Morris dance studio hosts workshop with Australian-based physiologist

Internationally acclaimed instructor brings techniques to Morris

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“There will always be acute injuries, but if we can prevent the preventable ones, we’re going to get much greater artists.”

That’s how Lisa Howell describes the importance of proper technique when it comes to dance.

Howell is a physiotherapist. Born in New Zealand, she now uses Sydney, Australia as her home base, but travels the world giving workshops on techniques to keep dancers’ bodies protected from injury. She spent this week at Forte Arts Center in Morris.

Howell teaches from a different perspective than other instructors might – that dancers are athletes.

“I work with dancers, 90% of my clientele is dancers,” Howell said. “Over the last 18 years, I’ve noticed so many issues that could have been prevented had dance teachers been educated or been given more information.”

For the past 15 years, Howell has traveled the world giving lectures and hands-on clinics, with an emphasis over the past four years on teacher training. Howell has brought her instruction on techniques to dance instructors in Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.S., and Canada. She’s currently on a tour of the U.S., visiting dance studios in Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York and California.

“I come and do a really intensive three-day workshop with dance teachers, to teach them everything I wish they’d been taught to help keep the children safe, the dancers safe, rather than waiting for an injury to happen,” Howell said. “All the things that they can catch before they become issues, or if they are having issues that aren’t necessarily being dealt with well by the health professionals that they are going to see. A lot of professionals have not been exposed to treating any dancers, and dancers ... need to be dealt with in a very specific way.”

Howell said some people may make the mistake of thinking that dancing is easier on the body than other sports.

"It's actually very intense training. And if they have a small error, it can magnify into a big issue with even a tiny discrepancy from how it should look," she said. "So, we're training the teachers to be really critical and really observant of how they're watching specific elements of technique.
I believe it can reduce about 80 to 90% of preventable injuries."

Forte Arts Center owner Pam Simpson said she met Howell several years ago at other training events, and asked if she would consider coming to Morris as part of her U.S. workshop tour. The two were able to make it work, and this week’s workshop attracted dance instructors from across the U.S. and Canada, from New Jersey to California.

“We’re lucky to have her in our tiny town,” Simpson said.

Dance studio members Clare, Gianna, Madison, Kaleigh, Lilli and Keira have all been dancing most of their lives. The teens helped to demonstrate some of Howell’s techniques, and each said they learned something new along the way.

“We learned how to use our muscles in different ways, and the right ways, without injury,” Keira said.

Simpson noted that the students all saw results immediately upon working with Howell and applying her techniques.

“She would give them one exercise to do, and they would see a result right away, with one subtle thing they never thought of before,” Simpson said. “She just has so much knowledge of the body. She just has a totally different approach than dance teachers do, so we’re just really lucky to have her come to Morris to give all the attendees her knowledge, to help us all be better and safer.”

Howell’s website, The Ballet Blog, provides information on exercises and safe dance and stretching techniques for dancers and instructors.

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