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Pas de deux: daughters, mothers, and dance talk

Nicola Conraths-Lange
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 18 Number 2: Page 52 (June 2003)

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Abstract: This study offers a qualitative analysis of the perceived communication emphasis between female adolescent dancers and their mothers. The following research questions were the basis of this investigation: (1) Do daughters talk about dance with their mothers? (2) What is the daughter's perception level of dance-related communication? (3) Is their communication directed to core or peripheral topics? (4) What kind of implication would a high or low communication frequency index suggest, and how could it be enhanced? Six core and six peripheral communication areas were identified and analyzed using an adaptation of Butler's Performing Attitude Profiling Test (1989). The core topics involve emotional and mental concerns relating to dance (e.g., love for dance, injuries, career, stress/performance anxiety, body issues, health), whereas the peripheral topics involve organizational concerns and daily logistics affecting dancers and their families (e.g., teacher, peers, technique, cost of lessons and equipment, transportation). Participants were recruited from two major professional U.S. schools and one Canadian school. A total of 100 female professional ballet students between the ages of 11 and 17 years were surveyed and asked to rate the amount of time they spend communicating about dance themes with their mothers. All dancers had started training by age 6 and practiced =15 hours per week, and most aim for a professional career in the theater. The results indicate that mothers and daughters do talk about dance frequently, although the amount of communication fluctuates considerably depending on the topic. The data provide a good indication that the most frequently discussed dance topics are related to imminent, self-focused information (instructor, technique, love for dance, career, injuries) rather than long-term health topics (body, nutrition, stage fright). The results established the family as an important forum for open communication exchange that may replace peer relationships. Taking an active interest and exchanging information within the familial unit would encourage dancers to question and think critically about the demands placed on their bodies, training, and health. The resulting improved argumentation skills could enable adult dancers to be more assertive in protecting their health, more confident when dealing with stress, and better prepared when seeking a new career. The communicative expansion on the core topics through parental and teacher involvement is key for establishing a new paradigm in dance education

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