Beyond Covid-19 - A safe return PART 2
Many dancers are returning to the studio after a long break or interruptions to their training. Last week our experts gave advice on how to gradually build up your or your students' workload. This week they discuss the social, emotional, cultural and psychologicial issues to consider.
COVID-19 is a dynamic situation and impacts everyone differently. The pandemic has set in place conditions for the perfect mental health storm: fear of safety (self and loved ones), isolation and loss of social connection, scarcity of resources, reduced income, consistently changing situations, information overload, added roles and responsibilities (e.g. homeschooling), and disruptions to routine.
As we come out of lockdown it is more important than ever to consider social, emotional, psychological and cultural factors. As all of our situations are different, the suggestions below are not comprehensive or exhaustive. They are a selection of considerations and strategies that may be put in place to ensure our return to dance supports the wellbeing of dancers, teachers and dance artists.
Reduce your expectations
Don’t pick up where you left off. Approach your return as if it were Lesson 1, Week 1. Allow more time for connection, play, and fun in your classes.
Teachers, clearly communicate to your students that you do not expect perfection. For example, “I don’t expect this grand battement to be high right now, so just take it easy”. Or “I don’t expect you to remember the exercise. It’s ok if you’ve forgotten it. I’ve forgotten things too. We can help each other to remember it”. Create the expectation that there will be variability from lesson to lesson, ‘Some classes and moves will be easy while others may be more challenging than you recall’. We want to congratulate everyone for simply being here and for creating a warm space in class. At this stage of the return, discourage competing to ‘be the best’.
Dancers, know that it’s highly likely you won’t be returning to your peak performance levels right away and that’s ok. Focus on the joy of dancing and be patient and kind to yourself.
Create a culture of communication and connection
- Create a class that is warm and welcoming despite the “Covid” barriers.
- Find ways to connect to your students as people, not just as dancers.
- Reinforce considerate and respectful behaviour, for example, ‘That was really nice of you to…..”
- Encourage students to reach out to each other and particularly to those they have not had any contact with throughout lockdown. If there are group exercises, use numbering techniques to mix the groups up as much as possible.
- Approachability is important for dance teachers, rehearsal directors or other leaders. Establish and remind dancers of the importance of communication and ensure your dancers know that they can talk to you. Be willing to listen and then to refer on to established wellbeing support services
Find ways to enable dancers’ agency
Build more creative movement, improvisation or choreography into your lessons. These will give dancers’ the chance to make choices and enact agency
Bring more awareness to your instruction and language
Avoid phrases such as "getting back into shape". Instead, talk about "getting back into dance" and emphasise that we’re doing things that we love to do.
Consider reducing the number of "parts" to instructions. Instead of “Ok let’s go to the back of the room and stand in three lines facing the right and have your right leg in front and do our turns combination”, try “Ok, we’re going to do our turns combination. Let’s go to the back of the room and make three lines” [wait for students to follow]. “Ok, face the right, and put your right leg in front of you”.
Check-in with your students
- Check in with your dancers and teachers regularly and meet them where they are at. For example, one week students may be keen on dancing and learning combinations and choreography, while the next week they may feel more exhausted after recommencing school and may need a low-key lesson with more stretching, breathing exercises and creative movement.
- Be aware of other things happening in your dancers and teachers’ lives. For example, are HSC exams coming up soon? Have students just started back their first week of school and are exhausted? Be attuned to the possibilities behind people’s behaviour and aim to act with patience, empathy and kindness.
- Assume appropriate levels of responsibility and refer dancers/families to professionals where needed.
Reduce uncertainty by informing dancers and families what to expect
Clear communication about new procedures and routines can help reduce uncertainty. Social scripts can be used to educate younger students. These are simple "stories" with visuals that clearly explain what students might see, do, say and feel in a given setting. For example, you might let students know that their teacher will be wearing a mask, they will need to sanitise hands, and that we won’t be hugging or holding hands for now. By showing students what they need to do ahead of time, you give them more time to acclimatise and a greater chance for successful uptake.
Establish a new routine and remind people of it regularly (e.g. hand washing, cleaning etc.)
Participation and engagement takes on many forms and may be different to usual
- Some dancers and teachers may be excited to return to dance. Others may be more anxious or nervous. Acknowledge that different people will respond in a variety of ways, and that everyone will "recover" from lockdown at different rates.
- If you are talking as a group and someone does not wish to participate, make sure it is known that not talking is a valid option.
- Attention and engagement levels may be very high in some people, and low in others. Be patient and deliver instructions or feedback more than once if needed.
- Use multimodality to increase engagement by building in visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic modes of communication.
Accessing additional support
Reach Out is an online mental health resources for teenagers and their parents. They provide relevant mental health resources, guidance to helpful apps and tools that can be used and free individual coaching: https://about.au.reachout.com/home
Raising Children Network is an Australian Parenting Website with resources relevant to parenting children of all ages: https://raisingchildren.net.au
Emerging Minds – Advancing Australian children's mental health develops mental health interventions and evidence-based resources in response to the needs of professionals, children and their families: https://emergingminds.com.au Resources are freely available.
The Kids Helpline provide 24 hour telephone or webchat support and email contact for children & teenagers. It also provides excellent parenting resources including step by step guidance on how to respond to anxiety: https://kidshelpline.com.au/parents/issues/anxiety-kids-and-teens
The NSW Department of Education provides links to numerous agencies to access support for mental health and wellbeing: https://bit.ly/3FYD7q0
Gabby Davidson, B.Phty (Hons) Physiotherapist at The Australian Ballet School
Dr Danielle Einstein, BSc (Psychol) (Hons), MPsychol (Clin), PhD, MAPS MACPA Adjunct Fellow Macquarie University and Clinical Psychologist at Distinct Psychology
Dr Annie Jeffries, PhD, M ClinExPhysio, BExSci (Hons1), Bsci, AES, AEP, ESSAM, Exercise Physiologist,
Dr Elena Lambrinos, PhD, MA (Cultural Studies), Director of Education at Leap 'N Learn, Dance Studio Owner, Dance education researcher at Disrupt Dance
Dr Jason Lam, BMBS, DCH, MSportsMed, FRACGP Crichton Dance Medicine Fellow, The Australian Ballet
The first and third images are of Victorian College of the Arts students, courtesy of the VCA. Photos: Hamish Macintosh.
See Part 1 on progression and recovery here.
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