Dance Psychology

Looking at dance and dancers through the lens of psychology

A Moment in the Life of a Dance Psychologist

A moment in the life of a dance psychologist

People often ask me what a Dance Psychologist is and what we do. Well, as the Director of the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire the best way to answer this question is to give you an overview of what I'm currently up to. I've been busy this week, and the things I'm busy with range from interviewing Mathew Bourne to putting together a new research team. Here's a taster.

Dance & Parkinson's Disease
I have been awarded a research grant to examine the link between dance and Parkinson's disease. This is very exciting. A flurry of academic papers have been published in the last couple of years which report that when people with Parkinson's disease (PD) engage in certain types of dance they show an improvement in their balance and walking. These papers are really interesting but they leave a whole set of questions unanswered as it relates to dance and PD. So, I've put together a team which includes a neurobiologist, a physiotherapist, a cognitive psychologist and two dance specialists so that we can further examine the relationship between dance and PD. We want to know what kind of dance is best for people with PD, how much dance treatment they need, how long do the effects last for, what are the long term benefits of dancing for people with PD and so many more. Our first project team meeting is on Wednesday 23rd February. I'll keep you posted on what we find.

TEDx Observer
I've been preparing for a TED talk I'll be giving as part of TEDx Observer in London on the 19th March. The talk is about how dance has an effect on our cognitive processes. One of my PhD students, Carine Lewis, has done some great work examining the relationship between different styles of dance and the impact these have on problem solving. I've always thought there is a link between movement and thinking - I certainly at my most creative when I'm moving. I'll be talking about this, and about how sitting still in a classroom kills creativity, in my TED talk in March.

INSPIRED Psychology:Danced
I've been preparing for INSPIRED Psychology:Danced. I'm working with five amazing choreographers to bring psychology to life through spoken word and dance. The first performance of INSPIRED Psychology:Danced will be on Thursday 26th May 2010. We've been in pre-production since September 2010 and now we're having our first group meeting on the 28th February, when the five choreography teams will come together with the musicians, the project coordinator (Tracy Ashwood) and the narrator and director (me). We're meeting in a large TV studio so we should get some fabulous footage of this art/science collaboration.


BSc & MSc Research Project Supervision
I'm currently supervising 8 undergraduate and 5 postgraduate research projects looking at different aspects of dance psychology. I'm lucky to be supervising some first rate students looking at the health benefits of engaging in recreational dance in different populations (for example, in men, in the over 50's, and in relation to people engaged in different types of dance and movement), looking at dance and self-esteem, looking at the relationship between dance and hormones and looking at why people dance or don't dance at different stages in their lives. The 8 BSc projects are coming to the end of their data collection periods, which is very exciting as the new data are coming in and the 4 MSc projects are just beginning. It's a wonderfully rich time.


Tiger Aspect & Channel 4
In December I pitched a TV programme idea to the production company Tiger Aspect. They loved the idea and took it to Channel 4, who loved the idea, called it "Dr Dance" and commissioned a pilot. We're now at the filming stage. As part of the programme Tiger Aspect filmed me giving a series of lectures at the Science Museum Lates in January - where we had over a thousand people learning about psychology and then dancing, they then spent a day filming me in the labs at the University and next week we've got another couple of days filming couples and single people engaging with the "Dr Dance process" in London. I'm trying to stay calm, but I do find it exhilarating.


Public Engagement
In addition to prepping up for the TED talk I've also been preparing for a full programme of public engagement events. I'm being interviewed twice on the couch at MOVE It London, on the 12th and 13th March (this is a huge dance exhibition), I'm talking at Townsend School on the 16th March, giving a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) talk on the 30th March and another STEM talk in Cambridge on the 13th July. I'm giving the after dinner talk at the Association of Teachers in Psychology conference in July, and running a 2-day science-in-action event as part of the Aberdeen Science festival in September. I'm currently getting a request a week to speak somewhere in the world on Dance Psychology.

Visitors to the Lab
I am so lucky that people find the work we do interesting and want to come an visit the lab. We have visitors who come for a couple of days - we had one of those with us on Thursday and Friday this week, we have people coming for a couple of weeks over Easter and then again in July, and someone else coming for a month in the summer and another person coming to visit us for a full year staring later in the summer. We can normally accommodate two visitors at a time so if you fancy popping in please let me, or the lab administrator, know.

The Entertainment Hour
At the end of every week I take an hour off from being a dance psychologist to be part of the "Entertainment Round Table" on BBC Three Counties Radio (Friday 6-7pm). Roberto Perroni is the host, I talk about what's been on TV and Joanna Callaghan and Ian Brown talk about film and theatre respectively. We always spend the hour laughing and it's a great way for me to de-stress at the end of the week. This week, however, I couldn't quite stop being a Dance Psychologist as Mathew Bourne was one of our guests and I was able to ask him about how he was able to make his dance pieces so accessible to a broader audience and how he found coming into dance at a relatively late age. He's a fascinating man. I'll have our interview transcribed and put on the blog when I get a few moments.

The Day Job
Of course, I can only do all of the above because I hold a full time academic post where I teach, run courses, supervise graduate students, write papers, books and grant applications, have an admin role, review manuscripts and am generally involved in the hurley burley of University life. On the 18th March I'll be heavily involved with the University's contribution to the BBC's Red Nose Day, where I'll be getting the staff and students at the University "Dancing funny for Money".

So there you are. A moment in the life of a Dance Psychologist. This is what we do.

Dr Peter Lovatt
19th February 2011

© Peter Lovatt, 19th February 2010. All rights reserved.

Peter Lovatt is a psychologist and dancer based at the University of Hertfordshire.

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