Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired - Bodyworker Keeps Broadway Dancers Nimble

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September/October 2009 Issue

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Bodyworker Keeps Broadway Dancers Nimble

By Karrie Osborn
[Feature]

The jump from massaging hockey players to Broadway dancers was not that large a leap for Jerry Masi. In fact, for this massage therapist from Erie, Pennsylvania, it was a natural transition.

 

Mentoring for seven years under the tutelage of orthopedic massage specialist James Waslaski, Masi put his skills to work on members of the AA Anaheim Angels baseball team and the AA Erie Otters hockey club. While teaching a class with Waslaski in 2002, an MT told Masi he was leaving his position as therapist for the Broadway show Swing. Two weeks later, and with little hesitation, Masi was on a plane to take over that role as the production’s massage therapist.

“I like enhancing the performance of the athlete and the dancer, as well as working in a training room atmosphere with a lot of people around,” he says of the similarities in working with both athlete and dancer. “I have always been drawn to working with athletes, having been a football coach, boxing trainer, sportscaster, and an athlete myself.” An advantage in working with dancers, Masi says, is being more integral in the therapeutic process—both in helping them endure their daily performance schedules and injury recovery.

A Gypsy Life

From town to town and time zone to time zone, Masi lives somewhat of a gypsy life in his calling to work with these dancers. Now providing massage for the national tour of Cats as an employee of Troika Entertainment, this therapist of 11 years says the work is exciting and fulfilling, even if you don’t always know where you are when you wake up each morning. The schedule is nothing short of grueling—eight shows a week, with two performances on Saturdays and Sundays. He says the one-nighters are most difficult for the cast. “We travel for 500 miles, stop at the hotel for a couple of hours, do the show, wake up sometimes at 6:00 a.m. and hit the road at 6:30 a.m.” Sometimes, after crossing three time zones, the buses pull right up to the show with little time for preparation.

Having worked with the national tours of Swing, Starlight Express, Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, and The Lion King, Masi’s own routine also has no room for languor. A daily sign-up sheet is posted on the theater call board two hours before the performance, where anyone can sign up for 15–30 minute increments. “Special attention is paid to performers who have recently been injured or have a condition that needs addressed,” he says, and time is taken to tape ankles and wrists, if needed. “I usually see between 8–10 dancers before the show, then work at intermission on 3–4 dancers. I also work on the musicians and the technical crew, who also feel the physical effects of life on the road. Sometimes it looks like a MASH unit with the dancers lying on the floor—some heating, some icing, and some just relaxing in my treatment room.”

Despite the nomad existence he lives, Masi is enjoying a yearlong contract with the tour, which includes salary, benefits, per diem for meals, lodging and transportation provided by the entertainment company that produces the shows. Another benefit, he says, is being empowered by his employer to work most effectively with this group of clients. Whether it’s a hydrocollator (especially beneficial when they travel through colder climates), an electric stimulator, or a good supply of Kinesio tape, Masi says the tour sets him up with all the equipment he needs, no questions asked. “They support me in my decisions and give me the freedom to see the dancers through the entire therapy process without interruption.”

“Jerapy” Partnerships

The attention Masi gives to his clients might be reason in part why the dancers call what he does, “Jerapy.” Masi does more than just provide pain relief to the performers—he is a partner in their process. Throughout each performance, Masi stands stage left, prepared to help with any immediate injuries and also to watch the dancers as they cavort around the stage. He says that way he can observe every dance move and evaluate any injuries in “real time.”

Not only is Masi’s presence felt on the stage, but also in the doctor’s office. “I accompany every dancer to every doctor’s appointment that needs scheduled over the course of the tour,” he says. He wants to be part of the conversation, so that doctor, dancer, and therapist are all on the same page and offering the greatest benefit for these athletes. He follows the prescribed protocol for that particular injury and that particular dancer, all in an attempt to get him or her back on the stage as quickly as possible.

The partnership role has even stirred envy with some of the medical doctors with which Masi has worked. “I had the doctor who invented the vertebral cages for back stabilization tell me that he admired my work because I had a chance to actually touch and work with the dancers on a more personal level.”

It’s that same bond, or partnership, which allows him to also be an advocate for the dancers. “The most dramatic example was when one of my dancers started feeling discomfort in her hip. I knew her routine and that she loved to run and was in excellent shape.” When the hip hurt so bad she couldn’t run anymore, Masi would take her pre-show and work around the joint to warm it and stretch the psoas. “Nothing worked,” he says. “So we went to the orthopedic doctor and he insisted that nothing was serious—she just needed to stretch more.” Knowing the dancer, her routine, and her physicality, Masi insisted on an MRI. “The doctor came back and quietly apologized to the dancer and me—he had read the MRI and saw three stress fractures in the neck of the dancer’s femur. If she had danced more, she would have caused permanent damage in her hip and would have needed a hip replacement.” As it was, she had to stay on crutches for 6–8 weeks. “Her whole career was held in the balance. We cried and hugged and sent her home.” Masi says that’s the most difficult part of the job—sending dancers home to recover. “I’ve sat through many tears,” he explains.

Masi’s role as partner also extends beyond mere physical therapeutics. “Dealing with not only the physical, but the psychological toll that the tour takes on these performers can be a challenge,” he says. “There is such a mind-body connection that exists that I can almost determine if the dancer is struggling with something mentally, which nine times out of 10 results in struggling with something physically.” It is for those clients, Masi says, that he carries around a copy of Louise Hays’ book, You Can Heal Your Life (Hay House, 1984).

Incorporating a mind-body philosophy into his work is a big part of what “Jerapy” is all about. “As a high school counselor, I explored the student mind,” he says. “As a probation officer, I explored the criminal mind. As a counselor to troubled families, I explored the abusive mind. As a drug and alcohol counselor, I explored the addictive personality. This background has been what has taught me how strong the mind-body connection is, and allowed me to bring this knowledge to my work with my dancers.”

Rigors of Dance

Even though they are highly trained athletes, the dancers Masi works with still have their fair share of work-related injuries, especially when you consider their performance schedule. Stress fractures to the tibia and low-back strains are the injuries Masi typically sees with his group of dancers. He remembers one year on tour when he had to send eight dancers home for 4–6 weeks to recover from stress fractures. He says the more challenging the show, such as the Starlight Express where performers wheeled about on roller skates, the more challenging the injuries.

When not in injury rehabilitation and recovery mode, Masi says he spends much of his session time working on the dancers’ low back, iliotibial band, and especially their calves. The calves are problematic, he says, because dancers perform with their feet in extension, tightening their calves and putting strain on the tibialis anterior. And the injuries don’t always affect just the dancers.

“During the Starlight Express tour, our conductor, Michael Duff, was having some back problems. I was working on him on my table when his back went into spasms shortly before the show. Unable to get off the table, we lifted the entire table up and placed him in a closet offstage with a monitor and a camera inside, so that he could conduct the orchestra on his back and the orchestra could watch is movements on their monitor. After the show, an ambulance arrived, we put him on a backboard, and we took him to the hospital where he was given large doses of muscle relaxants and painkillers. He made a full recovery and is our current conductor on Cats.”

Pros Outweigh Cons

There is no doubt this is not the gig for everyone. Sleeping in a different bed almost every night, trying to stay healthy on the road, missing the conveniences of home, hauling luggage from the bus to the hotel, being in close proximity with the same people all the time, following a strict and often harsh work schedule, missing holidays and other special events, and spending countless hours in emergency rooms with injured dancers along the way are just a few of the challenges Masi endures throughout a tour.

But with a passion for travel (and finding the best coffee shops in the cities he travels to), and gratitude for working with a great company and a great group of people, Masi couldn’t be happier with his arrangement. “My job has taken me across the entire United States, Canada, and many different countries, including Japan, Chile, and Brazil,” he says.

“This is the lifestyle that I love, so that makes the minor inconveniences bearable.”

 Karrie Osborn is contributing editor at Massage & Bodywork. Contact her at
karrie@abmp.com.

  For more information about Jerry Masi and his work, e-mail him at gjm522@yahoo.com.

 

 



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