Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Elaine Winslow-Redmond

Elaine Winslow-Redmond, MS, ATC, performed with the Radio City Rockettes for 11 years. As an athletic trainer, she has created a wellness program for the Rockettes and now is Head Athletic Trainer and Athletic Training Program Director for the troupe. She also serves as an athletic training consultant for the Blue Man Group, the New York Knicks City Dancers, Tap Kids, and the New York City Dance Alliance as well as Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Broadway Theater Dance Workshop. Winslow-Redmond is a member of the NATA and the association’s Council on Employment. She has a BFA in dance from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an MS in applied physiology and nutrition from Columbia University. Here, she talks about what drew her to the athletic training profession and explains the challenges and rewards of working with world-class performers.

AM: Why did you become an athletic trainer and how did you end up working for the Rockettes?

Winslow-Redmond: I began as a professional dancer and took an interest in athletic training after sustaining an injury mid-way through my career. While performing as a Radio City Rockette, in Las Vegas, I started taking courses in athletic training at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). I moved to NYC to perform in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, at which time I was accepted to Columbia University in the applied physiology and nutrition master’s program. It was there that I received most of my athletic training experience working with the athletes at Columbia and training under the direction of Jim Gossett. I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to work at the Kennedy Space Center in the RehabWorks program with Mary Kirkland. Mary started this program and it best resembled the type of athletic training program I was looking to create at Radio City for the Rockettes. By integrating many aspects of the RehabWorks program with my knowledge of dance and the Radio City Rockettes, I was able to design a program specifically geared toward the needs of the performers at Radio City.

How and when did you start working with the Rockettes?

After several seasons performing as a Radio City Rockette, and once I had finished my schooling and become a certified athletic trainer, I transitioned to working with the Rockettes as the athletic trainer. In 2003, Cablevision built an athletic training facility in the Music Hall and we kicked off the athletic training and wellness program for all performers in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in NYC.

What is your staff like?

We now have a staff of three certified athletic trainers, working seasonally in NYC. In addition to New York, Christmas Spectacular has productions that tour the country, and we have certified athletic trainers traveling with each company. Our athletic trainers usually have a background in dance or are familiar with the performing arts. They have master’s degrees and are trained to care for the performers as any other athletes, taking into consideration their unique skills as performers. How is your schedule organized?

In-season we are available whenever the dancers are rehearsing or performing. We cover all rehearsals and performances, just as we would practices or games. During their off-season, we are available to them for advice, training and conditioning tips, evaluations, and rehabilitation if necessary.

What are some common workouts you employ with the Rockettes?

We design our prehab program based on the information we obtained from the previous season, specifically type and frequency of injuries. We carefully analyze injury rates and contributory factors, eliminating as many as possible prior to the start of the next season. The Radio City Rockettes are known for their precision dance technique and eye-high kicks. Therefore, we see very specific injury patterns and are able to adjust their training accordingly. At this time we are in the process of designing a conditioning and training protocol for the performers to follow in the preseason and in-house. This program is still in its infancy and we have much more to accomplish in the way of preseason conditioning.

What are the most common injuries the Rockettes incur?

As is consistent with most dancers, we see many foot, ankle, and knee injuries. Performing in high heels for several shows per day contributes to the frequency of these injuries. Poor patella-femoral tracking, sesamoiditis, and lateral ankle sprains are commonly seen. However, our patterns of injury have changed from year to year as a result of new and more athletic choreography. This season we will be celebrating our 75th year of the Christmas Spectacular, and with two brand new scenes featuring the Rockettes, there is sure to be a slew of new injuries we will need to prevent.

What is the most unique rehab you’ve had recently?

We recently treated a young performer with an Os Trigonum. What was unique about her situation was she had a pre-existing diagnosis of this injury and we were able to manage her treatment extremely effectively by forcing her to replace her pointed shoes more often then she preferred. The result was minimal time lost due to injury. With 32 shows per week, it is important for all of our performers to remain in the show. Therefore, we make it our goal to prevent injury and spend a lot less time rehabilitating.

Do you work with any other performers or athletes?

Yes, I do work with other “performing athletes.” I am currently working on an athletic conditioning and injury prevention program for the Blue Man Group. They have shows across the United States and we are staffing each of their shows with certified athletic trainers to assist the performers with all of their conditioning and preventive needs. In addition to the Blue Man Group, I currently work as a consultant with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the New York City Dance Alliance, and the Broadway Theater Dance Workshop.

What’s your favorite part about working with performers?

Working with performers is extremely rewarding. They are athletes and often have not had the resources available to them in the way of injury prevention and treatment that other athletes have been afforded. Therefore, they are extremely grateful for and receptive to all information regarding their health. They are also quite knowledgeable of their bodies and are able to communicate with you about exactly what is ailing them, making the job even easier.

What are the biggest challenges you face working with dancers?

The biggest challenge is trying to keep a very injured dancer from performing. Performers have spent most of their careers “dancing through the pain” and when it becomes detrimental to their health, it is always a challenge to convince them what is best. Here at Radio City, the schedule is very demanding and that poses a unique challenge as well. How do you get the performers through 17 shows per week without injury? Most acts perform only eight to 12 shows per week. We sometimes triple that number.

What is the biggest misconception people have about these performers?

That the work these performers do is as easy as they make it look!

What have you gotten out of the experience of working with the Rockettes, and how has it affected your athletic training philosophy?

I’ve geared my athletic training philosophy to suit the needs of the Rockettes and my experience working with them has been amazing. There are so many ways we can assist these performers in having long, successful, injury-free careers.

How do you think this experience will affect your career path? Has it opened your eyes to any new ideas or opportunities?

What has changed is the realm of opportunities that athletic trainers have in this field–the possibilities are endless. There is a huge need for injury prevention in the performing arts, and in my opinion, the match between athletic trainers and performers is ideal. We, as athletic trainers, have the ability and skills to affect so many aspects of the performers’ professional experience. New ideas include providing injury prevention support for future professionals in the performing arts as well.

What kind of feedback have you received from the Rockettes?

The response from the Radio City Rockettes is always positive. They are a remarkable group of very talented, classy ladies. They are always supportive of new ideas and new programs we have introduced and they welcome our knowledge with open arms. We have even had a few women become interested in our profession enough to consider pursuing an athletic training degree.

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