Thinking Beyond the Body

by Gerard Davis, Dance writer and critic

The Birmingham Hippodrome was the venue for Dance UK’s insightful conference on dancers’ psychology entitled

Attendees at Dance UK’s Beyond the Body conference. Photo: Phil Hitchman

Beyond the Body: Psychological tools for performance enhancement and wellbeing in dance’. Organised in collaboration with the Royal Society of Medicine, it provided an excellent account of the progress made and the work still to be done in the relatively new area of dance psychology.

Alongside 18 other nationally and internationally recognised speakers, Dr Peter Lovatt exclusively revealed the results of his new research debunking the notion that dancers have a low self-esteem, and the day was concluded by the important announcement that the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS) had opened its second NHS dance injury clinic, this time at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

One of many themes that came out of the conference was that while the acceptance of the necessity of dance psychology had come on leaps and bounds over the past few years, there is still an awful lot of work to do, particularly in the need for more research tailored specifically to dance. The majority of current findings are based on sports psychology research, which remains streets ahead.

Many of the speakers, such as Professor Joan Duda (Professor of Sports Psychology at the University of Birmingham), also stressed the importance of not simply dwelling on negative psychological aspects such as self-harm or eating disorders but using positive applications as a tool to promote dancers’ wellbeing, particularly through the direct methods of teaching and education.

Equally, a more interdisciplinary approach to the treatment of dancers’ injuries and psychological health was advocated by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Clinical Director Nick Allen, Counselling Psychologist Carol Chapman and Chartered Psychologist Anne Thomas.

Perhaps the most memorable image to come out of the conference was Professor Jon Arcelus’s ‘pie of life’. It shockingly demonstrated how easily eating disorders could take hold in a situation where dance was already taking up a large portion of an individual’s sense of identity and self-worth. It really brought home just how much discussion and action in this area is still required and how crucial the development of positive psychological tools are in combatting eating (as well as other psychological) problems.

Well organised, extremely informative and with a high attendance of delegates, ‘Beyond the Body’ could well prove to be an inspiring landmark in the development of the psychology of dance.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 87 – Spring 2014