By MSc Dance Science alum Anastasia Paschali
Over the last few weeks, daily life has seen drastic changes for many of us as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. National social distancing measures have led to school closures as well as suspension of performances and public events. With rapid and uncertain developments, staying safe and taking care of our health and well-being is more important than ever. The dance community’s response to COVID-19 has been strong and united. Practitioners and schools quickly took to online platforms, advocating that movement should remain an integral part of people’s daily routines.
As a Trinity Laban MSc Dance Science graduate, I thought it would be important to share some of my current thoughts on ‘Dance for Health’ during this pandemic and to discuss some of my own MSc Dance Science findings on ‘Health promotion among dance students in higher education’.
Dance for Health response: ‘Stay positive, patient and productive’
Regular dancing can strengthen physical abilities and cognitive skills, maintain strong bones, improve posture, increase balance and co-ordination, as well as aid with a range of mental health benefits (NHS; BUPA). We know that dance has a significant part to play in improving the health and wellbeing of the population, combining physical capabilities and artistic interpretation (One Dance UK). However our recent -and possibly prolonged- lifestyle changes increase the risk of sedentary behaviours, including spending excessive amounts of time sitting or lying down for screening activities (watching television/using mobile devices), reducing physical activity levels (Cheng et al., 2020).
As general guidance, the World Health Organisation encourages communities to integrate exercise in their daily lives and stay physically active in limited space: “Stay physically active during self-quarantine”.
The global dance community responded immediately by adapting to the changing environment. Many practitioners and schools quickly took to social media to provide virtual dance training for their students and the general population. It was wonderful to see this collective online action, which encouraged home participation in dance and empowered individuals to gain control over factors influencing their health. There are simply so many excellent examples of Dance for Health responses to the pandemic, some are highlighted in The New York Times and Pointe Magazine. Also, Dance Magazine suggests “Apps for dancers who are social distancing”, including mental health, entertainment and cross-training. Finally, the Scottish Ballet continue live streaming daily classes on dance for Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and dementia as well as family barre for parents and children. These responses ensure communities stay connected to their support networks throughout periods of change.
MSc Dance Science research on health promotion, health and wellbeing.
My thesis research at Trinity Laban investigated health promotion approaches among dancers in higher education. Health promotion acknowledges the wider determinants of health such as environments, communities, health services and public policy. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986) proposes action through advocacy for health, equity and coordinated action across all sectors.
Under the supervision of Dr Liliana Araújo, I interviewed ten undergraduate and postgraduate dance students (six women, four men; mean age= 21 years ± 1.26) from several higher education institutions in the United Kingdom. Interviews explored students’ experiences and perceptions of health, including questions on lifestyle, health services and environment. Definitions of health and wellbeing, health-promoting behaviours and sources of support emerged as dominant themes. Considering the current times, I wanted to share a summary of these findings (Fig. 1), as well as my thoughts on the role of health promotion throughout COVID-19.
Dancers defined health as a holistic, hedonic and individual experience. All students described physical and psychological domains, often mentioning happiness in their definitions. A valuable network of social and emotional support from family, friends, teaching staff and healthcare professionals worked in tandem to facilitate dancers’ health and wellbeing. Finally, all students engaged with health-promoting behaviours; examples included recreational activities for the body and mind (e.g. reading, napping, drawing, walking). Moreover, dance students reported that developing resilience had an impact on their ability to withstand and positively adapt to challenges in their lives. On the whole, dancers acknowledged their responsibility and own role in promoting health and wellbeing.
Whilst developments with COVID-19 remain unpredictable and uncertain at the moment, the dance community’s immediate response has been united and powerful. Dance for Health programmes and resources continue to be delivered virtually, whilst many artists are offering live streamed classes for those who may be home-bound. Creative thinking is needed to reach members of the public who may be isolated, vulnerable or have no online access to resources.
Health promotion offers us an expanded view of health, which is important to keep in mind during the current difficult times. Health is individual to each one of us and changes over time. We need to focus on what we can control during this unprecedented time.
Dance students I interviewed felt that activities such as reading, drawing and walking facilitated their health. Also, dancers I spoke to highlighted the value of an extensive network of social and emotional support from family, friends, educators and healthcare professionals.
It is vital we stay connected and keep in touch with our support networks. Dance is a powerful tool which can offer so much to so many during this unprecedented time.
BUPA– Health benefits of dancing
Chen, P., Mao, L., Nassis, G. P., Harmer, P., Ainsworth, B. E., & Li, F. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): The need to maintain regular physical activity while taking precautions. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(2), 103–104. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2020.02.001
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