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Maximizing Potential/Warding Off Dance Demons

An Interview with "Down Under" Physical Therapist Lisa Howell

by Dean Speer

Published August, 2009

Summarize for us what it is you do for dancers.

I am a physiotherapist (physical therapist) who works closely with dancers and dance teachers to maximize performance, improve technique and recover completely from injury. I use my medical knowledge and experience in classical ballet to isolate often subtle technique flaws that are responsible for a lot of the pain and injury dancers complain of. I also produce resources so that dancers all over the world can benefit from this knowledge, even if they do not have a therapist with such expertise close by.

How did your interest in this come about?

I danced both classical ballet (RAD) and Flamenco until I began University.

I missed dancing terribly while studying (alas time and finances meant that I was limited to dance aerobics and yoga rather than ballet while studying) and was determined to find a way to be back in the dance world. After graduating from university I travelled to Australia and was fortunate to begin working with a prominent physiotherapist who worked with dancers. I learnt Pilates and after several years in that practice, I began my own business devoted to the health and education of dancers: "Perfect Form Physiotherapy." 

What is your own dance background, if any?

I have danced since I could crawl! While I was formally trained in RAD, Flamenco and Jazz, I have also explored various disciplines of contemporary dance, salsa and other Latin styles and have extensive yoga training. I have been fortunate to work with some extraordinary teachers who helped me discover my body and just how fascinating it was early on. The passion for music and dance has always and will always be in me. As a child, I was always choreographing impromptu ballets and experimenting with different music (often instead of perfecting my RAD syllabus work!) and was constantly involved in musical theatre and performance theatre.

How do you find your work fits in or meshes with today's training

and teaching of ballet students/dancers?

I feel that it is more than time that dance and medicine learnt from each other. I feel that we are at the forefront of a new generation of dancers who know about their bodies in so many ways. Gaining functional anatomical knowledge in relation to dance is obviously high on this list as dancers are pushing their bodies to new extremes and are demanding much longer careers.

I am so excited to be such a part of this movement forward in progressing such a beautiful art.

Have you also worked with dancers from other disciplines, such as


I work with dancers form all disciplines including classical ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, hip hop as well as all Latin styles. I also work a lot with rhythmic gymnasts and ice skaters, as the demands on their bodies are also extreme and a lot of the principles we use for increasing flexibility are in high demand in these sports!

What are some of the results that students (and their teachers) should expect?

When attending any one of my workshops, teachers and students are always surprised at how fun it is to be learning about how their bodies work! I also have lots of tricks that instantly increase flexibility and pointe range which are obviously popular. Attendees always feel inspired leaving the workshops armed with knowledge and tools to work their bodies better and more safely, to constantly improve.

Hobbies, interests.

I love dancing in all forms, music and theatre. I also have a long history of involvement with various disciplines of yoga which has assisted my exploration of how the body moves. I also have a passion for travel and photography which unfortunately does not get as much time these days!

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