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Healthy Dancing for Every Body

Posted By IADMS Newsletter, Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019

Invited authors: Rebecca Barnstaple, Ph.D. candidate, York University, Toronto, Canada
Lucie Beaudry, Ph.D. candidate and assistant professor, Université du Québec à Montréal
Professor Sylvie Fortin, Université du Québec à Montréal


IADMS has recently expanded its mandate to include a focus on Dance for Health (DfH) with the aim to promote and validate dance as a life-long partner for health and well-being for all publics. The development of innovative research related to a variety of healthy dance practices is a key aspect of this initiative. In this brief report, we present core aspects behind the rationale for this new direction of IADMS, followed by a description of a substantial DfH research collaboration in Montreal, Québec, Canada, host city of IADMS 29th Annual Conference.


While dance is historically connected with healing in many cultures, medical and scientific interest in applications of dance within rehabilitation, therapy, health care and well-being are more recent, accompanied by an emerging body of research exploring the efficacy and mechanisms of dance-based interventions through a range of methods. These may be qualitative, quantitative, mixed, or art-based, reflecting the inherent complexity of dance as a holistic activity encompassing art, physicality, sociality, and environment – essential aspects of our humanness (Fortin, 2018). Clare Guss-West and Emily Jenkins in their blog post Introducing Dance for Health (DfH) suggest that “The joyful, social, creative and expressive elements of dance are perhaps the precise reasons for its efficacy within health contexts”[i], and the DfH roundtable in Helsinki identified a primary need for research addressing “dance beyond physical activity”. We could add that DfH explores dance beyond psychotherapeutic uses of dance/movement, associated with dance/movement therapy.


DfH initiatives are not presented as therapy, but nevertheless can offer many therapeutic benefits. Dance has the potential to act as an adaptive and widely-applicable health intervention that is multimodal both in delivery and benefits. Beyond physical activity, dance requires complex coordination of motor skills, cognitive strategies, affective and attentional resources, and aesthetic components. Cognitive tasks such as learning choreography (Bar and DeSouza 2016) or responding to cues that invite improvisational problem solving (Batson et al 2016) recruit distinct brain regions and neural networks, while partnered dance forms and exercises can involve complex social strategies such as mimicry (in mirroring), communicative responses (partnered improvisation), and learned roles or vocabulary (such as in tango or salsa).


Interoception, proprioception, and kinesthetic awareness are all heightened by dance, which can improve body image as well as fine and gross motor control (Muller-Pinget et al, 2012; Gose 2019). Dance is also a creative form of emotional expression, which may be enhanced by music. Entrainment, or action that is synchronous with external cues such as music, has been shown to modulate neural entrainment (Thaut 2006). Finally, dance makes use of space in specific ways that extend beyond exercise studies. These broad engagements of the situated nervous system through dance demonstrate its relevance for all bodies; thus IADMS has expanded its activities to be inclusive of anyone dancing. However, research on dance in the context of health interventions can be difficult due to the involvement of, and interactions between, many factors. Interdisciplinary collaborations blending the best tools of science with the nuanced approaches of humanities and the creativeness of the arts may be optimal for addressing the challenges involved in developing meaningful research on DfH.


An example of this is found in Quebec, Canada, where the project Audace (2018-2020) brings together 11 researchers with different backgrounds (dance, creative arts therapies, education, kinesiology, neuropsychology, rehabilitation and sociology[ii]). This highly interdisciplinary team demonstrates the challenges involved in negotiating a shared language to develop and assess interventions across various population groups: adult out-patient rehabilitation service users; healthy inactive community-based older adults; children with neuro-visual problems; ex-homeless women with mental health issues and addictions; adolescents with cerebral palsy; people with Parkinson’s disease. The inclusion of various approaches in DfH is an intentional effort on the part of project members to go beyond labels (such as dance therapy, adapted dance, expressive/arts therapy, creative dance, modified dance intervention, developmental dance, Laban-based dance, community dance, etc.) and to focus on complementary relationships rather than abstract stances. Presuming that the content and the pedagogy can vary greatly under the same label, or that different labels might present quite similar content and pedagogy, one objective of the research is to open and explore details within the “black box” of different interventions.


While looking for compelling evidence of the effects of dance for health, we want to better understand the “active ingredients” of dance-based interventions in terms of pedagogy and content. We also want to go beyond these laudable intentions by recognising that dance, across cultures, is fundamental to our embodiment as human beings, and aspects of movement experiences may evade complete description or sophisticated analysis. For these reasons, the Audace project will culminate with a “creative act” engaging all parties involved. Organized in partnership with the National Centre for Dance Therapy, this will be a multi-media event bringing together many artistic modalities (live dance demonstrations, videos, pictures, projections, etc.), highlighting the myriad approaches and applications within dance that influence health and well-being.


With its innovative interdisciplinary design, the Audace project does not seek to establish the competencies of an individual practitioner, or a single professional role, or a specific research method, but rather to explore the potential inherent in people from distinct professional backgrounds coming together to create a unified field of practice and research. The future lies in our ability to collaboratively encourage all bodies to explore the myriad ways in which dancing can contribute to experiencing health, well-being, artistry, and agency throughout the lifespan.




Bar RJ & DeSouza JFX. Tracking plasticity: Effects of long-term rehearsal in experts encoding music to movement. PLoS ONE 2016;11(1):p. e0147731
Batson G, Hugenschmidt CE, Soriano CT. Verbal Auditory Cueing of Improvisational Dance: A Proposed Method for Training Agency in Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neurology 2016;7(2):215-215.
Fortin, S. Tomorrow’s dance and health partnership: the need for a holistic view, Research in Dance Education 2018, 19:2, 152-166, DOI: 10.1080/14647893.2018.1463360
Gose, R. Extraordinary dance requires extraordinary motor learning. Journal of Dance Education, 19: 34–40, 2019 Copyright © National Dance Education Organization ISSN: 1529-0824 print / 2158-074X online DOI:
Muller-Pinget S, Carrard I, Ybarra J, & Golay A (2012). Dance therapy improves self-body image among obese patients. Volume 89, Issue 3, December 2012, Pages 525-528.
Thaut MH. Neural Basis of Rhythmic Timing Networks in the Human Brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. First published: 24 January 2006.

[ii]Bonnie Swaine, Sylvie Fortin, Raymond Caroline, Duval Hélène, Lemay Martin, Lucie Beaudry, Louis Bherer, Guylaine Vaillancourt, Patricia McKinley, Frédérique Poncet, Sarah Berry


Tags:  Dance for Health  IADMS Newsletter 


Identity Matters

Posted By IADMS Newsletter, Sunday, July 14, 2019
Updated: Monday, July 15, 2019

Invited author info: Lynda Mainwaring, PhD, CPsych,
Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto.


Who am I? Who am I now that I am injured? Who am I when I am no longer a dancer? Who am I, if I am not recognized in the way in which I perceive myself? Dancers may ask themselves these questions along their career paths. The questions relate to how we perceive ourselves, how we describe ourselves, how we value ourselves, how we perceive our identity, and how we are perceived by others and the way in which that influences us.


Most of us typically begin our self-description in terms of what we do or in relation to our work.1,2 But what about other identities such as gender identity, national identity, ethnic identity, cultural and racial identity? Are these important matters for dance medicine, science, education and psychology?


In terms of gender identity, should we include LGBTQQIA+ education in medical schools, for example? Emerging initiatives say there is a need to provide clinical education with the lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender patient in mind.3 And what about dance training and practice? Le pas de deux, as a model, implies there are binary roles for men and women. How do we reconfigure partnering and dance training within broader perspectives? In the last few years the questions of identity, in particular those related to gender and related concerns of inclusivity, harassment and sexism, have emerged as matters of importance in studios, schools and in the media.


Identity refers to how one describes the self, and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it refers to the characteristics that determine who or what a person or thing is. For example, one could describe someone by any number of characteristics: age, race, gender, height, weight, percent body fat, employment, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, education level, birth order, years of training, dance genre, marital status, political persuasion, mental health, etcetera. One’s identity, however, is more than a list of variables. It is a personally and socially-constructed understanding of who we are. It varies overtime, and is thus dynamic. It is a complex and multi-faceted concept and process related to how we see and value ourselves: Identity, can be examined through both psychological (identity theory) and sociological (social identity theory) perspectives.


Identity development and consolidation is an evolving process that involves personal, interpersonal and community levels of interaction. Identity for dancers is acutely enmeshed in the body, performance, training, the aspirations, structures and messages of the dance culture and the environment with all its trimmings. How would you complete the sentence that begins, I am . . . ? For an example, and an informative piece on identity in dance, see Rowley’s “Discover the Rainbow.”4


Pickard (2012)5 suggests that evolution of identity as a ballet dancer is riddled with commitment, sacrifice, physical and emotional pain and suffering (p. 42). From her qualitative study of 12 young dancers, she concluded that ballet has a powerful dominant belief structure related to perfection and beauty that objectifies the body as separate and machine-like. She embraces the concept of habitus-- an acquired set of dispositions that have been incorporated into the body (p.86)6 -- introduced by Bourdieu, the French sociologist. She suggests a dancer’s body and habitus are produced and perpetuated through the embodiment of pain and suffering for ballet as an art. With that frame of reference, how do dancers develop an identity that transcends self-denial or destruction and incorporate a healthy relationship with physical and emotional pain? How do they overcome or manage mental and physical health problems that are a result of a culture that ignores them? How do we, in our professional community, support, care for, and encourage dancers across the identity spectrum? How do we overcome our own myopic view with its stereotypical underlying assumptions?


Dancers, dance educators, medical personnel and scientists, do not typically consider dancer identity. Certainly, dancers identify with particular genres such as contemporary, ballet, Flamenco, or ballroom, for example. This we understand. But, what is Dancer Identity as a psychological or sociological phenomenon, and why is it important? What role does it play in the dance community, dance itself, science, dance training, education, development, performance, transition, retirement, injury, self-respect, mental health, maltreatment, body image, dancer image, self-esteem, self-concept, personal and professional relationships, and in life satisfaction and general well-being? Despite, contributions from a few published studies and philosophical papers, I suggest that we do not have much literature, nor much understanding about dancer identity and how it relates to dancer health and well-being. It warrants more attention across research, teaching, education, clinical practice and personal care. Why might that be?


In sport psychology, athletic identity has been examined extensively. It is “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athletic role” (p. 237)7. In essence, a person with a strong athletic identity places a great amount of importance on athletic involvement and on the perception of the self in the sport domain.7 Transposing this definition to dance then, we can define dancer identity as the degree to which a dancer identifies with the dancer’s role within the dance environment and culture.


We know from sport psychology that some personality traits such as perfectionism and trait anxiety are associated with high risk for burnout8, that athletes with strong athletic identities have higher burnout levels9 and that high athletic identity predicts burnout10-14. Also, athletes with strong athletic identities have a willingness to train more with an associated performance improvement.7,15


Murphy Petitpas, & Brewer16 found that athletic identity was positively associated with identity foreclosure. That is, if athletes identify strongly with, and commit to, their roles as athletes without exploring other roles in life, they risk limiting opportunities for themselves or may be vulnerable to mental health difficulties. Brewer7 found that athletes who “over identify” with their role in sport are prone to depression if they have career-ending injuries. In the modern world, over identification with particular roles may occur because of the great demands and expectations placed on elite performers. There is no question that in dance there are great expectations and demands that prescribe, dictate or encourage roles that are strongly tied to specific physical and aesthetic ideals.


For some, a limited, or foreclosed, identity may lead to career transition challenges. Difficulty with transition into retirement and post-sport life has been associated with the strength and exclusivity of athletic identity.17-22 A recent systematic review of the dance-related literature (1987-2017)23 concluded that more research on psychological and physical implications of career decisions in dance is needed, and that to date, there is no formal research on career transitions for young dancers.


Similarly, there is a dearth of research on dancer identity. The little research that we have suggests that dancer identity is similar to athletic identity and that more research is needed. Langdon and Petracca24 found that identity as a dancer was negatively associated with body appreciation and perceptions and cautioned those of us who work with dancers to be aware of the subjective aspects of identity and work toward enhancing dancers’ perspectives of their bodies.


In the upcoming annual meeting of the minds (and bodies) in Montreal, Canada, “identity” is on the table for discussion. I hope this article serves as a catalyst for discussion and formulation of questions about dancer identity, gender identity in dance, individual and collective identities, and their relationship with mental and physical health.


We might also question our own collective professional identity. Who are we as a professional body? Are we unique with an authentic identity? Or, are we hovering on the shoulders of sport science and medicine and sport psychology? In my long standing experience with sport and dance science, medicine and psychology, I have come to highly respect and regard the scholarly and practical aspects of dance medicine, science, education and psychology and my esteemed colleagues in IADMS. Yes, there is a shared knowledge and similarities between sport and dance; however, dancers, dance educators, dance artists, scientists, and clinicians across the professions have unique knowledge, experience, environments, challenges, qualities and embodied behaviours and attitudes. Therefore, establishing our own empirical evidence, and standards of care for dance is critical. Moreover, in this 29th year of IADMS, perhaps it is time to examine or reexamine our collective identity, values, goals, influence, magnificence, shadows and highlights. As we move toward our meeting in Montreal--a place with a distinct cultural identity (one that you will sense when you visit old town Montreal)-- let us think about identity—what we know, what we do not know, and what warrants examining and questioning in 2020, our 30th year as an association.




1. Riffkin, R. (2014, August). In U.S., 55% of Workers Get Sense of Identity from Their Job.
2. European Commission. Directorate General for Research and Innovation. (2012). The Development of European Identity/Identities: Unfinished Business.
3. Anderson, J., Stoner, A., Jackson, A…Myles, D. (2018). Standardized patient modules in medical school with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patient in mind. Osteopathic Family Physician, 10 (3), 16-20.
4. Rowley, Michael. Discover the Rainbow: Unpacking the LGBTQQIA+ acronym with a discussion about the intersection of identity and biology. (
5. Pickard, A. (2012). Schooling the dancer: the evolution of an identity as a ballet dancer. Research in Dance Education, 13:1, 25-46, DOI:10.1080/14647893.2011.65119.
6. Bourdieu, P. (1993). Sociology in question. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
7. Brewer, B. W., Van Raalte, J. L., & Linder, D. E. (1993). Athletic identity: Hercules' muscles or Achilles heel? International journal of sport psychology.
8. Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G., & Hassmén, P. (2011). Athlete burnout: an integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), 3-24.
9. Martin, E. M., & Horn, T. S. (2013). The role of athletic identity and passion in predicting burnout in adolescent female athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 27(4), 338-348.
10. Coakley, J. (2009). From the outside in: Burnout as an organizational issue. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 2(1), 35-41.
11. Gustafsson, H., Martinent, G., Isoard-Gautheur, S., Hassmén, P., & Guillet-Descas, E. (2018). Performance based self-esteem and athlete-identity in athlete burnout: A person-centered approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 38, 56-60.
12. Gustafsson, H., Kentta, G., Hassmen, P., Lundqvist, C., & Durand-Bush, N. (2007). The process of burnout: A multiple case study of three elite endurance athletes. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 38, 388-416.
13. Harris, B. S., & Watson, J. C. (2014). Developmental considerations in youth athlete burnout: A model for youth sport participants. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 8(1), 1-18.
14. Tabei, Y., Fletcher, D., & Goodger, K. (2012). The relationship between organizational stressors and athlete burnout in soccer players. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 6(2), 146-165.
15. Ahmadabadi, Z. N., Shojaei, M., & Daneshfar, A. (2014). The relationship between athletic identity and sports performance among national rowers during different seasons of competition. Pedagogics, Psychology, Medical-Biological Problems of Physical Training and Sports, 10, 62-66.
16. Murphy, G. M., Petitpas, A. J., & Brewer, B. W. (1996). Identity foreclosure, athletic identity, and career maturity in intercollegiate athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 10(3), 239-246.
17. Grove, J. R., Lavallee, D., & Gordon, S. (1997). Coping with retirement from sport: The influence of athletic identity. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9(2), 191-203.17 Lally, P. (2007). Identity and athletic retirement: A prospective study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 85-99.
18. Lavallee, D., Gordon, S., & Grove, J. R. (1997). Retirement from sport and the loss of athletic identity. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 2(2), 129-147.
19. Lally, P. (2007). Identity and athletic retirement: A prospective study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 85-99.
20. Stier, J. (2007). Game, name and fame — Afterwards, will I still be the same? International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 42(1), 99-111.
21. Warriner, K., & Lavallee, D. (2008). The retirement experiences of elite female gymnasts: Self- identity and the physical self. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20(3), 301-317.
22. Lavallee, D., & Robinson, H. K. (2007). In pursuit of an identity: A qualitative exploration of retirement from women's artistic gymnastics. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(1), 119-141
23. Griffith, Gearhart, Sugimoto, Geminiani, & Stracciolini (2019). Career transitions for the young dancer: Considering psychological implications, challenges with athletic identity, and need available resources. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 34 (1), 47-52, doi: 10.21091/mppa.2019.1005.
24. Langdon, S. & Petracca, G. (2010). Tiny dancer: Body image and dancer identity in female modern dancers. Body Image, 7, 360.363.

Tags:  IADMS Newsletter  identity 

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