Web Exclusives:Features

April 10, 2002:

Alumni Spotlight:
A dancer's doctor
Orthopedist William Hamilton '54 sees to feet, legs, and hips

William G. Hamilton '54 occupies an unusual niche within his medical specialty, orthopedic surgery. As the orthopedist to the New York City Ballet, its School of American Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre, as well as a consultant to many other dance companies, Hamilton's patients are almost entirely professional athletes and ballet dancers.

It's nothing he ever planned. One day in 1971, George Balanchine, choreographer and artistic director of the New York City Ballet, "came over to ask me if I'd take care of his dancers. It turned out we lived on the same block, and we became good friends," says Hamilton, an engineering major at Princeton and graduate of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose Manhattan office is near Lincoln Center. The friendship continued until Balanchine's death in 1983.

According to Hamilton, "Most of the problems we see with dancers are the same as in any athlete: strains, stress fractures, muscle pulls." But specific to dancers are "sprained ankles from jumps, and hip trouble because of foot turnout. The back of the ankle may be a problem because of dancing en pointe; and there are forefoot problems caused by toe shoes."

Major career-ending injuries are rare, he says. "Dancing is not dangerous. It is one of the safest, and healthiest, things you can do."

The dancers are "wonderful patients," he says. "They want to get well. They'll do whatever it takes." And what it takes, according to Hamilton, is "teamwork. You need a good doctor, a good patient, and an excellent rehabilitation therapist. It's the rehab that gets the joint or muscle working again."

Another member of the team is Hamilton's wife, Linda, a former dancer and a former patient of his, now a clinical psychologist who works with artists.

Hamilton attends the ballet frequently. "To sit in the audience," he says, "and see someone dance who wasn't able to dance the month before, to have played some part in that process, is very gratifying."

By Caroline Moseley

Caroline Moseley is a frequent contributor to PAW.