America in the 1940s introduced dance as a form of therapy for children and adults, and the results have had numerous social, psychological, and physiological benefits. We might be tempted to conclude that professional dancers effectively have continuous therapy and are “the most zen”. A 2003 study made by two university professors in England shows that this is not the case at all.
The pressure of high standards, the fear of failure and fierce competition creates a toxic environment for most of them, often without their being aware of it. If in the 40’s people were struggling with the traumas left by a cruel war, nowadays people are faced with a perfectionism that, if taken to the extreme, leads to behaviours that are harmful to both oneself and others.
Here are five reasons why dance therapy is recommended for professional dancers in the fight against perfectionism:
- Releases creativity / develops creative potential. Beyond choreography is the connection between dance and dancer. Under pressure from perfectionism, creativity can meet blockages. Dance therapy brings the artist inward – to who he/she is, what he/she feels and what he/she wants to express, helping to access emotions and express them through movements that release stress, fear, anxieties, etc. The technique and shape of the movement is not important because it is not about aesthetics; nor will you be evaluated or judged afterwards.
- Rebuilds self-image. A study published by the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science talks about how dancers’ self-image is affected by the pressure of perfection. If accuracy is pursued on a stage, in therapy the aim is to recreate the connection with free, unstudied, natural movement. The dancer does not think about the next step, but lives the joy of the moment, or any other emotion that is captive in the body and mind.
- Build interactions with new people. There are two types of perfectionism: constructive and neurotic. The latter can lead to the point where people see nothing more than the goal. Family, friends or even your own needs take second place, leading to the disappearance of interpersonal connection. In group therapy, connections are created with new people who have common interests and “battles,” and who don’t see themselves as being in a competition.
- Play is reborn. If there was one thing to learn from children, it would be the joy of playing. Children’s imagination is full of scenarios, and adults, once they enter the universe of play, get to see the world through new filters. Play stimulates ingenuity, crisis resolution and how to take on challenges with greater openness instead of stubbornness. During play, the focus is not on being perfect, but on the joy of the moment and the journey itself.
- Stimulates empathy. Free movement, closeness to people, lack of aggressive criticism directed towards others, as well as at oneself, the expression of the inner self through non-verbal language, activates the social component in an amazing way. Dancers do not understand each other through words, but rather through shared emotion. Mirror neurons located in the prefrontal cortex, which are very active during dance, help in developing empathy. By better understanding the person in front of them through movement, they become empathetic and thus the coping mechanisms for everyday life are improved.
In such a competitive world, where perfectionism has turned from motivation to purpose, dance therapy can be a breath of fresh air. For professional dancers, this method can be a return to the origins, a reunion with dance, with their own body and a rediscovery of the reasons why they chose it: joy, expression, freedom.
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