Meet Dr. Laurel Daniels Abbruzzese, PT, EdD, FNAP

Dr. Laurel Daniels Abbruzzese, PT, EdD, FNAP

I am an associate professor and Director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Programs in Physical Therapy at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. I also serve as the Director of our Performing Arts Fellowship in partnership with West Side Dance Physical Therapy in New York City. I am a Distinguished Scholar and Fellow in the National Academies of Practice, and in 2023, I completed the APTA Fellowship in Higher Education Leadership.

In my youth I danced in the St. Paul’s School Ballet Company and then at age 16 received a merit scholarship to dance full time at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. During my first year at Aileys I got injured landing from a double saute de basque in ballet class. I couldn’t walk, let alone dance. I ended up being on crutches for 6 weeks and then needed months of physical therapy even after I returned to dance classes again. The physical therapist was my life saver. My second year dancing at Aileys I was plagued by patellar subluxation. Both of my knee caps were constantly sliding out of their grooves, causing pain and swelling. Again, it was the physical therapist that took the time to explain my injuries to me, teach me what it would take to heal, and work with me through the rehabilitation process to get me dancing again.

I realized that my life as a dancer plagued by injuries might be short lived. I started recognizing that I wanted to be the one helping dancers prevent and recover from injuries. I redirected my dream of dancing professionally towards a career in physical therapy. I started my undergraduate education at Columbia College the following year, followed by a degree in Physical Therapy.

I started my physical therapy career working with performing artists as a student at Performing Arts PT in NYC. Once I graduated, however, my clinical focus shifted towards working with older adults. At Columbia, I teach Clinical Geriatrics and I serve on the faculty for the APTA Geriatrics courses for Certified Exercise Experts in Aging Adults (CEEAA). Much of my professional career has been focused on interprofessional collaborative care for older adults. I am also very active in anti-racism and equity focused projects. I am committed to dismantling systemic racism in health professions education, promoting Interprofessional collaborative practice, and advancing health equity. Despite these broad interests, I have always found a way to remain connected to dance and performing arts physical therapy.

I joined the APTA as a student in 1993, and attended my first Performing Arts Special Interest Group (PASIG) breakfast roundtable in 1994. Currently, I am in my second term as president of the PASIG. Prior to my term as president I served on the performing arts fellowship taskforce, which conducted a practice analysis and developed the Description of Fellowship Practice for Performing Arts, published in 2016. I developed the curriculum for the Columbia/West Side Dance Fellowship program, which was accredited by the ABPTRFE in 2022.

Some of my most memorable and rewarding experiences have been with my students at Columbia. Over the years I have continued to dance and prior to the pandemic was choreographing for our student-run dance group, Dance Haven. I also lead our Dance Research Team. Our projects have focused on the development and implementation of an adolescent dancer screen and establishing the reliability of various screening methods. Research has brought me full-circle, back to Alvin Aileys to to study the reliability of handheld dynamometry for lower extremity strength testing in pre-professional dancers. There is so much more work that needs to be done in the field of dance medicine science. Mentoring students and former students in dance research has been a rewarding way to contribute to the field.

I am grateful to the PASIG for the opportunity to collaborate with leaders across the country and from various performing arts backgrounds. It is a fabulous group of passionate physical therapists committed to creating high quality educational offerings, collaborating on research, and positioning physical therapists as experts in care for performing artists.