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I stand corrected! From correction to constructive feedback

Posted By Karine Rathle on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Monday, June 4, 2018
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Feedback is a process used by teachers, rehearsal directors and choreographers to provide information and guide dancers in skill acquisition, technique and movement quality. It is a powerful and necessary tool. Typically, teachers and choreographers have their own individual style of providing feedback. Their approach may come from their experience as dancers, their previous teachers and training, or their ingrained habits from working in dance.

 

 Feedback is usually given to dance students through verbal feedback or physical touch, or a combination of both. Krasnow and Wilmerding (2015) use the term, augmented feedback, referring to the corrections that teachers frequently give in class in order to enhance performance. The term augmented feedback is used when the feedback comes from outside the performer themselves. Students can perceive teachers’ feedback as positive or negative according to a variety of factors including language, gestures and touch, facial expression, tone of voice, proximity to the dancer, timing and intention.  In this blog post we will explore different types and styles of feedback including positive and negative, constructive and corrective, and verbal and tactile feedback. Ultimately, we want to help students optimize their performance by knowing more about the outcome of a movement, or about how it should be performed. Using constructive feedback appropriately helps dancers with skill acquisition and motor control. You can find out more about feedback and motor learning in dance teaching in our resource paper [1] .

 

 Reflect on your practice.  When you give feedback to your students, what is the intention within your words and touch? When you are thinking of ‘correcting’ your student, what is the main idea that crosses your mind? How are the students processing the information that you provide them? Do they know what to do with the feedback they receive?

 

Positive feedback versus negative feedback

 

 Positive feedback can be seen as positive statements from teachers and choreographers, for example when you say ‘beautiful turn’, or ‘well done on your balance’. Positive feedback can provide students with positive reinforcement of their behaviors.  It can also improve dancers’ motivation. For example, when your student achieves a jump or a turn that they have been working on for a long time, and it is the first time they manage it, it is important to notice it and let them know that they have done well. This approach can boost motivation.  Yet repeated and vague positive feedback can affect your students’ motivation negatively, too.  If you tell your students after every exercise, ‘very well done’, ‘good work’, ‘beautiful’, these generalized comments provide the students with information about your reaction to their general performance but not what they have done well to achieve the result. Furthermore, if they have not worked as hard or as well as the previous time they received such feedback, they feel that anything they do is good, and your positive feedback loses its value in enhancing learning.  Focusing your feedback on the reasons for specific achievements in performance is usually recommended.

 Negative feedback should be avoided. Generally, the intention of teachers and choreographers is not to use words that will be mean or harmful to dancers. Shouting, insulting, putting down and comparing students to their peers are all things that we need to avoid, as they create a negative motivational climate that hinders dancers in their learning potential and psychological well-being.  A negative environment can also be created through competition or uneven attention given to the dancers.  For example, when a certain student is always praised and taken as an example in front of their colleagues, it can create a competitive environment for everyone, including the person who is praised. You can create a positive learning context by ensuring dancers focus on self-improvement through a task-oriented environment; where dancers receive positive reinforcement for their efforts and hard work, for their achievements and for their cooperation with their peers. Dancers need to learn that mistakes are part of their learning process and that each dancer is equally important (Miulli & Nordin-Bates, 2011).  You can find out about positive motivational climates and how to create them in our Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers [2].

 

 Providing constructive information to dancers versus correcting them

 

When using corrections, the teacher is concentrating on what the dancer is doing ‘wrong’. For example, saying: ‘don’t lift your shoulders’ will bring the attention to the dancer’s action of lifting their shoulders. The words bring the student’s neuromuscular awareness to the action that is not desired in the movement being performed.  In contrast, teachers using constructive information bring attention to what the body could be doing instead. ‘Draw your shoulder blades down your back’, ‘find space between your shoulders and the earlobes’, and ‘let the shoulder blades expand like wings’ are cues which can develop new neuromuscular patterning, and should help the dancer to avoid lifting their shoulders.  To be effective, feedback has to serve as added information for the dancers, providing them with tools in order to feel, sense and understand what they can do in order to improve. We want to deflect away from what is ‘wrong’, to what can be achieved.

 

 Using imagery as a form of feedback

 Imagery is a very powerful feedback tool, it allows dancers to process very complex motor skills through a single image.  It can help improve the movement as well as its dynamics and it allows the dancer to focus on the intention of the movement rather than its execution.  IADMS has posted several blogs about imagery and its use; do consider these when reflecting on your own practice.

Using imagery to optimise dance training and performance

Imagery, Research, and Practice

Mental Imagery and Creativity

 

 

 Tactile feedback

 

 Dancers, choreographers and teachers can benefit from using touch (tactile feedback) in their practice as it often adds further clarity to verbal cues. Our proprioception allows us to sense the position and movement of our own body. It allows us to know where we are in space and provides feedback to aid in balance and coordination (Goldstein, 2002). You can find out more about proprioception in our resource paper [3] .  Through tactile feedback, dancers can improve their proprioception and in turn, improve their motor control and posture. (Krasnow & Wilmerding, 2015).

 

 Like the verbal feedback examples earlier, touch as a form of feedback can be helpful or detrimental, depending on how it is used. Every dancer can remember a teacher’s touch that has affected their performance, whether positive or negative. Sometimes, the memory of negative tactile feedback can have lasting effects.

 

 We can differentiate between a corrective touch and a constructive touch. When using touch in a dance setting, you can ask yourself some questions to ensure that your use of this feedback tool is helpful for the dancer.

     What is your intention?

     Where is your attention when touching?

     What information are you providing the dancer?

It’s always helpful to think anatomically when using touch, how does the body move and how can I guide that movement through proprioceptive awareness?

 

 Timing of the feedback

 

 How many times have you received feedback from a choreographer or teacher just before performing? Or just after a performance? How did it feel? Was it useful? Were you able to apply the feedback right away? Did you remember it? Did you have time to integrate the information? Emotionally, how did you feel after the feedback? Timing of feedback is important to ensure that information is retained and acted upon to enhance performance.

 

 Traditionally, choreographers and teachers tend to give notes to dancers up until the last minute before they go on stage or just after a performance. But is it helpful? At this point in the creative process, there is rarely time to adjust dance technique itself. Dancers might be able to process cues on spacing or ensuring that they know how to adapt the piece from the studio to the stage. But, it’s vital to consider that some dancers have a high level of performance anxiety.  Giving them corrections shortly before they go on stage may increase anxiety and decrease the ability to perform optimally. The type of feedback provided at this point is very important to consider to ensure dancers feel competent and can do their best on stage.  Prior to a performance, positive reinforcement and positive feedback can show your students that you believe in their abilities and that you trust that they will do their best.

 

 Typically, choreographers and teachers tend to give notes right after a performance. Dancers might not all be as receptive at that point, as their bodies and minds are on the ‘high’ of the performance.  Since their attention will often not be focused on the feedback provided, consider waiting until the next time you meet for class or rehearsal. It is important to leave dancers time and space to recover, breathe and cool down. If the performance did not go well for a dancer, they might need some encouragement and help to refocus their attention, so ensuring that they are in a positive mindset next time they perform the work.

 

 When providing verbal and tactile feedback you have a responsibility to your dancers. They are reliant on your words and touch in order to enjoy their dance experience, as well as to improve their abilities. Knowing more about how you cue and provide feedback to your dancers is an important aspect of teaching practice so find time to reflect on the impact of your feedback. Observe the reaction of your dancers. Ask a colleague to observe your classes or rehearsal; ask them for feedback on your feedback style. Observe other teachers and choreographers to get new ideas and improve on your transmission skills.  Feedback is important as we seek to optimize dancers’ performance and learning.

 

 Karine Rathle, MSc

Dancer, choreographer, dance educator and researcher, President of Healthy Dancer Canada (HDC).

 

 REFERENCES

  

Goldstein, B., 2002. Sensation and Perception. 6th ed. CA USA: Wadworth.

 

Krasnow, D.H & Wilmerding, M.V. (2015). Motor learning and control for dance. Principles and practices for performers and teachers. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Krasnow, D.H & Wilmerding, M.V. (2017). Dancer Wellness. IADMS & Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Miulli, M. & Nordin-Bates, S. M. (2011). Motivational Climates: What They Are, and Why They Matter. The IADMS Bulletin for Teachers, Volume 3, Number 2.

Quin, E., Rafferty, S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Taylor, J. & Estanol, E. (2015). Dance psychology for artistic and performance excellence. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 


Tags:  feedback  motor learning  psychology 

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Optimal Focus – from research to dance practice

Posted By Clare Guss-West on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Thursday, May 17, 2018

 

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This blog post provides a brief introduction to attentional focus and its potential impact on dance training and performance. Attentional focus study is relatively new to dance, whereas the research is now integrated into elite sports coaching – notably football, skiing, golf and swimming. Companies such as The Royal Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Finnish National Ballet are becoming aware of the benefits of these complementary techniques and we have started to introduce them into the dancers’ professional practice.

Since ‘focus’ is one of the three foundational elements of a successful holistic movement, as teaching artist and holistic practitioner I find the attentional focus research accessible and easy to integrate into an artistic teaching practice. 

 
As I began working with attentional focus researcher Gabriele Wulf, I became aware of the extent to which focus was a significant part of the development of elite athletes and to consider how optimal focus might be fostered in a dance-learning environment, particularly in traditional ballet training. 


Focus cue examples of experienced swimmers:


 


 

Attentional focus research findings concur with holistic, eastern movement practices Chi Kung, T’ai Chi and Kung Fu to suggest that significant differences in speed of learning and performance results are experienced dependent on the chosen attentional focus.

What human-movement scientists term an ‘external’ focus (EAF), i.e. a focus on the movement effect, is shown to enhance learning and performance compared to an ‘internal’ focus (IAF), i.e. on a body-part or body mechanism (Wulf, 2013).

 

Performance benefits of EAF are immediately palpable in increased:

·       movement effectiveness

o   balance

o   precision

o   speed

o   consistency

·       movement efficiency

o   enhanced movement quality

o   associated, minimized muscular activity

o   optimized force production

o   cardio-vascular response

o   reduced fatigue

 

Additional benefits particularly pertinent to dance:

·      freed-up cognitive reserve

·       greater capacity to multi-task

·       greater capacity to manage stress

 

Benefits apply in diverse contexts from initial movement learning to professional performance, right through to rehabilitation, producing immediate and lasting cohesive effects on results.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

In a recent study (Guss-West and Wulf, 2016), over 200 focus examples from professional ballet dancers were collated. Focus cues predominantly employed extensive wording and demonstrated an absence of a systematic focus strategy.  The classical dancers in the study were applying multifocal cues and at times, incongruent feedback simultaneously, potentially undermining performance.

 

Focus cue examples of professional dancers: 

 


 

The nature of the foci in the study appeared to depend on the ‘perceived’ difficulty of the task and the amount of thinking time available.

 

In the study:

·       a balance in arabesque - provoked the most IAF, it seems that given available time dancers are tempted to try to control their body and the result;

·       a pirouette en dehors  - involved the greatest quantity of incongruous information, combinations of IAF and EAF. Perhaps because of ‘perceived’ difficulty and resulting performance stress, dancers try to deploy all feedbacks available;

·       a grand jeté en avant – in contrast, a ballistic action literally ‘too quick to think’, promoted the most concise, EAF cues.

 

 


 

Food for thought:

Ballet dancers and athletes concur that without specific focus instruction, they use a predominance of IAF control cues69-72% IAF (Guss-West C, & Wulf G. 2016), (Porter, Wu, & Partridge, 2010),

 

Perhaps then - dance teachers, trainers, therapists also currently adopt a similar IAF predominance in their feedback and cueing as that found for some sport trainers and therapists 85-95% IAF (Durham, van Vliet, Badger, & Sackley, 2009).

 

If so - this would represent a huge opportunity for dance teachers and therapists to reinvent their feedback with simple focus adjustments as part of a clear, conscious focus strategy, that enhances performance and supports the dancer in the technical demands of the discipline, freeing cognitive reserve and permitting a return to focus on the fundamental artistic intention.

 

 

References and further reading:

1. Guss-West, C. Wulf, G. “Attentional Focus in Classical Ballet: A Survey of Professional Dancers”. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 20.1 (2016): 23-29.

2. Jahnke, R. The Healing Promise of Qi. Contemporary Books, NY., 2002.

3. Stoate, I. Wulf, G. “Does the attentional focus adopted by swimmers affect their performance?” International Journal of Sport Science & Coaching, 6, (2011): 99-108.

4. Wulf G. Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. Intl Rev of Sport & Exerc Psyc., 6: (2013): 77-104.

5. Wulf, G. An external focus of attention is a condition sine qua non for athletes: a response to Carson, Collins, and Toner (2015). Journal of sports sciences34(13), (2016): 1293-1295.

6. Wulf G, Lewthwaite R. “Optimizing performance through intrinsic motivation and attention for learning: the OPTIMAL theory of motor learning.” Psychon Bull Rev. (2016): 1382-1414.

 

Clare Guss-West BHum MA

Dance teaching artist - teacher trainer, Dance Advisor (RESEO) - The European Network for Opera, Music & Dance Education and Director, Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation

Tags:  attention  creativity  focus  imagery  performance  psychology 

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Measuring Creativity

Posted By Lucie Clements on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Tuesday, May 8, 2018

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‘Creativity’ is a word used worldwide by dance institutions in their mission statements, aims and student feedback, and yet it is relatively unexplored within dance science from a quantitative perspective. Much research within dance psychology has focussed on the role of psychological wellbeing in relation to optimal technique in class, rehearsal or performance, but are dance scientists perhaps neglecting the dancer as a creative artist?

 

As Kerry and Jon discuss, psychologists seek to measure complex experiences, typically through the use of questionnaire-based methods.  These tend to quantify some underlying or latent psychological construct. In psychology, ‘gold standard’ creativity tests assume creativity to be a trait-like characteristic, which is tangible through an individual’s performance on a timed task of divergent thinking (Cropley, 2000). Divergent thinking describes our ability to come up with multiple solutions to a problem within a given time frame. The most comprehensive of these tests, the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA; Goff, 2002) give a creativity index, where an individual who is ‘more creative’ is able to solve a problem by coming up with numerous statistically infrequent yet embellished and diverse solutions.  Using the ATTA in my own research, I found that dancers are indeed ‘more creative’ than the normal population (Clements, 2017). But can we conclusively say that parallels their dance choreography skills? And are these tests useful for understanding the role of psychological approaches in nurturing creativity?

 

 In order to see how the ATTA might relate to creativity in dance, I asked an expert contemporary dance choreographer who had taught and observed first year contemporary dance students’ creative processes over the course of a semester to rate their creativity. This is another commonly used technique from psychology, assuming that the expert has an implicit, domain specific ability to distinguish more from less creative students (Amabile, 1982; Amabile & Pillemer, 2012). No relationship between the expert’s grading and the creativity test was found; those who are creative according to the psychology test were not those picked by the dance expert as the most creative dancers (Clements, 2017). Informed by these findings, as well as the observation of daily creative occurrences in a student-learning setting, I, with expert creativity colleagues set out to validate a new questionnaire that recognises that in dance:

 

1)    Creativity is embodied more often than verbal

2)    Creativity is less time restricted than a psychology test allows

3)    Creativity is process based and cyclical, not linear

 

 

The ‘Dancers’ Perceptions of the Creative Process Questionnaire’ removes the emphasis on measurement of ‘creative’ or ‘not creative’ and instead emphasises engagement in the process, and can be used alongside traditional psychology measures, such as the ATTA, to give a more holistic view of dance creativity.  I also hope that this can be used to explore the role of psychological variables such as perfectionism and self esteem in dancers’ creativity. It is hoped that this will contribute to the growth of dance creativity research within IADMS and its members!

 

 Lucie Clements PhD is a Chartered Psychologist, Lecturer in Dance Science MSc Dance Science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, UK and Associate Lecturer in Psychology and Dance Science BSc Dance Science at University of Chichester, UK.

 

For further reading, have a look at these resources:

 

 Amabile, Teresa M. "Social psychology of creativity: A consensual assessment technique." Journal of personality and social psychology 43.5 (1982): 997.

 

 Amabile, Teresa M., and Julianna Pillemer. "Perspectives on the social psychology of creativity." The Journal of Creative Behavior 46, no. 1 (2012): 3-15.

 Cropley, Arthur J. "Defining and measuring creativity: Are creativity tests worth using?" Roeper review 23.2 (2000): 72-79.

 

 Clements, Lucie, Sanna Nordin-Bates, Debbie Watson, Kerry Chappell, Emma Redding, and Jon May. "The development and validation of a dance-specific creativity questionnaire." 25th Annual meeting of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS), October 12-15 2017, Houston, USA. 2017.

 

 Clements, Lucie (2017) The Psychology of Creativity in Contemporary Dance, Unpublished PhD Thesis.

 

 Goff, Kathy. Abbreviated torrance test for adults. Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Service, 2002.

 

 Kim, Kyung Hee. "Can we trust creativity tests? A review of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)." Creativity research journal 18.1 (2006): 3-14.

 

 Sowden, Paul T., Lucie Clements, Chrishelle Redlich, and Carine Lewis.. "Improvisation facilitates divergent thinking and creativity: Realizing a benefit of primary school arts education." Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 9.2 (2015): 128-135.

 

 Watson, Debbie E., Sanna M. Nordin-Bates, and Kerry A. Chappell. "Facilitating and nurturing creativity in pre-vocational dancers: Findings from the UK Centres for Advanced Training." Research in Dance Education 13.2 (2012): 153-173.

Tags:  creativity  psychology 

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Physiological perspectives on puberty in dance

Posted By Siobhan Mitchell on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In our last blog post, Siobhan focussed on the psychological perspectives on puberty in dance training and here follows our second post in the series, this time focussing on the physiological perspectives on puberty in dance.  These posts follow on from our busy season of Regional Meetings in Australia, USA and UK where the focus of much of our discussions at these events was on how we work with children and young people to optimise their training.  Siobhan presented her session at the Healthier Dancer Day on The Adolescent Dancer in Ipswich in May 2017.  

 

 As someone who works with young dancers, you will observe a range of physical changes as they go through puberty. The physical changes of puberty encompass increases in height and weight, changes in the accumulation and distribution of body fat and lean mass, development of a variety of secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. breast development) and shifts in body proportions.

 

 So what are the processes and what exactly is going on for young people at this time?

 

 Puberty is a hormonally driven process resulting in marked changes in physique, form, and function. This process of physical change results in the attainment of an adult state, capable of sexual reproduction. The sequence of these changes varies significantly between boys and girls. Girls tend to mature around 2 years in advance of boys and so will experience physical changes at an earlier age.

 

 Individuals of the same chronological age may vary by up to several years in terms of their biological maturation, so chronological age is not a good indicator of physical development at puberty. That said, the average time for the growth spurt to take place among non-dancers is around age 12 in girls and age 14 in boys and takes on average around 3 years from beginning to completion. This age is especially significant as it coincides with a time when most dancers commence more serious training, a greater number of hours of training each week, and take on new physical challenges in training e.g. pointe work. 

 

 Embed from Getty Images

 

Benefits and challenges

 

 Puberty presents both opportunity and challenge for young dancers. On one hand, dancers benefit from improvements in strength, motor skills, and the activation of new motivational tendencies.  On the other, sudden changes in size and shape can disrupt flexibility and co-ordination. These changes inevitably lead to young dancers struggling with movements which they are used to being able to perform, this can increase risk of physical injury and psychological effects such as loss of confidence, reduced motivation and increased self-consciousness.

 

 Challenges

 

 Challenges include

 

          Overall decrease in technical skill and control for both male and female dancers

          Rapid change in limb length may temporarily inhibit motor performance (awkwardness)

          Flexibility can be disrupted by growth of the lower extremities and the trunk during growth                        spurts and the skeletal system maturing in advance of soft tissues

          Relearning and re-programming technique to adjust to new biomechanical challenges, e.g.                      rapid change in limb length can result in reduced strength, power and flexibility, in addition                      to increased injury risk associated with adapting to these changes

          Factors such as temporary low bone mass and adjustment to new biomechanical challenges                     can coincide with increased intensity of dance training

          Overuse injuries (e.g., Osgood-Schlatters/Sever’s disease) and burnout more common

 

These changes will impact upon some of the core dance movements, for example, reduced strength and flexibility will result in lower leg extensions; reduced balance and coordination will affect pirouettes and balance positions; and as technical control decreases, risk of injury increases.

 

In addition, one of the biggest challenges, from a training perspective, are differences in the timing of puberty and how to accommodate these differences to optimise wellbeing and training. Pubertal timing refers to the when pubertal changes, such as the onset of menstruation for girls, occur. The timing of puberty can differ by up to 5 years, a huge interval compared to other animal species – only humans and primates have such huge differences in timing. This means that individuals of the same chronological age can vary in biological age (pubertal timing) by up to 5 years, which has implications for training, talent identification and evaluation. For dance educators, such variation in development is a huge challenge and there is currently little understanding of how this variation impacts upon young dancers and how we can consider this in our approaches to training.

 

Benefits

 

          Accelerated gains in strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance in males; steady gains or                   plateaus in females

          Improvements in motor performance and physical health

 

Sex differences in relation to physical performance can be attributed to relatively greater body fat in girls (this essential body fat enables normal hormonal functions and reproductive capability) and greater absolute and relative leanness in boys, which exert opposite effects on performance. The former has a negative effect on most motor performance tasks and the latter has a positive effect, attributed to increase in size and muscle tissue. For male dancers these changes may be especially advantageous, enabling greater power and strength for grand allegro movements and could be emphasised during this period. While for female dancers, some will be at their peak strength and motor performance, benefitting their dance performance, and for others who experience a ‘levelling-off’ in strength and motor performance, encouragement may be needed to develop these aspects. With this in mind, both male and female students can benefit from developing their strength during this period of time.

 

Top tips for negotiating some of these challenges and making the most of the benefits

 

- Remember it’s temporary! Raise awareness amongst dancers and their parents about the normal and temporary changes associated with maturation

 

- Focus time and attention towards aspects other than technique which may progress more slowly during this time, such as musicality, performance and strengthening. This can help students to build confidence and make progress in other areas

 

- Be proactive in how you negotiate changes - Consider how you can support young dancers at this time – perhaps modify the content or environment of your classes, with consideration of the dancer as an individual (where possible)

 

- Reduce the stigma - Emphasise the beneficial aspects of puberty and raise awareness of these aspects to parents and students

 

- Focus on how movements feel as opposed to how they look during this time, to reduce training load and adapt exercises for students experiencing their most rapid periods of growth. In addition, training without the use of the mirror may be beneficial at this time.

 

- Promote maintenance of flexibility - Flexibility is most responsive to training during childhood and as a dance teacher this is the ideal stage of development in which to promote this attribute. Due to an asynchrony between skeletal and soft tissue growth at adolescence, flexibility can be disrupted, during this period the focus can be shifted to maintaining flexibility rather than promoting it.

 

 

Siobhan trained as a dancer before going on to complete a BA Hons in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton, an MSc in Dance Science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and an MRes in Health and Wellbeing at the University of Bath. Awarded a full ESRC studentship in 2014, Siobhan is currently in the final year of her PhD studies at the University of Bath. Her research interests are in growth and maturation, specifically, psychosocial implications of differing maturity timing in young dancers. Siobhan works as an associate lecturer and also delivers educational sessions for dancers and dance teachers on the topic of growth and maturation. Siobhan has been a member of IADMS since 2011, has been on the IADMS student committee since 2014 and is the current Student Committee Chair. Siobhan has presented at a number of international conferences including IADMS Conferences in Seattle and Pittsburgh, the IADMS regional meeting in Ipswich, the Royal Academy of Dance Conference ‘Dance Teaching for the 21st Century: Practice and Innovation’ in Sydney, Australia and the British Psychological Society Qualitative Methods in Psychology Conference, Aberystwyth, UK. Siobhan has published work in academic journals including the Journal of Adolescence and the Journal of Sports Sciences and was recently shortlisted as a finalist for the Ede and Ravenscroft prize for best postgraduate research student at the University of Bath.


 

References

Daniels, K., Rist, R., & Rijven, M. (2001). The Challenge of the Adolescent Dancer. Journal of Dance Education, 1(2), 74-76. doi: 10.1080/15290824.2001.10387180

 

Malina, R.M. (2014). Top 10 Research Questions Related to Growth and Maturation of Relevance to Physical Activity, Performance, and Fitness. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 85, 157-173.

 

Malina, R. M., Bouchard, C., & Bar-Or, O. (2004). Growth, Maturation and Physical Activity (Second Edition ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Steinberg, N., Siev-Ner, I., Peleg, S., Dar, G., Masharawi, Y., & Hershkovitz, I. (2008). Growth and development of female dancers aged 8-16 years. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 20(3), 299-307. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20718

 

Tanchev, P. I., Dzherov, A. D., Parushev, A. D., Dikov, D. M., & Todorov, M. B. (2000). Scoliosis in rhythmic gymnasts. Spine, 25(11), 1367-1372. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200006010-00008

 

Podcast on growth and maturation in sport

 

Tags:  dancers  psychology  puberty  teachers 

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Nurturing passion in dance

Posted By Imogen Aujla, PhD, on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Monday, December 21, 2015

Passion for dance is important: as teachers we want our students to be passionate, love what they do, and get involved at every opportunity. But is it really good for dancers to eat, sleep and breathe dance? What happens when passion turns into an obsession?


 

Research in mainstream psychology suggests that we are passionate about an activity when we love it, value it highly, and spend a lot of time on it. However, we can be more harmoniously or more obsessively passionate about an activity that we love. Harmonious passion (HP) means that we choose to engage in dance freely because we love it, but we don’t have any contingencies attached to it, and we can stop dancing at any time if we no longer enjoy it. Obsessive passion (OP) is a more rigid type of persistence, where dance takes up a large proportion of our identities and we find it difficult to stop. Often, people high in OP attach certain contingencies like self-esteem or social acceptance to the activity, so if they stop dancing they may feel that they have lost their identity and their sense of self-worth. Importantly, we have levels of both HP and OP about dance, but the two types of passion can have quite different outcomes. Research has shown that higher levels of HP result in greater enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being, and long-term involvement in dance. In contrast, higher levels of OP are associated with more negative feelings, anxiety, burnout and injury. So it’s easy to see which type of passion would be preferable among student dancers, but is there anything we can do as teachers to affect this? We may not be able to influence whether or not our students are passionate about dance in general, but we may be able to help prevent passion from becoming an obsession.

 

A growing body of research in dance and music suggests teachers can help to facilitate the development of HP by adopting autonomy-supportive behaviours. Autonomy essentially means that students feel they have a choice and a voice in class. You can help your students to feel more autonomous by giving them choices in class, such as the focus of an exercise, groups to work with, musical accompaniment or incorporating improvisation into technique exercises. You can also explain the rationale behind exercises. Helping students understand what an exercise is for or about will encourage them to set their own goals based on this insight which they can monitor and update. As a result, when students’ autonomy is supported, they are more likely to feel that they are engaging in dance for autonomous and harmonious reasons. On the other hand, very controlling behaviours from teachers may facilitate the development of OP by reducing students’ feelings of autonomy, choice and control. It’s also worth encouraging dancers who seem somewhat obsessive to pursue other interests and friendships outside of dance so that their identities are formed from many activities and relationships. Dance may be their favourite activity, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all!

 

Recommended reading

·         Aujla IJ, Nordin-Bates SM, Redding E. Multidisciplinary predictors of adherence to dance. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(15):1564-1573.

·         Mageau GA, Vallerand RJ, Charest J, Salvy SJ, Lacaille N, Bouffard, T, Koestne, R. On the development of harmonious and obsessive passion: the role of autonomy support, activity specialisation and identification with the activity. J Pers. 2009;77(3):601-646.

·         Padham M, Aujla IJ. The relationship between passion and the psychological well-being of professional dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2014;18(1):37-44.

·         Rip B, Fortin S, Vallerand RJ. The relationship between passion and injury in dance students. J Dance Med Sci. 2006;10(1-2):14-20.

·         Vallerand RJ. On passion for life activities: The dualistic model of passion. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 2010;42:97-193.

 

 

Dr Imogen Aujla completed her PhD at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and is now based at the University of Bedfordshire as Course Coordinator of the MSc Dance Science programme. 

Tags:  dancers  psychology  teachers 

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Keeping the enjoyment alive: Positive psychology for dance

Posted By Elsa Urmston on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee, Thursday, October 29, 2015

The next series of posts from the Education Committee shines a light on the psychology of dancers.  Over the next month or so, we have a range of blog contributions from leading dance psychology researchers and practitioners. Erin Sanchez (Dance UK) and Joan Duda (University of Birmingham) will discuss the Empowering Dance programme in the UK, a professional development workshop which draws on research finding that support the integration of autonomy supportive environments.  Sanna Nordin Bates (University of Stockholm) introduces us to the use of imagery in optimizing dance practice and Imogen Aujla (University of Bedfordshire) discusses the importance of passion in dance.  We kick off here with the first in the series exploring the application of positive psychology to dance practice and how we can create positive learning and creative environments in which our dancers can flourish.  

  

Think back… why did you first start dancing?  No doubt it was because of the sheer enjoyment and exhilaration of feeling your body move, often in time with the music, in front of an audience, of telling a story or evoking emotions.  Our love for the art of dance probably never fundamentally leaves us, but perhaps the daily grind of training, of managing and applying the criticism we receive from ourselves and those around us, as well as ensuring we get enough rest and fuel can detract from the pleasure we find in dancing.  Dancers in training might often feel as this young professional described to me her experiences in dancing: “It was a very stressful time for me – the need to succeed, pass, do well, all that stuff affected my enjoyment at that time.  I was having more fun away from university.”  As an educator, these kinds of comments have always been bothersome – what happens in a training environment to bring about this kind of sentiment and why is that a response from the people doing the training?  What strategies can be encouraged amongst young dancers to become more resilient?  And what can I do in my own practice to create an environment where enjoyment can be nurtured?

 

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is described by Martin Seligman and Mihalyi Cskizsentmihalyi (2000, p.5) as the “positive features which make a life worth living”.  Positive psychology is typified by constructs such as hope, courage, creativity, perseverance, tolerance, future-mindedness, being in the moment, empathy, engagement and enjoyment.  In 2009, Seligman and colleagues undertook a positive psychology education project in Australia, teaching about the topics which typify positive psychology, as well as trying to embed positive psychology values in the teaching of all subjects at the school.  Their findings reported that the students’ enjoyment of, and engagement in learning increased across the board and that cooperation and empathy amongst students and teachers was also consolidated.  It appears that there is something to learn here in how we teach, and indeed what we teach, that can support dancers in optimising their performance.  But there is perhaps a bigger picture here too.   Hefferon and Boniwell (2012) make the case for positive psychology contributing to health and wellbeing in general terms too; that positive psychology approaches can support happiness and contentment as well as be a way for us to support self-directed behaviours in all that we do.  So, if our overall well-being is sound, and we have a positive attitude towards dance as part of our whole life, it appears we are better able to cope in the face of adversity and enjoy what we do.

As an area of academic endeavour, positive psychology is a growing area, especially in dance, and has many sub theories through which we can structure research and shape practice.  One such theory is Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory.

 

Flow

Flow is defined as “a subjective, mental state contributing to optimal experience, which is characterised by complete absorption in an activity, at given moment in time”(Csikszentmihayli, 1990, p. 53).  It’s perhaps typified in popular culture in the film Billy Elliot.  The moment when Billy is auditioning at the Royal Ballet School and is asked what it is he most likes about dancing.  He says, “I dunno … it sort of feels good, sort of stiff and that, but once I get going, then, I like forget everything, and I sort of disappear.  I can feel a change in my whole body.  Like there’s a fire in my body.  I’m just there, flying.  Like a bird.  Like electricity. Yeah, electricity.”  We’ve all been there I am sure!  From a theoretical perspective, flow is comprised of nine dimensions, conceived as constituents of the flow experience described above:

·         Skill-challenge balance – achieving a balance between the skills that the dancers have and the challenge which is presented to them

·         Action and awareness merging – refers to the moment when the action you are carrying out and your awareness of it appears to blend into one

·         Clear goals – having a clear sense of direction

·         Unambiguous feedback – clear, direct feedback from tutors and other dancers

·         Concentration – an environment in which concentration can be supported and achieved

·         Control – perceiving a sense of control over what you are doing

·         Loss of self-consciousness – in a flow state, we lose our self-consciousness and are able to invest fully in that experience

·         Transformation of time – time might stand still, speed up or slow down

·         Autotelic experience – refers to the intrinsic enjoyment we get from doing activity purely for the reason of doing it, and nothing else


Csikszentmihalyi describes flow himself in this TED talk.

 

What facilitates flow?

There has been much research in sport, leisure activity and work-based settings, and a small amount in dance, which has identified what facilitates flow.  Have a look at the further readings which are recommended below.  In summary the facilitators, or antecedents of flow fall into personal or situational factors; so things that the dancer themselves can control, and those which are influenced by the environment around them. These include:

Personal Antecedents

Situational Antecedents

Mental preparation such as image-based rehearsal, rituals, getting in “the zone”

Suitability of space including flooring, lighting, warmth, etc.

Physical preparation such as warm up, breathing, fitness, sufficient rehearsal

Relationships with peers and teachers

Having confidence in skills and expertise to complete the task

Feeling unjudged and trusting others

Finding the fun in a task

 

 

So if these things help people achieve a flow state, then helping dancers autonomously develop the personal skills above may better ensure their enjoyment in dancing for themselves.  But we too, as educators working with dancers throughout their careers, can shape our teaching climate to foster positive psychology. 

The constructs of flow itself can perhaps act as a way to shape our practice.  For example, balancing the skills of the dancer to the challenge of the tasks set can immediately foster a sense of capability and brings about enjoyment itself.  Setting clear goals in class and creating an environment for dancers to concentrate engenders the flow experience.  Ensuring that your feedback is timely and unambiguous helps too, and making sure there is some fun in class can ensure that autotelic experience we seek.


There are many other educational frameworks which can support the occurrence of flow and promote positive psychology.  A useful one is Epstein’s TARGET strategy, an acronym for the following:

·         Task - designing class activities for variety, individual challenge and active involvement, focus on learning through fun and task-involvement, rather than competition. 

·         Authority - involving dancers in the decision making process, offering leadership roles

·         Recognition - recognising individual development rather than rewarding talent alone

·         Grouping - encouraging cooperation by working together, small groupings and using multiple ways of organising those groups

·         Evaluation - using criteria for development using self-set goals, to involve students in process of evaluation

·         Time - providing opportunities and time for improvement, time management, flexibility in reaching goals using various pathways

 

More recent research that my colleague James Hewison and I have undertaken, has been to look at how flow can enable greater willingness to take risks, particularly within the teaching and learning of Contact Improvisation.  Full details of the study have been published in the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (see further resources), but our findings point to a range of structures which enable flow to occur and greater risks to be taken.  These include:

·         Starting with small, scaffolded tasks and building to larger ones in terms of:

o   Task length

o   Simple to complex

o   Familiar partners to those less well known

o   Quiet to loud

o   Solo to group

o   Private to public exploration

·         Allowing time for full exploration, discovery and play

·         Engendering an environment of trust and on-judgment

·         Building a community of learning of which the teacher are a part

·         Offering space and time to discuss the significant and not so significant

 

There are lots of ways in which we can keep the enjoyment alive, these are just some and there are of course many more.  For further information have a look at these resources:

American Psychologist:  Special Issue on Happiness, Excellence and Optimal Human Functioning.  January 2000, 55(1).

Csikszentmihalyi, M.  (1990).  Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.  New York: Harper Collins.

Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I.  (2011).  Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications.  London: McGraw Hill.

Seligman, M.  The pursuit of happiness: Bringing the science of happiness to life.  Website available at:  www.pursuit-of-happiness.org  (Accessed: 13.11.13)

Urmston, E., & Hewison, J. (2014). Risk and flow in contact improvisation: Pleasure, play and presence. Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices6(2), 219-232.

 

Elsa Urmston is DanceEast Centre for Advanced Training Manager in Ipswich, UK, and member of the IADMS Education Committee. 

Tags:  dancers  motivation  psychology  teachers 

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