Using Dance as an Intervention: Can dance help prevent and decrease psychological and health-related problems among young women?

Elizabeth Sharp, Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies at Texas Tech University and Honorary Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, writes: Despite the alarmingly high rates of disordered eating on US college campuses, very few prevention efforts have been successful. The evidence is clear that women’s bodies are intimately linked to well-being and health, but their bodies are rarely involved in prevention, intervention, or treatment efforts. Although not addressing women’s health directly, other work has indicated the promise of dance as a way to promote social justice and help individuals become more aware of societal expectations and their participation in cultural prescriptions (Fitzgerald, 2008). Our aim is to take the best practices from the existing literature and involve women’s bodies.

In this innovative project, we propose using dance as a way to expose, kinesthetically explore, and dialogically address unrealistic and problematic ideas about romance, societal expectations placed on women and related issues such as body image and disordered eating.  We intend to systematically evaluate and refine the use of social science research and dance as an intervention tool among young women. In so doing, it is expected that we will help prevent and decrease psychological and health-related problems among young women, which, in turn, will help women’s partners, families, friends, and wider communities. It is also anticipated that results from the proposed project will yield wider benefits, including: refining collaborative work among dance choreographers, dancers, and social scientists, promoting more effective interventions and prevention models, and making public often privatized conversations about women’s ideas of romance and social expectations.

The proposed project draws on the CO-PI’s (a social scientist and a dance choreographer) successful and collaborative evening-length concert, Ordinary Wars, funded by a previous grant from our university.  (See my previous post on the CMH blog for more details).

In the present project, extending our previous work, we propose offering a three-pronged intervention based on: (A) viewing the performance, (B) engaging in a focus group, and (C) participating in a dance movement workshop. We are building on the effectiveness of our previous project by including the third component, a participatory movement workshop designed to kinesthetically explore the ideas presented in the concert. We also propose to evaluate our intervention efforts. We will create two distinct spaces in which women can confront and question problematic societal expectations concerning romance and body image using cognitive, emotional, and kinesthetic approaches. The discussions groups will offer a safe place to explore contemporary issues facing college women and the dance movement workshops will help women explore meaningful kinesthetic reactions and choices.

Reference
Fitzgerald, M. (2008). Community dance: Dance Arizona Repertory Theatre as vehicle for cultural emancipation. In N. Jackson & T. Sharpiro-Phim (Eds.), Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press. (pp 256-269.)

For more information, please contact Elizabeth Sharp who is currently working in Durham as a Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, or the lead dance choreographer in the project Genevieve Durham-DeCesaro.

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