FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW

Vocational dance training: An opportunity to thrive or a risk factor for young people’s mental health?

   School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr M Kavussanu, Dr S Williams  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Vocational dance training: An opportunity to thrive or a risk factor for young people’s mental health?

Fulfilling one’s potential by becoming the best dancer one can become and joining a professional dance company is a dream of many young people, who enter vocational 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 on their mental health and psychological well-being.

Research in elite athletes has identified a range of protective and risk factors for athletes’ mental health (Kuettel & Larsen, 2020). Specific features of aesthetic sports, injury, and overtraining are some of the risk factors identified, whereas positive social relationships, social support, and a trusting motivational climate are some of the protective factors, which could enhance mental health and psychological well-being. By its very nature (i.e., aesthetic sport, many hours of training, potential for injury), vocational dance training entails factors which could place young people at risk for poor mental health. In a unique study of Australian vocational dancers, Blevins et al. (2020) identified a dance culture that endorses pushing through the pain, and normalization of injury, alongside interpersonal factors such as relationships with teachers and peers, as some of the stressors experienced in vocational dance training. Dancers also varied in the way they responded to these stressors, with some responding with adaptive and others responding with maladaptive behavioural patterns. However, this study did not investigate the potential effect of these stressors on dancers’ mental health and well-being or examined whether protective factors such as positive peer relationships or a trusting motivational climate may buffer the effects of these stressors.

The proposed project aims to enhance our understanding of the experiences of young vocational dancers. Specifically, we aim to: (a) identify the stressors experienced during vocational dance training; (b) how these stressors influence mental health and wellbeing; (c) which personal or social environmental features attenuate the effects of these stressors on mental health and well-being and enable young dancers to flourish; and (d) how these experiences change throughout adolescence as the demands of training increase. Ultimately, we want to understand how we can create an environment that enables young dancers to flourish and realize their dance potential.

The specific details/focus of the project will be decided with input from the PhD student based on their specific interests.

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded UK/EU students and international students who have at least an upper second class degree in sport science, psychology or related field.


Kuettell, A., & Larsen, C.H. (2020). Risk and protective factors for mental health in elite athletes: A scoping review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 13, 231-265.
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.
Other information
Interested candidates should initially send a detailed CV and covering letter highlighting research experience and capabilities to Professor Maria Kavussanu ( Candidates with appropriate credentials will be invited to submit a full application, providing the following documents:
• Names and addresses of two referees.
• Copies of degree certificates with transcripts.
• Evidence of proficiency in the English language, if applicable.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs