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Siegel Listens, Assists Students Through Dance Therapy Clinic

Published: March 15, 2011

John Siegel
A fully functioning dance therapy clinic helps athletic trainer John Siegel keep students on their feet.

On the second floor of CSULB’s Dance Department is a fully functioning dance therapy clinic that has built a reputation for helping student dancers maintain an even strain amid plies and splits since 1999.

John Siegel, Dance’s athletic trainer, has been the guiding force behind the clinic since 1999, doing everything from furnishing the clinic with state-of-the-art exercise machines to handling garden-variety muscle spasms.

“The ultimate problem for dancers is that what we do in the clinic is considered a luxury, not a necessity,” said Siegel. “I come from an athletic background working at every level of athletics and I’ve come to realize that dancers are neglected when it comes to prevention and care. Dancers are no different than athletes. They work in a high-intensity environment. This dance therapy clinic takes care of that need.”

Siegel’s training philosophy is to focus on the competitive aspect of dance. “Obviously, dancers won’t stop dancing,” he said. “Plus, our students aren’t getting paid to dance. They are seeking a degree and a potential career. The department has its restrictions. Dancers must be able to perform. An instructor focuses on their day-to-day dance. An athletic trainer focuses on the preventative aspect of care. Dancers need to make sure their training includes a supplemental conditioning component.”

Their care includes Pilates which strengthens the muscles that support the spine (the neck, shoulders, abs, hips and thighs) to bring balance into the body. “Pilates is a form of exercise dancers are drawn to,” he said. “One reason I use it to bring in the student dancers and help them to feel comfortable in the clinic. We try to educate them that they are athletes who focus on a different form of performance. Their bodies are no different than those of athletes. They need to physically train their bodies as well.

“There may be dancers who can rely on their natural talents but for the rest, they have to work on them,” he added. “There are dancers and athletes who do everything right and still get injured. It is a matter of getting your body into the best possible shape prior to performance that will help prevent injury.”

One key to the clinic’s success is Siegel’s ability to listen. “Right off the bat, dancers feel welcome here the minute they walk in because they are looking for someone who will listen. They want someone who understands what they’re talking about. That attention can range from movement specifics to just relating to what they’re doing,” he said. “I try to teach dancers to listen to their bodies.”

Athletic trainers are taught to work on the athlete’s needs. “It is important to understand the mechanics and the language of what dancers do. When a clinician works with dancers, that clinician needs to know the difference between a plie and a squat. You need to use terminology dancers understand,” he said. “You can’t turn away dancers with the explanation that you don’t understand their pain. You’ve got to know how to help them get through it. So many dancers have come to the clinic saying they don’t like going to doctors because the doctors don’t understand what the dancers are feeling.”

Siegel sees plenty of potential in the Dance Department in general and the clinic in particular. “The facilities we have here are second to none,” he said. “Our dancers have a large performance space. We have used CPAC (Carpenter Performing Arts Center) as a performance venue as well. And our faculty and staff do a great job. They have danced and choreographed professionally with real-world experience to offer. Sometimes, I think the students don’t understand what they really have here.”

The fact Siegel has accomplished what he has in 12 years by working part-time surprises him. “I found an empty room when I began,” he recalled. “I had to learn how to apply for grants. I solicited equipment donations and even did some of the wood work with my own hands. I have established an internship program with the campus athletic training/sports medicine program. I offer a clinical rotation for those who want to specialize in the performing arts and dance medicine. I networked with a theme park in Anaheim and St. Joseph Hospital (Orange) to establish a unique clinical experience for student interns. I established an orthopedic surgeon as the Dance Department medical director, and even received approval to bring in a licensed massage therapist to provide discounted massages for our dancers. All the services provided to student athletes ought to go to student dancers as well. That’s my goal. But I’m very happy with how far the clinic has come.”

Siegel first joined CSULB in pursuit of a B.A. in physical education with an emphasis in athletic training which he received in 1997. He went on to receive his M.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in sports medicine/sports injury studies at CSULB in 2000.

The clinic draws positive feedback from CSULB alumni worldwide. “Our graduates dance everywhere from New York to L.A.,” he said. “They all say how great it was to train in a facility like this and how they wish they had something like this where they work now. Facilities like this helped to prepare them for their careers. Thanks to this clinic, students learned that, when they’re sore, they put ice on their bodies. They learned that they need to stretch but they also need to get themselves to the gym and not just take another dance class. Those who listen to our information are able to do well.”

Siegel knows his clinic is making a difference. “Students keep coming,” he said. “Their numbers continue to grow. We try to work on the misconception that, because we’re a clinic, this is a place to go only when students are hurt. We offer preventative conditioning programs and nutritional counseling as well as treat injuries. We open doors for people and help them to ask questions. We want to change the stigma of what a clinic is for.”