THE BALLET BLOG
by Ewa Sivertsen

Little known ways of implementing dance and movement therapy as recreation in professional ballet 
companies


1. DO WE KNOW ABOUT ALL THE POSSIBLE RESOURCES OF HEALTH PROMOTION IN PROFESSIONAL BALLET COMPANIES?

The intention of this article is to provide health promotion to professional dancers and create new opportunities for better self -care in ballet companies.  It also expands the traditional way of using dance and movement therapy (DMT), and it challenges the traditional approaches implemented by therapists who work with ballet dancers. We all know that professional ballet companies usually work with a health team including doctors and physiotherapists, mostly with physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation), and sports medicine background. 

But do we know enough about other methods for protecting the mental health of dancers?

As a psychomotor and somatocognitive physiotherapist with a deeper understanding of the therapeutic values of movement and dance, I would love to share my points with you. I’m convinced that dancers are giving it all to create amazing stage products and provide them to the audience. But as a therapist, I’m also worried about dancers, if they are given enough space for recreation in the ballet company where they work. I’m also wondering if classical ballet companies have enough knowledge about how to use the resources of the therapists of different fields like: psychomotor physiotherapy (a Norwegian rooted method of physiotherapy), and dance-and movement therapy (DMT).  My impression is that approaches like mentioned above aren’t known enough and that the sports medicine and physiatry related approaches to dance still are the dominating ones in ballet companies. My hypothesis is that especially DMT isn’t explored so much as a source of wellbeing and recreation for professional dancers. That’s why I want to look at some important aspects of the dancers' everyday life and what DMT could bring to improve it's quality and promote better health in professional dance. 

2. HEALTH RISKS IN PROFESSIONAL DANCER CAREER

As a part of an audience, thanks to the mechanisms of kinesthetic empathy, thanks to my body and it’s relational existence, I’m able to develop my own embodied sensibility to the stage products the dancers are a part of.  Through watching ballet, I feel that I can connect to this world of beautiful expression and movement in a way that is more integrated. More, thanks to professional dancers, I can stay attuned to my self too. So first of all, I’d like to express my gratitude for the work the dancers do for me and for others. But, I’m also aware of the fact that for professional dancers, the work of providing art can lead to some health risks. The way we treat and look at the body must have consequences for good health. I believe that the way the dancers' everyday schedule is build up, with rehearsals, alternative training, nutrition plan, physiotherapy work, public&media appointments, this can lead to some harm to the individual perception of itself as a subject.  This harm can be noticed by an individual as a need to verbalize feelings and to show yourself from the side who is created by you only. Some dancers are able to take care of their needs, others who are not so aware, or who can’t find spaces where they can breathe on their own, may suffer from physical pain or a mental notion of disintegration, and chaos. The dancer's professional everyday life constantly challenges the body image and their voice of a primary-perspective of experiences gained throughout a long day.

How do the dancers copy with this externalization of their bodies, especially in periods of the high season of performance?
If you want to improve your self-care strategies as a dancer, follow the 3 steps in my Workbook for Dancers here:

3. COPY STRATEGIES IN PROFESSIONAL DANCE AND THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

There are many coping strategies to master the challenges of the dancers' work life. As you could see in my Workbook, to practice self-care strategies and have some tools available during a stressful performance time, is a big step forward. 
Some ballet companies know for sure how to offer that I’m naming  'the recreational space' for a hardworking dancer.  By that I mean offers within a company's health team that include classes in relaxation through own movement or wellbeing classes with a focus on the non-pressure oriented movement practice and the creative movement. So, if you are a professional dancer in a company who experiences lack of the access to those, expanded, opportunities for recreation, maybe it can be interesting for you to hear about my perspective as a physiotherapist for dancers with the background I mentioned before. 

But first, I would like to share with you my observation from the world of social media. I'm observing an interesting phenomenon of use of the social media like for ex. Instagram as a tool for creating balance to the subjective, experience-based world. The Instagram, for many professional dancers, seems to function as a space for verbalization of the primary- perspective experiences who only are they own voice.  The verbalization through short comments on their pictures as a medium for expression seems today to be a sign of a need of protecting the voice of the primary-perspective experiences, not only for professional dancers but also for many «normal» people. As I see it, the dancers, the more «stars» they become, the more they show this need of telling us how they feel and experience the reality. Sometimes the verbalization and the images are not 100% authentic and do not show the exact content of how the individual experiences her/his lived reality. Sometimes dancers are honest and state how they actually are doing right now- with no filter. My purpose of this article isn’t to criticize the dancers or the Instagram as a medium of expression, I’m only sharing my fascination about the noticeable need dancers might have to verbalize and show how they experience their ballet life. I’m also interested in how we therapists recognize this need, how we embrace it, and how (and if!) we are trying to develop better methods for prevention of mental and physical harm in dance. I mean we are living in a new era of social media and that demands different approaches to the promotion of health. 

On the Instagram I often read the picture comments coming from professional dancers like: «the current mood», «this is going to be an exciting day», «privileged», «that’s how I’m feeling right now», «scared», «grateful» etc. Some expressions are more clear, other more camouflaged through quotes or poetic words. But, many of them show the need of saying something about how a dancer EXISTS AS A SUBJECT in his/her created role. This little post on the Instagram is only dancers own, no one else’s, not the choreographer’s, nor the company leader's. That’s why it probably means so much to a dancer! Not necessarily how many 'likes' it is followed by. And I believe, that even when the pictures often have this perfect ballet scenery, what does matter to a dancer, is the possibility of creating a feeling of a community, of sharing and self- expressing.


4. INSTAGRAM, A SELF- PROMOTION OR A SELF- PROTECTION TOOL?

The other aspect of my personal analysis of this social media phenomenon is the Instagram as a self-leadership tool for dancers. Professional dancers often express the need of posting motivational words and quotes, that guide them through the day and inspire others. Those who post more often, also tend to inform us about how they feel at the end of a ballet day. Sometimes, the posted pictures express the body in exhaustion, discomfort, lying down or in a pose indicating strain. Very often, the pictures express joy and happiness too! So it’s absolutely not a 'black or white' way of a dancer presenting him/her self on Instagram. Whatever the presentation is, my impression is that this is communicating SOMETHING. My point is, this way of using social media, for many dancers can be a therapy, a self-motivational tool, or very simply, a space which they can create only by themselves. Of course, in some cases, the dancers use Instagram with the intention of self-promotion. But, let’s think about the case when a dancer already is a «star» in her/his company. This dancer actually doesn’t need much more promotion. So, what is about this self-promotion behavior, what kind of message does it bring to us? Is it an act of a self-promotion or a self-protection? 


5. COVERING THE GAP IN WELLBEING AND TREATMENT OFFERS FOR BALLET DANCERS

As a therapist working with dancers, I automatically follow my instinct of providing professional care and that’s why I’m so engaged in this subject. I also believe that there is a need for something else that can cover the gap in today's understanding of health promotion offers for dancers. I’m convinced by a new approach to the health promotion for professional dancers that should be welcomed in ballet companies in our modern world. So, how about expanding the recreational opportunities the movement, the dance and the body itself offers in a way that is more internal, subjective and therapeutic? In other words, how about using dance-and movement therapy approach and method which is grounded in the healing roots of dance, to support the dancers and improve their wellbeing? I trust that dancers need to protect their subjective existence in order to prevent mental and physical discomforts and to secure a long-lasting career. Social media is definitely not the only and appropriate opportunity for mental recreation and probably neither the conventional therapy offers for dancers in ballet companies are sufficient to cover the promotion of a subjective self-care. In the next point, you are going to read why I’m so passionate about the DMT for professional dancers and why I wish this therapy more in professional companies. 


6. USING DANCE THERAPY FOR DANCERS

Through my studies in dance- and movement therapy (DMT) in Norway, I discovered that dancers have a unique opportunity to use exactly the same resource: movement and dance, in a way that it secures the expression of their own movement and feeling of their own grounding to the world. Dance- and movement therapy as a personal process-oriented approach for professional ballet dancers seems to be an undiscovered option for artists working in companies. My observation is that freelance dancers seem to be more aware of the risks of their choice dedicating their bodies to create products. They much often search for additional and cross-training classes where they can find self-development and recreation, for ex. kinetic awareness, improvisation, yoga, authentic movement, body awareness etc. Since my heart is dedicated especially to ballet dancers in companies who might be exposed to bigger health risks, I  wish to change the situation where the protection of the ballet dancers' health doesn’t have the same opportunities that other types of dancers do. I also mean that the concept of health protection needs to expand in other options then traditional dance medicine has to offer. One way of solving this is to promote group- and individual classes in therapeutic oriented movement and dance within ballet companies. As I see the dance-and movement therapy approach, it has a huge range of opportunities for dancers. DMT can solve the challenge of how to take care of the dancer's primary-perspective voice of experiences.
How? Through the verbalization, the own produced movement from the deepest layers of itself, the transformation of feelings and the recovering from the ego-influenced behaviors. These are the elements which are essential to this therapy form. I recently wrote an assignment about «How the Dance-and Movement Therapy method can prevent burn out in professional dance and promote better health». My discussion ended up in thoughts about the opportunities the DMT provides, which are as follow: 

DMT as a method for rebuilding the body image

DMT as a tool for exploration of own potential for recovery 

DMT as a space for sharing in a supportive, collective environment of a group

DMT as a tool for increasing awareness of body sensations and emotions, and transformation of those

DMT as a method for emotional integration and the therapeutic containing

DMT as a method for establishing the body contact and protection of the subjective dancer perspective

As we can see, this list is rich in content and ballet dancers could definitely benefit from it!


7. DANCE THERAPY AS A MORE ORGANIC TOOL FOR DANCERS' RECREATION

Summarizing my points, the social media canals today points at an important need the ballet dancers might have. This is a need for a bigger space to exist in a subjective world of own’s voice of experience. Are social media the only thing we have to create this space for recreation and protection of the body and the soul of dancers? It’s a modern channel, but as I see it, it limits us as it’s not- embodied and distanced from experiences we can truly sense. Sometimes, this channel, this virtual space can even be destructive, although I don't wont to focus on these mechanisms here. My final words are: as in homeopathy, let’s give the dancers through their true and authentic bodywork, the stimuli’s that can provoke an against- response and in the result, heal the negative consequences of using the body as an artistic- and performance tool. 

​​​​​​​Let’s use more movement- and dance therapy. It is such a simple conclusion, but I believe, so true! What’s great about it, is that we can use the same element, DANCE, to create a recreational, rebalancing and healing space for professional ballet dancers- the resource they already possess. It is maybe an untypical way of seeing it, and my point of view on the social media canals may even feel uncomfortable. But, after my recent studies in DMT, I ended up with a strong belief that this might be this new way of thinking, coaching and looking at therapy and recreation for dancers in ballet companies. I hope that through reading my article, more company leaders will see the potential the DMT offers to professional ballet dancers, and that we together can find ways of implementing it as a part of the regular health- and dancer wellness program. 
Thank you so much for following the Authentic Ballet Blog and 
remember to download my 3 steps Workbook for better self-care for dancers now:


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