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Sean Boutilier Academy of Dance
Can Changing Focus Improve Dance Performance?
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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.

Can Changing Focus Improve Dance Performance? by Tanya Berg PhD
Posted on October 26, 2017

Dancers often find that they are receiving the same advice in dance classes day after day, and week after week. When dancers are having trouble physically applying suggestions from a teacher, there are many ways for them to approach the situation. This article will address the issue of a dancer’s attentional focus.

Dancers are often asked to focus their attention one way or another, either internally (perhaps on a body part) or externally (perhaps on the space around them). However, the teacher’s suggested focus may need modification for individual dancers. This is something that the dancer can do for themselves by exploring how to modify their own focus of attention.

Studies show that performance is improved when dancers/athletes change their focus from their own body to an external factor. Focusing on an element beyond their own body causes dancers/athletes to use their bodies more efficiently and automatically.

How can a dancer apply this change of focus to their work? After attempting suggestions regarding focusing on their own body to master a skill, the dancer can then change their focus to an element in the space around them. For example, rather than the dancer focusing on stretching their knee in an extension, the dancer can instead focus on lengthening their leg out into space. This change of focus from the body to the external space has been proven to enhance performance. When a dancer is attempting to balance in a position, rather than focus on their body (such as holding abdominals or shaping their arms), the dancer can instead focus on feeling the floor under their foot and moving their head up into the space between them and the ceiling.

An integral part of well-rounded dance training is the individual dancer learning to work independently and the dancer developing successful strategies for learning without becoming frustrated or feeling stuck in a rut. Changing attentional focus is one way for a dancer to progress through challenging movement and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Further Reading:
A research article looking at this topic is available on Google Scholar. Authors Clare Guss-West and Gabriele Wulf have posted a pdf of their article, “Attentional Focus in Classical Ballet: A Survey of Professional Dancers.”

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