Dance and well-being: experience, reflections and strategic guidelines from the EDN (European Dance Company Network) report. A study of the relationship between dance and health, the result of a campaign dedicated to individual and collective physical and psychological well-being. This report sets out good practices that can be accessed online, together with targets met and future aims.
In the wake of a great deal of research that demonstrates how the arts and, specifically, dance contribute to the well-being of individuals and society, the EDN (European Dance Network) a network of European dance companies supported by the European Commission’s Creative Europe Programme, has published a study entitled Dance and Well-being. Review of evidence and policy perspectives, by Portuguese researcher Jordi Baltà Portolés. The study comes at the end of a digital campaign called #DanceAndWellBeing, which took place from November 2020 to February 2021 as a response to the Covid emergency restrictions, with online classes being held by choreographers from various companies and a range of activities for both professionals and the general public.
During this period, the EDN gathered a great deal of evidence on dance’s contribution to well-being, it came into contact with important initiatives and re-examined the impact that dance has on well-being even within its own world – one that was in serious crisis due to the closure of performance spaces.
The notion of care: a radical act of shifting priorities
Artistic practices increasingly guided by a notion of care is a concept that has emerged strongly during this same period of crisis, and stakeholders and institutions are gradually becoming aware of the fundamental role of the arts in achieving the sustainable development goals of the UN agenda.
In terms of health, dance is important not solely as a performance offered to an audience to raise awareness about a topic but, above all, in the form of practice.
Dance is the art of the body and of relationships par excellence, and its performative nature means those who actively practise it must undertake physical action and act out situational behaviour.
This performance aspect is imbued with a powerful, health-giving value that makes those involved actively participate with their whole body and promotes a strong dynamic of relationships. In its contemporary artistic form, it is also influenced by genres and languages, and combines with music, video, the visual arts, narrative and poetry (Ghiglione, 2019).
The EDN report explores how analysing the relationship between dance and health is intrinsically linked to an analysis of artistic practices and possible strategies for development. It also takes into account how the quality of the artistic result is essential to achieving well-being. This is why it is essential to involve professional artists trained in this field, organisations with the right spaces and partners in the health sector in a long-term project. Some artists have underlined the importance of not just considering dance as a means to achieving well-being, but as one of its ends. It is vital that dance is not instrumentalised but valued, as a method of breaking up routine and bringing those who do not practice it into closer contact with movement.
At the same time, the link between dance and well-being is another reason to also focus on the health of its professionals, something that is often overlooked in favour of total attention to public results.
Experiences and good practices in Europe
After an introductory section, the EDN report provides examples of good practices in Europe that have an impact on well-being from a range of perspectives.
It highlights dance initiatives within healthcare settings, as well as participatory programmes in communities, in close partnership with artists and health professionals and, of course, as art in education to promote well-being.
This not only maps out possible areas of action, but is also further evidence of how dance can contribute to reducing inequalities in access to care and the arts and how it can create a space for care, in the sense of a need to pay attention to oneself and to our relationship with others.
In the words of one of the many choreographers involved in the campaign, "Dance helps to reconnect with parts of the body that we often forget [...], it helps to bring back the body as a whole, to understand and express how we feel, where we are and to keep us connected to the present moment". It sums up the many testimonies of artists and participants on how dance has a positive impact in developing new ways of listening and caring, including by stimulating the imagination, our various senses, our social interaction, and, of course, movement itself in an increasingly sedentary society. There are many cases in the field of prevention, care support and support after injury or illness, for people directly involved and for caregivers.
Methods of implementing dance and health projects
The report then goes on to list and analyse the ways in which projects that have integrated dance and health have been implemented. One of the many examples is Dance Well, promoted by CSC (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea) from Bassano del Grappa. Starting with dance classes for people with Parkinson's disease, it has created an open and inclusive community of participants who have benefited personally and socially, as well as having access to the city’s arts scene and are now an integral part of it, with the commissioning of works that see them perform each year, led by a different choreographer. This is an example of cooperation between dance professionals, stakeholders and policymakers that has led to the spread of the practice throughout Italy and Japan.
This overview of dance and wellbeing ends with a series of reflections on how not only health but also artistic language benefits from these initiatives, followed by advice on the importance of cooperation between those involved, of training and sharing knowledge, and of the need for new and more extensive research into the impact of dance on individual and collective well-being. It is a great resource, especially with its large collection of links and reports of useful research on the subject.
By Catterina Seia and Greta Pieropan