From DANCER to DOCTOR – My Perspective, by Dana Sheng, MD

From DANCER to DOCTOR – My Perspective

Dana Sheng, MD

Though I did not become a professional dancer, my lifelong training and love for dance are the forces that led me to sports and performing arts medicine. When I was in medical school, I decided I wanted to work with ballet companies like the Boston Ballet. However, it was not until residency that I actually had the opportunity to work with dancers. Through Dr. Lauren Elson, I was connected with Kendall Alway, PT, DPT, the coordinator of Oberlin Dance Collective (ODC)’s Healthy Dancers’ Clinic (HDC).

The Healthy Dancers’ Clinic is a monthly volunteer collaboration of a multidisciplinary team, including physicians, physical therapists, mental health specialists, registered dietitians, yoga and pilates instructors. By providing free, comprehensive care to local dancers/performing artists, we work to improve the well-being and healthcare of the dance community through education, musculoskeletal screening, and integration of health services and treatment. The main objectives are to provide guidance and advise dancers/performance artists on injury management, recovery, longevity, and to promote health and wellness.

My first experience with the Healthy Dancers’ Clinic in January 2020 left me excited about the work we were doing and about coming back for more. When I volunteered at HDC, I valued the team approach to patient care as well as the additional educator role of the clinician. This was the most collaborative type of visit I have ever been a part of, with all of the specialists in the same room at once. Far from a chaotic mess or clashing of ideas, it was a very streamlined collaboration despite the fact that we had not all worked together before. It was exciting and rewarding to see that sometimes we had the same ideas, (for example recommending proprioceptive neurofacilitation exercises to improve demi-pointe range of motion), while other times, I realized how much I still have to learn. Watching the physical therapists on my team, I was very aware of their high level of physical exam skill in detecting subtle differences in flexibility/restriction within the foot. Vincent Leddy, DPT on my team, also wowed me with picking up small side-to-side differences in thoracic respiratory excursion and with his teaching the patient (and me) that there is a connection between the diaphragm and the feet. Collaborating with other specialists opened my eyes to the breadth of dysfunctions that can affect the active patient’s condition and how these benefit from an interdisciplinary approach to optimize healing and rehabilitation.

Looking ahead, I am excited about an upcoming event/series for ODC – September will be its Month for Dancers’ Health events with a sub-theme of Black Dancers Matter. There will be multiple virtual sessions, with topics including injury and nutrition as well as inclusion, diversity, and all the above in the setting of COVID.

I have only continued to become more impassioned about performing arts medicine and have savored the experience of working together with a team at HDC to provide care and recommendations to dancers of different styles. I have also gained deeper appreciation for how important it is to have a provider who understands the dancer. My background in dance enables me to speak their language and to understand what drives them and what makes them vulnerable—the love of their sport/art, their challenges, their concerns, and their triumphs. The performing artists are a unique population that exist at the intersection between art and athletics and how better to take care of them by having been one of them.

Dana Sheng, MD

I’m a resident physician at UC Davis applying for sports medicine fellowships and given my background in classical music and dance, I want to make performing arts medicine a big part of my future career.  Please feel free to contact me at


Healthy Dancers Clinic | ODC | The most active center for contemporary dance on the West Coast

ODC is a groundbreaking contemporary arts institution with longstanding roots in the San Francisco community. Our two-building campus is home to a world-class dance company, a school with classes for all ages and levels, a Healthy Dancers’ Clinic, and a nationally regarded presenting venue.

Link to the HDC:

Link to ODC’s Month for Dancers’ Health:

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