Experiences of vocational ballet training and their impact on the dancer

   School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Fulfilling one’s potential by becoming the best ballet dancer one can become and joining a professional dance company is a dream of many young people, who enter vocational ballet dance training. Such training comes with unique challenges, which add to the pressures (from parents, peers, school) adolescents typically experience, as they progress through the teenage years. Although elite dancers are often admired for the extraordinary feats they perform, we know little about their journey. There is a need to understand the experiences of young vocational dancers and how these experiences may impact them. 

In a unique study of Australian current and ex-professional ballet and contemporary dancers, Blevins et al. (2020) identified a dance culture that endorses pushing through the pain, normalization of injuries, and overtraining alongside interpersonal factors such as relationships with teachers, peers, partners, and friends, as some of the stressors these individuals experienced during vocational dance training. However, this study did not examine how these experiences may have influenced the dancers. Other evidence suggests that intense vocational ballet training could negatively impact important outcomes, such as dancers’ mental health (Gregory et al., 2021; van Winden et al., 2019). However, there is very little research aimed to understand the lived experiences during vocational dance training. 

Vocational ballet dance training is voluntarily chosen, and this choice could primarily be attributed to the intrinsically enjoyable experience of dancing and performing. However, recent reports in the media (e.g., BBC) suggest that a culture of criticism, bullying, and body shaming may operate in some schools with profound consequences for the young dancer. Moreover, many young dancers find themselves in an environment where they have to compete with their peers for prestigious positions in performances. What are the features of the culture/social environment that operates in ballet and how does this dance culture may shape the dancer? What are its effects on the developing person's mental health and well-being?

We are seeking a talented and motivated individual who is passionate about answering some of these research questions. The specific details/focus of the project will be decided with input from the PhD student based on their specific interests, but a focus on the social environment /dance culture as perceived by current or former dancers and including mental health/well-being as one of the outcomes are essential.

Psychology (31) Sport & Exercise Science (33)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded UK and international students who have at least one degree in sport & exercise science, psychology, or highly related field.
If you are interested, please email Prof M Kavussanu your CV, letter of interest, and the abstract of the most recent study you have conducted.


Gregory, J. C., & Interiano-Shiverdecker, C. G. (2021). Behind the curtain: Ballet dancers’ mental health. Professional Counselor, 11(4), 423-439. https://doi:10.15241/jcg.11.4.423
Blevins, P., Erskine, S. Hopper, L. (2020). Finding your balance: An investigation of recovery-stress balance in vocational dance training. Journal of Dance Education, 20, 12–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/15290824.2018.1532571
van Winden, D. P., Van Rijn, R. M., Richardson, A., Savelsbergh, G. J., Oudejans, R. R., & Stubbe, J. H. (2019). Detailed injury epidemiology in contemporary dance: A 1-year prospective study of 134 students. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 5(1). https://doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000453
McEwen, K., & Young, K. (2011). Ballet and pain: Reflections on a risk-dance culture. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 3(2), 152-173. https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2011.572181
The dark side of ballet schools. BBC Panorama. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001qgpd

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