Efforts to Improve Dancers’ Mental Health is Taking Practical First Steps at Point Park University Monday, November 14, 2022
“Given the findings about dance students feeling isolated and engaging in negative comparison with each other, we decided to develop a therapy group specifically for dancers. This group provides students with a space to explore their concerns and build relationships with others who have similar experiences."
Two years after launching a collaborative study to better support dancer mental health, Point Park University and Minding the Gap discussed preliminary findings of their research at the 32nd annual conference for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) in Limerick, Ireland.
Funded by the Staunton Farm Foundation, research by Point Park and Minding the Gap is directed at developing interventions to support dancer mental health.
Minding the Gap, founded in 2018 by former dancer, writer and nonprofit development professional Kathleen McGuire Gaines, is overseeing an unprecedented three-year longitudinal study with more than 300 dancers in the program who participate in workshops. About a third of those dancers opted to participate in the initial data collection using mental health clinical measures at the start of the program in 2020 in collaboration with Point Park and its Conservatory of the Performing Arts dance program.
Britney Brinkman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Point Park, has been working closely with Gaines and Minding the Gap to implement approaches and strategies for dance students’ well-being at Point Park.
Brinkman joined Gaines, lead researcher Liliana Araújo, Ph.D., of McGill University, and clinical psychologist Brian Goonan, Ph.D., to discuss their findings at the IADMS conference. Leigh Skvarla, Ph.D., of Minding the Gap was unable to attend the conference but is also involved in the research effort.
As part of her work, Brinkman has participated in workshops with dancers and teachers at Point Park and has developed training sessions for the doctoral students in clinical psychology. These training sessions are aimed at doctoral students who see clients on campus to better prepare them for working with dance students.
“Given the findings about dance students feeling isolated and engaging in negative comparison with each other, we decided to develop a therapy group specifically for dancers," Brinkman said. "This group provides students with a space to explore their concerns and build relationships with others who have similar experiences."
In addition, Brinkman has co-facilitated workshops with Gaines for dance students on how to cope with performance anxiety, how to combat negative self-talk and increase positive self-talk and tips for goal setting.
Gaines credits Garfield Lemonius, dean and artistic director of the Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Brinkman and others at Point Park who have shared their expertise to move Minding the Gap’s significant research findings into practical approaches toward solutions. Last year, Minding the Gap research received an additional two-years of funding from the Staunton Farm Foundation to continue its important work.
“Audiences who enjoy dance recognize the hard work, single-minded dedication and devotion required to become a world-class dancer but may be less inclined to think about the impact that kind of focus takes on a person’s mental health,” said Gaines. “It’s our hope that the research, approaches and practical tools we develop can go a long way to help dancers be of strong body and mind.”