Who are you?
Our families will know that at the start of the year we began looking at different mental health aspects each month to openly talk about in our classes. We want our dancers to know we are a safe space and that they can openly discuss anything with us. We are not suggesting solutions but can lend an ear and always point you in the direction of resources if needed.
Now I may have studied dance psychology for my Masters degree but I am no means pretending to be an expert in the area. (More on pretending later!) However, I feel it is important that we can share our own experiences in the hope that one person’s journey eases another’s. This month we are focusing on the area of Identity.
When creative beings, no matter their age find their craft, and by extension their people, it’s sometimes compared to finding who they are. It can give a sense of community and an amazing outlet for expression.
We love the community we have built at DanSci however, having grown up in the arts environment myself (and should I say the majority of our teachers) we are aware that the environment and industry can sometimes become unhealthy. This is something we actively monitor at the studio to ensure we are keeping all our dancers as safe as we can physically, mentally, and socially. Whether that is providing the best facilities, demonstrating healthy behaviours, having robust safeguarding measures, or simply calling it out if we see something wrong.
There is tremendous pressure to do well, to succeed, to achieve more and more, in all walks of life but we need to remember to keep a healthy balance. As much as we love dance, we want our community to be the best well-rounded humans they can be not just the best dancer they may think they should be.
We our proud that our environment nurtures talent while equally allowing our dancers the flexibility to explore their own individuality and try different styles and genres. To attend many classes of just once a week in their favourite style. We also provide space to catch up with friends, socialise and in the case of many of our teens; their first employment. We understand the important role we play and the responsibility we hold in insuring DanSci supports each individual, especially our developing young people in helping them understand their own values and attributes.
So, this month we want to have open, honest conversations discussing what can happen when a dancer starts to define themselves and their worth by what they achieve in class or on the stage.
Firstly, let’s question; how does the role of identity fit into the mental wellness of performers?
Our identity is the way we define ourselves. This includes our values, our beliefs, and our personality. It also encompasses the roles we play in our society and family. Our past memories, our hopes for the future, as well as our hobbies and interests. (1)
It is a common joke in dancer circles that we are dancers not mere humans. We can see ourselves as a separate species almost! However, when a dancer overly identifies as a dancer or performer first and a human second, they can struggle to internalize and accept their success. Combine this with a pressure to achieve, it is not uncommon for dancers to attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability leading to phenomenon such as impostor syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades. (2) However, since the term was coined in the 70’s many people have refuted its existence or in the least it’s description and validity.
A conversation for another blog post perhaps although, I can personally say that I have regularly experienced feelings doubt in my talents, or accomplishments. It is only now as an adult working through them that I am beginning identify and understand how these feelings can hold you back.
When imposter feelings surface, ask yourself whether any actual facts support these beliefs. Then, look for pieces of evidence to counter them.
If you feel like you are needing to prove your worth, you may be wondering, what exactly is self-worth?
Self-worth is at the core of our very selves—our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are intimately tied into how we view our worthiness and value as human beings. (3) It can become complicated on an actual psychology level between self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence ..there are a lot of ‘self-?’ out there. More than we can cover here.
Psychologist Martin Covington created the self-worth theory with a colleague of his back in the 1970s that has sparked research into this topic ever since. HIs theory states that humans’ main priority in life is to develop self-acceptance, and that more often than not, that self-acceptance is found through a sense of achievement. Since we need to understand and measure achievement against something, we then turn to comparison and competition to fulfil the need to achieve. (4)
One of the reasons we do not do exams but choose achievement awards and performance is so that our dancers at DanSci can learn to not find their value on outside achievements or comparisons to others. Rather on how they feel inside, how the dance made them feel, their own internal sense of achievement. If we determine our own self worth from external factors such as physical appearance, approval from others, our skills as a dancer we run the risk of believing that we are only as valuable as these external factors.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence to a complete stranger?
For many years my own answer would simply have been ‘A Dancer’ but when I became injured and could no longer dance I completely lost myself and it took many years to mourn the loss of this identity. To this day I continue to work through the loss as if a person has gone. The truth is we are always more than just one identity, I am a dancer, I am teacher, a mother, a business owner, crazy cat lady who still sleeps with a teddy bear and I am more than a label and I am still discovering who I am. My biggest wish is that DanSci can become a safe hub for others in the community to discover who they are and just maybe add the puzzle piece of ‘dancer’ to the mix. Just remember it is just one puzzle piece and you need many to make a complete jigsaw.
Ava Barron Thomas MSc
(2) Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey February 11, 2021 https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome#:~:text=Examining%20Imposter%20Syndrome%20as%20We,they're%20deserving%20of%20accolades. [Accessed 06/04/22 17:36]
(3) What is Self-Worth and How Do We Increase it? https://positivepsychology.com/self-worth/ [Accessed 06/04/22 18:11]
(4) The dance educator’s guide to promoting mental wellness by kristin deiss and michelle loucadoux…. https://www.danscend.com/?fbclid=IwAR2LOrL-YIMwbINeoMR5coCGj4oM9JS0rR87ARd8ba7nz6HU9u_iJlPicnw [Accessed 05/01/22]
Photo credits: https://www.perspectivesphotography.co.uk/