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Music to Our Ears: Are Dancers at Risk for High Sound Level Exposure?

Haley Busenbarrick, Kathleen L. Davenport
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 35 Number 4: Page 227 (December 2020)

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Abstract: Enduring exposure to high sound pressure levels (SPLs) can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). In the performing arts population, NIHL has been studied primarily in the context of sound exposure experienced by musicians and less so by dancers. This research aimed to identify sound exposure that dancers may experience in some dance classes. Decibel levels were recorded in 12 dance classes (6 ballet, 4 modern, and 1 soft and 1 hard shoe Irish dance) at 8 different studios using the NIOSH SLM app on an iOS smartphone with external microphone. A minimum of five recordings of each class was measured, each collected on a different day, yielding a total of 114 measurements. Results showed that 20.2% of all recordings exceeded the recommended NIOSH sound exposure limits of both 100% projected daily dose and 85 LAeq. Analysis between styles of dance demonstrated significantly lower LAeq (p<0.05) in soft shoe Irish dance compared to ballet (p=0.023), modern (p=0.035), and Irish hard shoe dance (p=0.009). Irish soft shoe dance demonstrated minimal to no risk of high sound exposure. Conversely, 53.25% of ballet, 90.9% of Irish hard shoe dance, and 68.24% of modern recordings exhibited minimal to moderate risk of high sound exposure. Furthermore, we found wide ranges of projected daily noise doses within classes taught by the same teacher. It is recommended that multiple recordings of dance environments be obtained, as a single sound recording may not accurately represent potential exposure. These findings indicate that dancers of Irish hard shoe, modern, and ballet may benefit from noise intervention such as audiometric testing, noise controls, and hearing protection.

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