Dartmouth Medicine HomeCurrent IssueAbout UsContact UsSearchPodcasts

Vital Signs

Building a bridge between ballet and medical education

What in the world does ballet have to do with medicine? Sure, a doctor might treat an occasional dancer with a sprain or strain. But it's a reach to imagine that dancers have something to offer doctors, much less hardworking medical students. Talk to DMS student Elizabeth Eisenhardt, however, or fellow students who have taken her ballet classes, and suddenly the answer to that question broadens.

Eisenhardt, a second-year M.D. student, has spent her free time for the past few months giving ballet lessons to other graduate students under the auspices of a Schweitzer Fellowship. Prospective fellows propose a community service project; if a project is funded (as were eight at DMS this year) a student must spend at least 200 hours on it.

When Eisenhardt conceived of her project last March, she knew she wanted to do something involving the arts. "I was thinking, 'What could I do for the community?'" she explains. She ultimately decided to "share my love of dance."

Flexible: The class meets twice a week at Dartmouth's Alumni Gym and now has 10 graduate students in its ranks—from DMS, as well as Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and nearby Vermont Law School. Beginners and experts alike find common ground in Eisenhardt's flexible curriculum, where students can learn everything from the rudimentary tendue to the challenging pirouette.

But she hopes to do more than cultivate graceful moves. Eisenhardt also emphasizes the indirect rewards of ballet. Her goal is to provide her students not only with regular exercise but also with a relaxing break from studying—something that any graduate student is able appreciate. "It's a great stress relief for me," says Jennifer Yates, one of Eisenhardt's pupils and a first-year DMS student. "It's kind of like my little free time away from studying . . . something I can always count on to do twice a week."

Body: Eisenhardt also believes that dance enriches medical education, bringing perspective to the memorization of chemical pathways and the dissection of cadavers. "The human body is an amazing instrument," she asserts. "I think it's important to remind the physician of the power of the human body."

Yates says Eisenhardt's fascination with that power is evident as she helps her students "appreciate the human body and everything it can do."

In fact, it was dance that drew Eisenhardt to medicine. She grew up dancing in rural Castine, Maine, trained with a professional company in Boston, and then performed professionally with the James Sewall Ballet in Minneapolis.

Yet health concerns within the professional dance community soon impelled Eisenhardt to look elsewhere. "I wasn't comfortable with a lot of the health issues in the ballet world," she says, noting that malnourishment and anorexia are prevalent. The mindset of many dancers, she explains, was "if that's what you had to do to get ahead, that's what you did." A career in medicine seemed like a natural continuation of her interest in the human body.

Eisenhardt, in blue, leads a ballet class.
Photo: Rob Strong

Eisenhardt is also a member of the DMS Arts and Humanities Council, a group that seeks to increase medical students' exposure to the humanities. "Our goal is to create more wellrounded physicians who are better able to relate to their patients," she says.

Balance: Eisenhardt contends that striking a balance between intense study and personal pursuits is especially crucial for medical professionals. "You'll be a better physician if you're at peace with yourself," she says.

Peter Ostendorp

Back to Vital Signs

Back to Table of Contents

Dartmouth Medical SchoolDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College