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Movement data and the future of injury prevention at Texas Ballet Theater

The theater group is partnering with the University of North Texas Health Science Center in a motion and joint study that analyzes how a dancer's body moves.

FORT WORTH – When the Texas Ballet Theater opened its season last month with performances of Cinderella, it did so to glowing reviews.

But this year, hour after hour of marathon practice sessions aren't just for the shows the public sees.

The theater group is partnering with the University of North Texas Health Science Center in a motion and joint study that analyzes how a dancer's body moves. The idea is to drastically reduce injuries to the performers.

Dr. Sajid Surve from UNTHSC oversees the study.

"How much does the trunk move forward and backwards? How much does the leg move back and forth? This is what we're trying to measure," he said.

Dr. Sajid Surve from University of North Texas Health Science Center

Surve’s team is evaluating 10 performers three different times during the theater group's 2018-2019 season.

During the first such session in August, WFAA got an exclusive look at what dancers like Adeline Melcher got to experience.

"They said this is what they used in [the movie] Avatar," she said with a laugh.

The "this" refers to close to three dozen motion balls, or markers, taped and strapped tightly to her body. The dancer is then put into a makeshift studio of sorts, where highly-specialized, infrared cameras measure her every move during a series of routine ballet movements.

A computer analyzes the motion detected by trackers placed on a dancer's body.

"It's a lot of fun," said Melcher. "I think a lot of us were very excited to jump on board and get to do it."

Dr. Nathan Hershberger is the man who runs the dancers through the routines. Other researchers watch as the cameras collect the movement data that's filed into computers to be analyzed later.

Dr. Surve says they'll measure the same dancers’ movements twice more during the season to see how the wear and tear of practice and performances can impact their bodies over time.

Ballet dancers are fit with motion balls that analyze joint movement during routine dance moves.

"People don't realize how much force is involved, especially if you're on your feet and on pointe," said Surve. "This will help with injury prevention."

Once the collection is done at season's end, it'll take months for the team to analyze the data.

Surve says it's a little like professional sports teams measuring their players performances and health over the course of a tiring season.

Of course, in this case, the moves of the dancers are a little more graceful.

Ballet dancers are fit with motion balls that analyze joint movement during routine dance moves.