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Consequences in relation to health and well-being related to traditionalism way

As there are identified some positive elements of being taught the traditionalism way, a range of negative consequences are identified, making the need for a pedagogical shift towards a student-centered way of teaching and learning urgent.


Positive factors

On the positive side, findings demonstrate that the world of dance might offer a rich social life and network within, nurturing close relationships, competence development and artistic thriving (Aalten, 2005; Demerlius, 2003; Haraldsen et al., 2020).

Also, being involved in artistic processes might represent a meaningful way of living, which offers an extra dimension in life (Haraldsen et al., 2020). Furthermore, involvement in artistic processes was also identified as a gateway to flow – nurturing intrinsic motivation and life satisfaction (Haraldsen et al., 2020).

Interestingly, the doctoral thesis of Haraldsen (2019) revealed that the traditional and controlled practices unfolded as complex, with both positive and negative consequences. On one side, they could provide a boost of competence development. For ambitious performers aiming for the top and operating within a positive cycle of development (e.g., mastery, success, flow, and high self-esteem), this seemed to work well, providing a strong, nurturing source of motivation.

Additionally, the types of motivation (i.e., intrinsic/self-determined vs. external/controlled) mattered, as performers regulated by self-determined motivation engaged in their performance development in a more joyful, robust, and healthy way (i.e., self-realization, flow, self-esteem, and vitality. They also showed less dependence on their given learning conditions (Haraldsen, 2019).

Negative factors

However, on the other hand, a range of negative consequences are identified. As ballet culture has been aligned with the metaphor of “living in a convent”, the dancers report impeding agency and operating in conflict with own true self (Aalten, 2005; Haraldsen et al., 2020, 2021). Dancers want to have a choice, they miss care and support, and the unequal power relations between dancers on the one hand and artistic directors, teachers and other ‘gatekeepers’ on the other, seem to condemn the dancers to a life of immaturity and availability, of feeling oppressed and controlled (Aalten, 2005; Alterowitz, 2014, Haraldsen, 2019). Learners who are full of fear and coercion are less able and willing to investigate, question, play, explore, and take risks, which does not foster an environment where deep learning can take place (Lakes, 2005). Empowerment involves people developing capacities to act successfully within the existing system and structures of power, while emancipation concerns critically analyzing, resisting, and challenging structures of power’ (Inglis, 1997).

Findings from Norwegian context

Findings in a Norwegian study from the MDD context (Andresen, 2011) revealed a culture that hampered empowerment. Traditional conventions for dance education (i.e., dress code, no eating and drinking during class, use of mirrors, rules of attendance, national curriculum) encouraged both teacher-surveillance as well as self-surveillance of the students. Despite that the regulations from the Department of Education were quite open and flexible, the conventions of dance education pushed the dance training to a large degree in the wrong direction (Andresen, 2011). In another Norwegian study, controlling teaching styles appeared to socialize performers into being less self-determined and empowered (Haraldsen, 2019).

Risk of health issues

Data from student surveys show many who express frustration and a sense of uselessness because they aren’t recognized, and they’re dissatisfied with their perceived place in the hierarchy. (Haines & Torres, 2016). Only when noticed, you exist, which enhances conditional self- worth, lack of agency, and self-denial (Harrington, 2020).

There is evidence of undergraduate students who experienced forceful teachers with high standards, ending up with dysfunctional habits and strategies such as tucking under, hyper-extended knees, forced turnout, and several other physical illnesses, injury, lack of feelings of connectedness and well-being, physical and emotional distress, preoccupation with weight and self-surveillance, and pain prone to injury and damage (Green, 1999; Harrington, 2020).


Moreover, controlling conditions nurture the constant striving for perfection (Pickard, 2012; Haraldsen, 2019, 2020, 2021). In a Norwegian study, 80% of the dance students reported dimensions of perfectionism and 30% reported a dysfunctional perfectionism (Haraldsen et al., 2021). This is morally or ethical questioned as evidence demonstrates that controlling conditions have the potential to create ill being and (Aalten, 2005; Alterowitz, 2014, Haraldsen, 2019).


Also, motivational consequences of the traditionalism way are found. Evidence showed an increase in ego-involvement and performance orientation over time, predicting an increase in anxiety. Also, students’ perceptions of ego-involving motivational climates negatively corresponded with the needs for competence and relatedness (but not autonomy; Chua, 2017). Moreover, studies have proved associations between controlling conditions and frustration of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, anxiety, negative affect, burnout, external motivation, amotivation, and decreased performance development curve and performance level (Haraldsen et al., 2019, 2020, 2021). In the face of failure and adversity, the controlling and performance-oriented culture in pre-professional ballet education reveal a downside. Since the very essence of becoming a ballet dancer is about demonstrating superiority, the performers’ positions and future possibilities were experienced as conditional on achieved competence and success. Stagnation and failure were challenges that clearly put the performers’ quality of motivation to the test.

Performers regulated by controlled motivation reported higher vulnerability, and in turn, more ill-being (i.e., low self-esteem, perfectionism, obsessiveness, anxiety, negative affect, and exhaustion; (Haraldsen, 2019). Paradoxically, a lack of self-determination and authenticity are negatively associated with creative and artistic development, intrinsic motivation, and flow (Haraldsen, 2019; Hefferon & Ollis, 2006; Morris, 2003). Identified flow inhibitors are found to be lack of intrinsic motivation, self-doubt, negative thoughts of failure and anxiety, and trauma (Hefferon & Ollis, 2006).

However, there is evidence and anecdotal examples of how agency is played out within controlling conditions (Aalten, 2005; Haraldsen, 2019). Dancers reveal having critical reflections towards the culture, to ‘old’ repertoire or aesthetics, and to the hierarchical organizational structure – some negotiate their lack of empowerment by choosing a transition from ballet to contemporary style, or retire completely (Aalten, 2005)

Aalten, A. (2005). We dance we don’t live’. Biographical research in dance studies. Discourses in Dance, 3(1), 5-19.

Alterowitz, G. (2014). Toward a feminist ballet pedagogy: Teaching strategies for ballet technique classes in the twenty-first century. Journal of Dance Education, 14(1), 8-17.

Andresen, J. V. E. (2011). Embodied knowledge in high-school dance students; communicating the bodily experience (Master’s thesis, Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet, Det humanistiske fakultet, Institutt for musikk).

Chua, J. (2017). The influences of an exemplary ballet teacher on students’ motivation:‘The Finnish Way’. Research in Dance Education, 18(1), 3-22.

Demelius, Y. (2003). Steps of a dance production: the working lives of professionals at a dance company (Doctoral dissertation, Concordia University).

Green, J. 1999. Somatic authority and the myth of the ideal body in dance education. Dance Research Journal, 31(2): 80–100.

Haines, S., & Torres, T. (2016). So we think you can learn: how student perceptions affect learning. Research in Dance Education, 17(3), 147-160.

Haraldsen, H. M. (2019). Thriving, striving, or just surviving?: A study of motivational processes among elite junior performers from sports and performing arts. Doctoral thesis. Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Norway.

Haraldsen, H. M., Abrahamsen, F. E., Solstad, B. E., & Halvari, H. (2021). Narrative Tensions in Strained Junior Elite Performers’ Experiences of Becoming Elite Performers. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1767.

Haraldsen, H. M., Halvari, H., Solstad, B. E., Abrahamsen, F. E., & Nordin-Bates, S. M. (2019). The role of perfectionism and controlling conditions in Norwegian elite junior performers’ motivational processes. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1366.

Haraldsen, H. M., Nordin-Bates, S. M., Abrahamsen, F. E., & Halvari, H. (2020). Thriving, Striving, or Just Surviving? TD Learning Conditions, Motivational Processes and Well-Being Among Norwegian Elite Performers in Music, Ballet, and Sport. Roeper Review, 42(2), 109-125.

Haraldsen, H. M., Solstad, B. E., Ivarsson, A., Halvari, H., & Abrahamsen, F. E. (2020). Change in basic need frustration in relation to perfectionism, anxiety, and performance in elite junior performers. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(4), 754-765.

Harrington, H. (2020). Consumer dance identity: the intersection between competition dance, televised dance shows and social media. Research in Dance Education, 21(2), 169-187.

Hefferon, K. M., & Ollis, S. (2006). ‘Just clicks’: an interpretive phenomenological analysis of professional dancers’ experience of flow. Research in Dance Education, 7(2), 141-159.

Lakes, R. (2005). The messages behind the methods: The authoritarian pedagogical legacy in western concert dance technique training and rehearsals. Arts Education Policy Review, 106(5), 3-20.

Morris, G. (2003). Problems with ballet: Steps, style and training. Research in Dance Education, 4(1), 17-30.

Pickard, A. (2012). Schooling the dancer: The evolution of an identity as a ballet dancer. Research in Dance Education, 13(1), 25-46.



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