a holistic approach for maximum benefit and more rapid change.
An example of the holistic treatment for a dancer with a pelvis in anterior tilt, sometimes called swayback: “The conditioning approach would be to stretch the hip flexors and low back extensor muscles and strengthen the abdominals,” says Krasnow. “To add imagery to that could be to encourage the dancer to think of her pelvis as a bowl of water. Currently the water would be spilling out of the front, so she needs to imagine shifting the bowl to stop that spillage. Working with this image can enhance the exercises and speed her re-alignment.”
Right: York alumna Meredith Thompson (BFA Spec. Hon. ’00, BEd ’00) illustrates proper CI-Training technique. Photo by Gary Ray Rush.
She has a standard response for performers in her dance sciences classes at York who doubt the power of working with images. “There are many of you who have been stretching and strengthening for years. Let me ask you, has this corrected your alignment? You can have your body in the proper condition with good muscle balance, but if your brain doesn’t know how to recruit and release the muscles, you are no closer to your goal.”
Krasnow joined the Department of Dance in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 1987. She teaches modern dance based in Limón technique, composition/choreography, conditioning for dancers, dance kinesiology, prevention of dance injuries, motor learning for dance and repertory. She received York University’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002 in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the classroom and studio.
She holds a master’s of science degree with a focus in motor control from the University of Oregon, where she was the recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Research Award, and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Wolverhampton in Birmingham, England.
Her doctoral studies involve research into how dancers’ bodies move when doing a grande battement devant, a high forward kick, in three situations: at the ballet barre, free-standing and travelling through space. Using EMG (testing the electrical activity of muscles) and kinematic (bio mechanical study of motion) data, she hopes to prove that muscle use and movement biomechanics for that one particular move are surprisingly different in each situation. Krasnow hopes these insights will spark important changes in dance class structure and rehabilitation for lower leg injuries.
Krasnow’s articles have been published in Medical Problems of Performing Artists; Journal of Dance Medicine & Science; Impulse: the International Journal of Dance Science, Medicine, and Education; Journal of Dance Education; Bulletin of Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences; Médecine des Arts; and Dance Research Journal.