Welcoming Dance Medicine & Science Professionals to Pittsburgh

Above: Terrence S. Orr and company members with Dr. Freddie Fu, Dr. Vonda Wright and members of the UPMC Sports Medicine team.


Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is proud to welcome the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS) to Pittsburgh for its 25th Annual Meeting. Today,Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr helped kick off the IADMS meeting with the keynote welcome speech. Several other PBT representatives will present throughout the three-day event, including Christina Salgado, PBT’s director of education and community engagement, and members of the UPMC Sports Medicine team, which cares for PBT’s company dancers. For more information about IADMS, please visit www.iadms.org.

When we at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre first heard that the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science was going to host its 25th annual meeting in Pittsburgh, we were absolutely thrilled.

Many don’t realize that our dancers share the same amazing medical team as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins. We have cutting-edge hospitals and facilities that work with dancers and with our sports teams, an incredible medical community, and this amazing facility, right across the river: the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

It’s the perfect place to talk about the health, well-being and training of dancers. This is a great conversation to have in this city.

At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, we’ve been fortunate to have that conversation for more than 30 years with a wonderful man and doctor: Dr. Freddie Fu at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Dr. Fu came to us in 1982. It was before my time here, when Patricia Wilde had just become PBT artistic director. She was a beautiful principal dancer for George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. He created dozens of ballets on her — including Western Symphony, which we are performing in just a few weeks. She brought that vast Balanchine background and raised the level of this company immensely.

Our own work in dance medicine began with Patricia. She tells this great story of Dr. Fu showing up one day, soon after she started at PBT.

He was a young orthopedic surgeon, and he told Patricia he was really interested in dancers. He considered them elite athletes and thought they needed special attention.

This was a novel idea at the time. He asked Patricia if he could keep stopping by, come by maybe once a week, and just talk to the dancers, hear the problems they had, and try to understand what ballet dancers needed in terms of care, injury prevention. Really what he was getting at back then was whole-person wellness.

Patricia knew a good thing when she saw it. She gave him access to the dancers. Dr. Fu learned from them and they learned from him.

This turned into a unique collaboration. PBT was one of the first ballet companies to have this kind of comprehensive care for its dancers, and it has grown into an amazing relationship.

Over the last 30 years we’ve had doctors and physical therapists at our studios every week. We have a team of physical therapists who know our dancers—know their bodies, know them as people and how to care for them as individuals. A PT is at our studios every day, watching rehearsals, taking appointments.

We also have one or two at all of our performances, and you can usually find Dr. Fu there too. In fact, Dr. Fu saved a dancer’s career once, back when we were performing Balanchine’s wonderful Square Dance, during Patricia’s time as artistic director.

In the middle of the ballet, the lead ballerina collapsed on stage. The Benedum Center went silent. She’d torn her Achilles tendon – a potentially career-ending injury.

Dr. Fu was in the audience. And he must have leap-frogged over seats, because before they even got her to the wings he was backstage on the phone calling an ambulance. He rode with her to the hospital and performed surgery right then. She went on to dance for years more.

Freddie has brought us wonderful therapists and doctors. Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC also has been a fantastic partner to us and has given our dancers top-notch care. Erica Coffey and Kathleen Nachazel are the backbone of our rehab program.

Several members of our PBT family also are presenting during the meeting — Catherine Vargo and Valerie Williams, two of our physical therapists, and Christina Salgado, our education director.

We know we are fortunate. To have this expertise, to have the Center for Sports Medicine, to have this collaboration – we feel is unique among ballet companies.  

And the upshot is that this collaboration has allowed us to up our game, to raise the level of our artistry. I look around the studio each day and am in awe — we have such beautiful and talented dancers.

And because they are given such excellent, truly holistic care – they can prevent injuries. And when they do get injured, they heal faster and better.

This level of care enables them to realize their own potential as an artist, and become the dancer they are meant to be.

We believe in caring for our dancers. We think that this meeting — and its many discussions around new clinical approaches –is incredibly important for the world and the art of dance.

We sincerely thank IADMS for being here in Pittsburgh with us. We thank you for what you do to allow this art form to advance, thrive and move into the future with healthy dancers who will return to our audiences all the beauty that dance can offer us.  

Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr Shares a Slice of his Keynote Speech for 25th Annual Conference