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.

 
Physical Therapist Sheyi Ojofeitimie of Synthesis and iON Performance

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.

 

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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.

Alvin Ailey Dancer Hope Boykin and Ailey Physical Therapist Dr Sheyi Ojofeitimi with iON Founder Anthony Davis

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.

African American Modern Dancer ion performance

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.