Ball State students require a Blackboard account and a student ID, but Gardy Gilbert also needs something else - a special backpack designed to help spine alignment.

Gilbert is a freshman acting option major in Ball State’s Department of Theatre and Dance. All performance majors are required to buy a BackTpack, a T-shaped back pack that features two saddle style bags on either side.

“As actors, we deal with the body as text,” Jonathan Becker, an assistant professor of movement and acting said. “In other words, the audience sees the physical body then interprets it.”

The Price of a BackTpack

The T-shaped backpacks range from $55 to $85 according to the BackTpack website. 

Becker said the designer of the BackTpack, Marilyn Miller von Foerester, likes Ball State and gives a discount on BackTpacks to Ball State community members. 

The Theatre and Dance department isn’t the only Ball State college to require an extra item. Teaching students and nursing and architecture majors all must purchase special materials like scrubs or computers and special software.

But it was Becker’s philosophy about the body that inspired him to recommend the BackTpack to his students. He discovered BackTpacks three years ago when he met a student with scoliosis who needed the BackTpack to correct problems with her spine.

The theatre department deals with a lot of alignment issues with actors, said Becker. Humans’ daily routines can corrupt spine alignment. The way people sit in chairs, drive cars and carry things around can damage their spines.

According to BackTpack’s website, the pack applies the weight of the bag’s load to the body’s vertical axis, eliminating posture distortion and decreasing the effort required to carry the load.

Becker’s preference for the BackTpacks became more official this school year after he spoke with the performing arts department chair and received the approval to classify BackTpacks as classroom equipment.

The department negotiated a discount with BackTpack to make the packs affordable to students. Gilbert paid $50 for his.

If students are unable to pay for the pack, they are taught to carry their current backpacks in a way that promotes healthy spine alignment.

“We’re using them to reeducate the physical instrument for the actors and the singers and the dancers,” Becker said.

Gilbert agrees with Becker when it comes to the importance of good posture among performers. Gilbert can feel the difference his BackTpack has made, saying he feels his “shoulders and back immediately begin to tense up” when he switches back to a regular backpack.

“Honestly, at first I thought it was a tad ridiculous,” Gilbert said. “But the BackTpack quickly grew on me and I realized why Jonathan required it.”

Students outside of the department have taken notice.

Olivia Fuelling, a freshman health science major, was confused by the “very unattractive” packs she saw around campus.

“I didn’t realize they were required or good for your back,” Fuelling said.

Clark Dickin, director of the Biomechanics Laboratory, is currently testing the theory of the BackTpack’s purpose. He is using the laboratory facilities at Ball State to test weight loads on students’ joints.

“In theory the pack seems to follow its purpose,” Dickin said.

Dickin hopes to have his data collections published in April or May.