McCullough to Direct NEA-funded Clinical Trial

Aston K. McCullough
Aston K. McCullough

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has approved funding for a clinical trial led by Aston K. McCullough, assistant professor of dance science in the department of music and dance.

The purpose of this two-year trial, which began in May 2019, is to determine the effects of a group-based dance/movement program on physical and mental health in women who are survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence. Specifically, the study seeks to confirm a dose-response relationship between exposures to group-based dance/movement, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and changes in heart rate variability among survivors.

The $190,000 trial is funded largely by a $95,000 Research: Art Works award from the NEA, with additional support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. The NEA Research: Art Works grant program aims to address the current dearth of available studies that rigorously evaluate the impact of the arts on various aspects of health, development and society. The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers. The grant is provided through its Arts in Health initiative, which supports organizations using the arts to address health issues affecting New Yorkers, with particular attention to increasing access to care and addressing disparities in health outcomes.

The dance/movement intervention implements Gibney's community action model, which was designed in collaboration with artists, clinical experts and survivors. Gibney is a New York City-based organization focused on the performing arts and social justice. Its mission is to tap into the vast potential of movement, creativity and performance to effect social change and personal transformation. Within Gibney’s community action model, professional dancers share tools of choice, self-expression, collaboration and self-care with survivors of intimate partner violence through dance/movement workshops. Early results from a feasibility study led by McCullough showed that an eight-session exposure to Gibney’s group-based dance/movement intervention significantly reduced PTSD symptoms in survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence when compared to a usual care control group. Given these promising findings, the current study will increase the number exposures to dance/movement in order to better understand the relationship between dance and wellness in survivors.

McCullough, the principal investigator (PI) for the trial, will be joined by co-investigators Kara Gilmour, Gibney’s senior director of community action and strategic initiatives; Yasemin Ozumerzifon, Gibney’s director of community action, along with Allison Ross, deputy clinical director at Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based abuse.

“I believe that the interdisciplinary team that we’ve assembled has been key to this project’s success to date,” commented McCullough. “Each person brings a unique specialization or expertise to the study, with domain knowledge extending across the fields of kinesiology, statistics, dance and mental health. I’m grateful to be working with such a talented group of people who are committed to understanding the benefits of dance in the lives of survivors.”