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.