Dancing into the Sciences
UI student combines passion with research
When lifelong dancer Lauren Smith was first applying to colleges, choosing a school with a dance program was a must. She was drawn to the University of Idaho because it offered a Bachelor of Science in dance. That had Smith sold, and she moved from Coeur d’Alene to Moscow to find her new home in U of I’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences as a double major in dance and exercise science.
“I love that both my programs are in the same department,” says the 22-year-old, “because typically dance is a Bachelor of Arts, but here it’s a Bachelor of Sciences.”
UI’s dance program requires students to take classes on topics like anatomy, biomechanics and motor behavior, making it stand out from many other programs in the country.
Mostafa Hegazy, a faculty member in the Department of Movement Sciences, first approached Smith in the spring of 2015 about conducting a research study after Smith was vocal about the differences in movement between dancers and other athletes during his motor behavior lectures.
“I was raising my hand almost every day in his motor behavior class, saying things like ‘That doesn’t apply for dancers!’ and Mostafa was very interested in that idea,” Smith says, laughing.
Together, Smith and Hegazy came up with a study that they hoped would be useful for a range of people, not just dancers.
“We really wanted to find a way to make it relevant to both the dancer and non-dancer populations,” says Smith.
The study, which they conducted on volunteer dancers and other athletes, focused on the differences in vertical jumping and landing between the two groups as well as comparing differences between two different landing styles.
During the research process, Smith and Hegazy measured participants’ height and weight and covered their lower body joints with spherical markers that would track their movements. For the first part of the study, they measured each participants’ maximum vertical jump. They then used that height to determine three different heights for a bar that hung over two side-by-side force plates.
These force plates allowed the researchers to collect data on loading rates and ground force reactions each time a participant jumped. Loading rate refers to the speed at which you apply forces to the body, and ground force reaction is a measure of the pressure exerted on the body when it comes back in contact with the ground.
Participants alternated between vertical jumps and a drop from the bar onto the force plates so that researchers could compare the jump landing and the drop landing.
Other variables Smith took into consideration were the differences between the left and right sides of participants’ bodies.
After collecting data from all participants, Smith and Hegazy analyzed their results.
“We found that dancers were able to reduce their loading rates and adjust more easily to the novel exercise of dropping from a bar,” she says. “Dancers also were able to manage differences between legs better, as well as decrease their overall ground reaction force when body weight is taken into consideration.”
After their research was compiled, Smith and Hegazy submitted it at a conference in fall 2015.
“I first presented this study at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science conference, which was a really fun experience,” Smith says. “There were a lot of people with higher education degrees there, so having a poster presentation was a good way to ease into presenting at conferences."
Smith presented her findings again in spring 2016 at the American College Dance Association Conference.
Though this project is over, Smith has a few ideas she’d like to continue it with in the future. Currently, she is teaching a beginning modern dance class for UI and participates in Terpsichore Student Dance Organization, the university’s club for dancers and dance lovers. After graduating in 2017, Smith hopes to do more performing and plans to move to Salt Lake City to become involved in the prestigious Repertory Dance Theatre there, and in the future wants to go back to school to obtain her master’s degree and become a professor.
Writer: Kit Stokes, originally from Boise, is a senior studying English with emphases in literature and professional writing. She hopes to work in publishing after graduating.
Photographer: Heather Woolery-Larsen is a senior majoring in studio art and creative writing and is originally from Nampa. She enjoys photography, teaching Afterschool Art at UI’s Prichard Gallery, traveling and organizing art shows. Her website is www.heatherwoolery.com.