Faculty Q&A: Marisa Hentis

July 17, 2019

Marisa, wearing a black t-shirt smiles at the camera.

Marisa Hentis | Photo by Bob Morrison

This fall, the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomes Dr. Marisa Hentis, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, who will teach Conditioning for Dancers and Dance Science. Hentis will see patients clinically at USC Physical Therapy and backstage for performances at various theaters in Los Angeles. She specializes in the treatment of a variety of orthopedic diagnoses including performing artists, dancers, runners, other sports related injuries and pelvic floor dysfunctions. Additionally, prior to becoming a physical therapist, Hentis danced professionally in the Midwest for over five years, training in several genres, but specializing in hip-hop and contemporary. We asked her to share a bit about herself and her practice:

What drew you to pursuing physical therapy as a career?

MH: I originally wanted to become a physical therapist after I had a friend get into very bad car accident that caused a severe traumatic brain injury and a broken pelvis. It was seeing her bedridden in the Intensive Care Unit, and getting back to cheerleading and coaching that made me want to help others that were in similar situations.

It was not long after her miraculous recovery that I became injured myself while dancing. I was frustrated during my recovery process that my doctors and physical therapists only cared about getting me back to running and jumping, but not back to specific dance movements and choreography. I knew at that time I could combine my passions for performing arts and physical therapy to help others return to dance quicker and extend their careers.

How would you describe Dance Science and what can students expect from taking this course?

MH: Dance Science is the perfect blend of current scientific research with artistry. It is taking the scientific approach for how your body works and applying it to dance with a performer’s mind. Students can expect to learn how their body works from the bones, muscles, and other tissues we do not have control over, and utilize those principles to make them a better dancer and performer. It is beyond “just getting stronger” and “practicing more.” It’s why we need to learn these things, to make sure we are performing for as long as possible.

What should dancers and athletes keep in mind when practicing physical therapy?

MH: I love this question.

  1. Please seek out medical attention sooner rather than later. It is easier and quicker to address a small issue earlier, before it is limiting your dancing abilities. I would much rather see someone for a few visits to correct any muscle imbalances or range of motion limitations, than a chronic issue where habitual poor movement patterns have changed their technique– but please come see us then too. We do our best to not stop someone from dancing unless it is absolutely necessary. The sooner you seek medical attention, the less likely we are to ask you to stop dancing.
  2. Listen and trust your medical team. We always have your best interest at heart. If you are concerned or not sure why you are doing something, please ask. We love to explain our thought process to get you more involved in your care. That being said, please complete your homework and exercises if given any. Think of it as medication your doctor gives you, only our medications are typically movements or exercises.
  3. Trust the process. Strength gains and tissue healing do not happen overnight. Just like you cannot master a new skill in one day, it takes time and practice to master PT exercises. We want you back to class and performing without modifications or limitations, just as much as you do.

As a hip-hop and contemporary dancer, what are your favorite aspects of these styles?

MH: I love the diversity and the ability to express your emotion in both styles. While this happens in all forms of dance, it connects with me more as a hip-hop and contemporary dancer. The various skills, levels and textures can change to make a piece more smooth, sharp, upbeat or relaxed. I also love that there is more freedom to put your personality in pieces. Even though choreography might be the same for a company or a class, each dancer can bring something a little bit different to the table. These styles challenge me in different ways every time I take class or learn new choreography, helping me evolve as an artist.

By Sara Silberman