Keynote summary: the psychology of change by Elsa Urmston

Change is around us all the time. From technology, culture, politics to evolution and the weather it surrounds and influences us. In dance it has all kinds of elements and it is often a cyclical process. Form and abstraction and the expression of the body balances with the social context.

In the history of dance change seems to lurch forward in some regards and resists efforts at stimulating evolution in others. It constitutes a kind of plate tectonics of our field. Tradition, experiment and diversity all demand attention: all require change and adaptation.” (Hagood 2000) This brings us to a question in this presentation to discuss as a group: “What should Ballet be, and who is it for ?”

There are many theoretical perspectives on change. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve comes from the concept of grief. Knowledge and persuasion can encounter denial and anger. Bargaining and making decisions precede implementation. From a time frame perspective our feelings change as we adapt or confirm a new reality.

Fishers model of Transition gives us insight in how we handle our emotions and how we cope with change as an individual. Debate and criticisms to the educational system of dance itself, follows this process as well. As dance educators we experience anxiety, insecurities that can accompany the analysis of our own work. Appreciating the larger context of dance and our role as educators is a personal process as well, and helps us forward.

A more trans-theoretical model of Prochaska and DiClementi (1997) helps us as an educational field. From pre-contemplation comes contemplation of what might need to change. The steps of preparation and researching options can bring us to actions or bring us back to contemplation. A successful will helps us deal with what we were challenged with or wanted to change and then requires maintenance.

The dimensions of flow can be a frame work for dance education because it gives us insights and tools to help people manage and weather change and their development.

The skill – stress balance and knowing how to predict what is there and what needs to be developed, as well as clear goals and unambiguous feedback are very important. We have designed courses and projects that start with sense-based awareness as well as focus and concentration. We try to take away distractions and the restrictions of time. A lack of demand on outcome, judgement and determined performance creates a luxurious space to discover and grow individual development in a learning journey.

Task length, complexity and clarity of tasks as well as familiarity of unfamiliarity influence the demand on skill-set and amount of stress that might be present or perceived. More sensory aspects as loudness or silence and psychological aspects as solo or group focus, private to public and safety thru trust and non-judgement, within a group bring a scaffolding to allow time for tasks to develop.

Learned optimism (Selligman, 2006) can give the encounter or experience of a setback a different perception. This strongly influences how we weather our journey more effectively.

What we bring to a situation and how we perceive or interpret a situation influences our physical well-being, mental health and how bounce back or flow with change. Adopting a positive psychology approach chooses to highlight what makes a life worth living.

Enjoyment and fun might imply frivolousness. I feel it furthers and engagement, creativity as well as flow and enables us to flourish. Using Positive Psychology frameworks in education might help dancers adopt personal responsibility within their development.

The balance between skill and balance is important to achieve flow and manage change. An optimal balance will move between and around stress, control and flow.

Dancing and being ‘in contact’ is a merging and emerging of experience that can bring a sense of flow. In a flow state self-consciousness drops away. Time can slow down or move really fast. Un-ambiguous feedback, concentration and awareness needs need to all be present in education.

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