By Shell Lessen
“Arabesque” and “pirouette” were not the first words uttered by Ali Elder in her infancy. But if they were, it wouldn’t have been surprising. After all, Ali grew up practicing ballet and was exposed to its terminology almost from day one.
Along with developing lasting love for ballet, as she matured, Ali became fascinated by the intricate positions the body can attain when properly trained for ballet and exercises in general.
In fact, there was a time when her interest in body movements was so intense that when performing in ballet dance classes she would forget the next step.
A deep thinker
Ali attributes this to the fact that “my mind was off somewhere thinking about how amazing it is that our bodies are capable of mastering dancing’s most difficult positions and movements. I was also extremely interested in the forces that differentiate every dancer’s movement.”
In time, of course, the habit of overlooking steps disappeared, buried under countless hours of work that lifted Ali’s performance to the level of a professional—while she was still in high school. Handling the daily demands of school plus the pressures of professional dancing appearances was far from easy. Nevertheless, she excelled in both.
Meeting the challenge
Ditto excellence at her next stop as well: California State University at Long Beach and its unique Dance Science course.
Ali explained that CSULB required a dance audition to qualify for its program. But also essential were physical science classes including such subjects as anatomy and physics. They may be appropriate for science majors, but they were big bad barriers for liberal arts dancing students. Reason: most of them had little or no interest or experience in these fields of physical science.
Ali, however, was quite willing to take on whatever CSULB had to offer in the way of requirements. The word “can’t” simply is not in her vocabulary. “DETERMINED” is, in capital letters.
A professor’s happy helper
In spite of her busy and challenging schedule at CSULB she somehow found time to serve as an assistant to the renowned Professor Karen Clippinger. She was assigned to the professor’s Body Placement and Anatomy for Dancers Classes.
Professor Clippinger is known worldwide for her lifelong work on application of scientific principles to alignment and movement performance while lowering injury risk.
She has given more than 400 presentations in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and Europe and worked with the Joffrey Ballet Dance Company, and Pacific Northwest Ballet among others throughout the United States. In addition, much of her writing has been translated into eight languages throughout Europe and Asia.
Nothing but the best
“Assisting Professor Clippinger was a great honor and pleasure,” Ali said. “In a sense, my CSULB career was launched in her classes that teach body placement and anatomy for dancers.”
Ali added that “working between semesters, I also earned my Body Arts and Science Pilates certification from Professor Clippinger.
“Most important was that I came to realize studying movement and its application in the form of the Pilates physical fitness system made me want to be the best trained physical therapist possible.”
And the best wanted her.
In 2012 she was accepted by USC’S number one ranked physical therapy school in America.
Discovering one of a kind
While at USC, she spent an internship at re+active physical therapy and services in Los Angeles, a company specializing in outpatient neurologic physical therapy. “And I found it to be extremely forward-looking,” she noted.
Her observation was on target. For example, when she arrived, re+active was in the process of setting up the very first movement disorders fellowship program serving physical therapists anywhere. The project was undertaken jointly with the Movement Disorders Clinic of UCLA.
It is specially designed to provide individualized training involving treatment of Parkinson’s diseases and syndromes, plus Huntington as well as other genetic diseases. The team of UCLA and re+active bases its one of-a-kind service on the particular interests and goals of entering fellows.
Founded in 2011, re+active is one of the few outpatient neurologic physical therapy facilities in operation. Its staff includes four physical therapists, along with a part time occupational therapist. Available weekly are wellness classes for voice, yoga and skilled-based training instruction.
On the job
In May of 2015 Ali graduated and went to work full time at re+active, having earned a doctorate in physical therapy. In addition, she was named the first Movement Disorders Fellow.
With this honor comes the opportunity to attend numerous educational courses, observe experts in the field of movement disorders, and speak at community events focusing on the benefits of physical activity.
Ali Elder has been cited for a number of outstanding achievements since those high school/professional ballet days.
But when asked to name the most gratifying honor of all, she answered: “seeing creativity applied and progress achieved with our clients in a very short period of time, and being part of it all.”
An answer to be expected.