Mental Health and Pre-Professional Ballet: An Abstract

If you ask anybody I knew in high school what comes to mind when they hear my name, you’d probably get one common response: Annalise is a dancer. From the age of three until I moved into my dorm at William &  Mary, I spent a couple hours nearly every afternoon in a ballet studio. While I elected to go to college instead of pursuing a career in dance, my experience in a pre-professional ballet studio shaped the person I became. I consider myself driven, hard-working, persevering, and health-conscious, all traits developed and strengthened by my dance classes.

With the recent rise of TV programs including “Dance Moms”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, the short-lived “Boneheads” and gone-too-soon “Breaking Pointe”, the dance world has been thrust into the laps of the general public. Whether they’ve been taking classes their whole lives or watched “Black Swan” for the first time two days ago, it seems everybody has an idea of what the life of a dancer looks like. The pre-existing stereotypes that surround pre-professional dance and especially pre-professional ballet, moreover, have been increasingly touted as fact. The notion that any given ballerina suffers from anorexia, anxiety, low self esteem, and any number of other illnesses has shifted from a possibility to an accepted fact. It often feels as if the positive qualities associated with dance–the determination, the beauty, the grace, the strength of a dancer–are ignored or forgotten in favor of promoting the stigma that surrounds the art form. That is not to say that there are many instances of dancers suffering from eating disorders and irregular mental health, but rather that the modern dancer is painted as guaranteed to suffer from one or many illnesses.

Through my Monroe Project, I will investigate several facets of mental health among high school-aged dancers participating in a pre-professional ballet intensive. These young ballerinas will be dancing over six hours a day, five days a week, for up to four weeks. Before they begin participation in the summer intensive, they will complete a comprehensive self-reporting survey to determine initial mental health trends. Once the intensive begins, they will complete a daily log describing which classes they attended; how many corrections or compliments they received from a teacher; and how they feel on that day, numerically quantifying specific factors such as happiness or stress levels. At the end of the intensive, the participants will repeat the survey they completed at the beginning of the summer intensive. The pre- and post-intensive surveys will be compared to see if any common trends can be determined, while the daily logs will be tracked for changes both between days and weeks. The results of my research will work to either corroborate the stigma surrounding the ballet world–that even at a young age, dancers report higher instances of unhealthy mentalities as they spend more time in the studio–or to contradict the stereotypes.

Comments

  1. laferraro says:

    How are you going to measure whether the dancers have a higher instance of unhealthy mentalities? Are you going to compare them to a general population or some accepted statistics? I think the quantitative data you’ll be collecting will be really interesting, and I wonder what qualitative data would look like, e.g. asking the dancers what their opinions are on the stereotypes.

  2. shghassemlou says:

    Hi! your research topic is so intriguing and I cannot wait to see the results. I was wondering, however, whether the daily log consists of questions that not only how many corrections or compliments they receive, but what those corrections or compliments were, as well as a list of other comments that they may have perceived as neutral. Dancers who put in different hours in the studio may perceive the same or similar comments differently and that could indicate a difference in mental health. I think qualitative data along those lines might help elucidate the accuracy or inaccuracy of stereotypes often placed on ballerinas.

  3. Would love to perpetually get updated great web blog!

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