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Sean Boutilier Academy of Dance
Psychological Benefits of Dance
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About the Author:

Tanya holds a PhD in Dance Studies from York University in Toronto and she is a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School Teacher Training Program. In addition to teaching ballet in private dance studios, Tanya has taught at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education since 2003.

Psychological Benefits of Dance by Tanya Berg PhD
Posted on January 31, 2018

Dance can meet human beings’ three basic psychological needs. Psychology has recently been applied to dance and sport and these basic needs are said to include: the need for independence (autonomy), the need to belong (relatedness) and the need to achieve competency.

The book Safe Dance Practice (2015) discusses how students benefit when they are training in a dance environment where their teacher, the dance material, and peer relationships all serve to meet these needs. Task-oriented dance environments where individual improvement and progression are valued produce positive results such as high levels of enjoyment, self-esteem and intrinsic motivation (see previous “Dance Talk” for a discussion of motivation). Here I will outline some class characteristics that illustrate for parents, teachers and dancers how the needs of the students are best met in the studio.

A dancer’s independence (autonomy) is supported when they have some sense of control over their actions and they have a sense of voice. Situations such as auditions and competition choreography are different than training classes and in these situations the dancers may be given less independence. However, in technique classes the students should feel that they are positively motivated by teachers and personally invested in their dance progress. Students should feel confident asking questions and making choices about their dancing including the extent to which they push their bodies. Students should also understand that mistakes are not to be feared, as they are part of the learning process.

The dancer’s sense of belonging (relatedness) is being supported successfully when the environment feels safe and secure, causing the dancer’s self-confidence to increase. To foster this feeling of belonging, dancers are encouraged to stand in different places during each class. Working with different partners each class promotes relationships between all of the dancers, which expands their personal network of support.

The feeling of competency is supported when students are encouraged to better themselves. Teachers should recognize and acknowledge the dancers’ efforts to master the material, as each student will achieve tasks and skills at different rates.

Communication is the key to a healthy and happy dance education. To acquire all the benefits that dance can offer, students should feel that they are able to speak to their teachers, parents and peers about their feelings toward their dance experiences. Students can feel autonomous, have a sense of belonging, and feel competent when the dance environment supports these psychological needs.

Here is to a happy and healthy 2018 in dance!

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