Poise and Performance | Caring for the Dance Athlete | Dr. Sheyi Ojofeitimi
We recently had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Sheyi Ojofeitimi, DPT, OCS, CFMT, CIDN of Synthesis Physical Therapy. As therapist for the acclaimed company, Alvin Ailey, Dr. Ojofeitimi has a quite intriguing career as a practitioner who cares for what she calls the "stepchild of athletics" the professional dancer. She is inspired to help dancers view themselves as athletes and care for their bodies to help them perform better and live better in the long run.
What first inspired you to pursue a career as a Physical Therapist?
When I was a teenager I liked dancing and watching music videos. Then my brother took me to see Alvin Ailey perform at City Center. I was in awe! I couldn't believe the human body could do such things. I was determined to eventually figure out how. Fast forward a few years. I was now a college graduate who quit her job at a stressful PR firm and was working a cushy job as a receptionist and asking "what next". Family, most of which were already in the medical field, tried to convince me to become a nurse or doctor. I had no desire for either. Then an aunt suggested Physical Therapy. I had never heard about the profession, but was intrigued with the description. I asked her if it would help me understand how dancers did what did and she said yes. That's when I started looking into becoming a Physical Therapist.
What led to you working with dancers in your field of Physical Therapy?
While in physical therapy school I was doing an internship in rural West Virginia. I came into the clinic one day and on the table was a rehabilitation magazine with an beautiful dancer in a white dress on cover. Having seen the company perform as a teenager and taken Dunham at the Ailey School while a senior in college I immediately recognized it was an an Ailey dancer - Dwana Smallwood in Cry .The article happened to mention the physical therapists worked with the dancers. Who knew! Within days I wrote and sent a letter (because that's what you did back in those days) to the physical therapists introducing myself and asking if I could do an internship. Shaw Bronner, the creator of the Ailey PT program, responded positively. My school set-up affiliation and a few months later I started my internship. Fast forward 17 years, I am still here.
Dancers appreciate the Care in iON's Foot Soak with tea tree and turmeric
What does it mean to you to work with Alvin Ailey dancers?
Working as a physical therapist means that I get up to do what I love to do every day. Working with Alvin Ailey dancers means I get to do what I love with the people that inspire and challenge me to be my best everyday.
Dr. Sheyi, Professional Dancer, Hope Boykin and iON Founder, Anthony Davis
What surprised you the most about what you learned about Dancers in terms of PT?
How hard they work. How much they have to do to just get ready for and end their day. How disciplined they are. How many of them are in pain on a daily basis, but still dance and give 100%. They are truly artist athletes. They work just as hard, if not harder than, sport athletes, but get less pay & recognition. Unlike their sports counterparts who can show the pain/grit, dancers still have tell a story and make the movements look effortless no matter how much pain they are experiencing.
You have published several papers on the subject of dancers relative to caring for their bodies, prevention and management of injuries, etc. Did you find this information was lacking when you first started working with this population?
I have co-authored several dance medicine articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. I always referred to dance medicine as the "redheaded stepchild" of sports medicine: the child
that doesn't get as much recognition as the rest of the children in the family. So yes, information was definitely lacking when I first started working with this population. However, pioneers of dance medicine research had laid groundwork on which we could build. Information is still limited, but much progress has been made.
What is the most common mistake you see among young dancers in terms of caring for their bodies?
The most common mistake is not recognizing themselves as athletes. Once you realize you're an athlete, then you understand that your body is a unique tool that requires care & maintenance.
That means things like proper warm-up, cross-training, stretching, foam rolling, taking classes that foster proper alignment & technique, eating a nutrient filled diet, are not seen as extra work, but as part of the job description and necessities to a successful career as an athlete.
Are there care approaches relative to dancers that would be useful for other athletes to incorporate into their routines?
On my goodness yes! As I said before dancers are some of most disciplined people I've ever worked with. They have to be in tune with their body with every single step, twist, arch. One false move could lead to a career ending injury. Some things that our dancers use to to stay in the best connection with their bodies include, but are not limited to, Zena Rommett Floor barre Technique, The Gyrokinesis &, Gyrotonic Methods, Feldenkris Method, taking daily epsom salt baths, foam rolling for 1 -2 hours a day (done in 15 - 30 minute spurts throughout the day), avoiding processed foods etc.
What led you to creating the Bodyshop Class?
With the popularity of dance reality shows, dance studios are popping up everywhere. Technique training has been thrown out of the window and substituted for flips, tricks and how high can your leg go mentality.
Body shop classes came about because of this and:
My frustration with younger and younger dancers presenting with injuries that could've been avoided had they had simple instructions on how to take care of their bodies.
Former students and professionals contacting me to ask handle injuries they have
My desire to bring expert information and care to "dance medicine desserts" across the US and internationally.
How could athletes benefit from participating in a BodyShop class?
Body shop classes are injury prevention workshops for every BODY. So as long as you have a BODY you will benefit. In the workshops I teach things you often only learn in physical therapy; at less than 1/3 of the cost of a typical physical therapy visit (depending on who your therapist is and where you live). Private group classes are tailored to meet the needs of that specific population.
Open classes address the most common issues of specific body parts and offer strategies on how to prevent and/or manage problems in those areas.
Dr. Sheyi Ojofeitimi and Sythesis Physical Therapy host a series of workshops called Bodyshop that share the holistic body care of dancers with athletes of all types
More about Dr. Sheyi,
DR. Sheyi Ojofeitimi, DPT, OCS, CFMT, CIDN – Dr. Sheyi Ojofeitimi is co-owner of Synthesis Physical Therapy. She is a Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT), Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) and has received advanced level training in The Thoracic Ring Approach. Dr. Ojofeitimi is also trained in visceral mobilization, craniosacral therapy, and integrative dry needling (IDN).For over a decade, Dr. Ojofeitimi has been physical therapist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation; treating the professional dancers from the main (AAADT) and junior (Ailey II) companies, students, and staff of the organization. Dr. Ojofeitimi coordinates the medical and massage therapy services for both professional companies. For 10 years, Dr. Ojofeitimi was part of a team that conducted biomechanical and epidemiologic research to aid in the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal injury in dancers at the Analysis of Dance and Movement (ADAM) Center. She is co-author on several dance medicine related peer-reviewed journal articles.Dr. Ojofeitimi is a specialist in the treatment of lumbo-pelvic/sacro-coccygeal dysfunctions and has a passionate interest in connection between dysbiosis (gut dysfunction) and chronic pain/disease. Using a whole body functional approach that incorporates nutrition, Dr. Ojofeitimi treats each client as a unique individual.
More about Synthesis, Physical Therapy
Headquartered in New York City, but providing services internationally, Synthesis Physical Therapy (PT) was founded in 2012 and is a manual therapy based, physical therapist owned and operated practice. The founders of Synthesis PT, Sheyi Ojofeitimi, DPT, OCS, CFMT and Shaw Bronner, PT, PhD, OCS, over fifteen years of experience, treating private and corporate clients, athletes, and performing artists.
At Synthesis, we view the human body as a complex structure with many integrated parts. We believe neuromuscular disuse and chronic inflammation are often the primary causes of many musculoskeletal aches, pain, and injury. Our treatments are geared towards restoring the body’s internal (organs) and external (muscle, bone & joint) systems to efficient function. Client and therapist work 1:1 to develop a personalized plan aimed at whole body recovery. The result is minimization/elimination of painful symptoms and return to active lifestyle.
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