Julia Iafrate, DO

Follow Dr. Iafrate on Instagram at @columbiadancemedicine and @julezlouisa and Twitter at @thenewdrj!

1. What is your background in both dance and medicine? Why did you decide to pursue those two disciplines? 

I have loved dance since the moment I joined my first tap class at the age of 2. The love of the musicality and the way I could create art with my body formed a passion in me that remains to this day. I trained in tap, jazz, modern, and contemporary initially, but during high school my fiery Italian personality drew me to hip hop and salsa. In University (in Canada) I performed and competed with a few hip hop dance crews – Xklusiv and The Firm, and did some back-up dancing for numerous Canadian music artists. I also had a fondness for helping people and my friends would often refer to me as the “momma bear” of the group – I was viscously protective of the ones I loved. That protective nature made medicine a natural choice for me. After taking a year off to reset and do some volunteer work in Kenya (something I often recommend to students considering post-secondary education in the medical field), I felt sure of this path for myself and applied to medical school. Along with dance, I played soccer and skied, so orthopedics and sports medicine was a perfect fit for me. 

2. When was the first time you performed, and what part of that experience do you still carry with you?

Most of my early dance memories involve me in a frilly little costume, with too much makeup and overly hair-sprayed hair! I was always front and center because I was such a quick learner and (according to my parents) was an excellent performer. I have videos of the other kids watching me instead of our dance instructors dancing in the wings during recitals. I never got nervous before going on stage, in fact I loved the attention, and I loved the way I felt when I was performing. That comfort with performance is something that I carry with me still today. Due to my expertise in the sports (and dance) medicine field, I am often asked to give lectures nationally and internationally. I look at these opportunities as just another recital; another chance to share my skills and passion for my craft!

3. Such creative journeys often face great challenges and successes. What event(s) inspired or challenged you personally to pursue dance, and incorporating that into your medical training?

Dance was always a creative outlet for me. In fact, I seriously considered dance as a career. My parents worried, however, that turning the thing that I used as a retreat from stress into the (potential) cause of my stress might make me lose my love for it. I never got to test out that theory. Unfortunately, during my 4 years of undergraduate training, I sustained injuries that ended up requiring 3 separate knee surgeries and months of physical therapy. It was frustrating to talk to my orthopedic surgeon and physiatrist (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation doctor) and realize that they didn’t understand the biomechanics that were most important for me as a dancer. I stopped competing after college but continued to dance because of the joy it brought me. I also decided to go into medicine and become a sports and dance medicine doctor so I could develop into the physician I wish could have treated me when I was still performing.

4. How do you blend your work in dance and in medicine? What’s one piece of advice you can share for those aspiring artist-physicians?

Medicine is both an art and a science. In some ways, so is dance. To quote the great Martha Graham – “Dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion”.  I add the simple caveat, “But they stay healthy because of their technique”. Great biomechanics make for longer dance careers. I learned this when mine was cut short. Being able to bring in those personal touches can make the difference between a good doctor and a great doctor. I hope this can help inspire someone to consider medicine as a profession, whether during or after their dance career. Because passion for our craft remains, even if the craft itself changes slightly.

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