Ballet for Mood Management?

I’m throwing this up here as a mental sticky note.

Exercise pretty much always exerts a positive influence on my moods. Some forms of exercise work better than others. The top five appear to be, in order:

  • ballet
  • horsemanship (and all it entails)
  • running
  • swimming
  • cycling

Any number of studies have demonstrated the positive effect of exercise on mood (see, for example, Matta, Hogan, Jorrman, Waugh, & Gotlib, 2013; Steinberg et al, 1998), though some have noted that additional factors, such as a telic (that is goal-centered) or paratelic (non-goal centered) state of mind also influence outcomes (see Legrand & Tatcher, 2011).

Because I have found the impact of ballet on my mood to be both immediate and longer-lasting than that of, for example, cycling (which tends to produce an intense immediate uptick, but does not seem to support as stable a day-to-day mood as ballet does), I think it would be really interesting to explore whether that’s, you know, “just me,” as it were, or whether the effect might generalize.

Since I have a senior seminar project proposal to design, I’m seriously thinking about seeing if I can find some way to swing this sort of thing: for example, a six-week study involving randomly-selected people who will be randomly assigned to one group that does three sixty-minute ballet-based workouts a week; one group that does there sixty-minute non-dance workouts at similar intensity; and one group that doesn’t do anything (they’re the controls who don’t do any— hey, wait a minute!).

I don’t know why ballet works so well for me. That’s another question entirely. However, I do see some potential here for a therapeutic application.

Presumably, other disciplined forms of what is generally called “concert dance” could work as well — modern dance worked similarly well for me during my “modern dance is better than ballet because tradition produces stagnation” phase in high school. A sound background in ballet, however, creates a firm foundation for other disciplines, just as a solid dressage background forms a firm foundation for other equestrian disciplines — so ballet seems like a good place to start.

There are a couple of programs out there that already harness the power of dance to lift up the lives of troubled youth and other underserved populations (see Dance United and Promethean Spark International); I think some grounded scientific research might make it easier to get programs like these ones off the ground.

I can’t help but think of the positive impact that the best ranch-based programs for struggling kids have had on so many lives, and likewise the positive impacts that both dance training and working with horses have had in mind. Boiled down to their lowest common denominator, both dance and working with livestock share a surprisingly large number of features: hard physical work, rigorous mental discipline, immediate and tangible consequences, and transformative outcomes.

I feel like I might be getting ahead of myself, here, but I can’t help but think it would be really cool to take something like ballet (which is, after all, a lot more amenable to an urban setting than setting up a ranch) and make it accessible to kids in an under-served urban community or struggling youth and young adults.

I mean, sure, there are magnet school programs in some places, but I know from my own experience as an absolutely shattered thirteen-year-old who opted not to audition for a magnet program in dance that it takes a confidence that kids in difficult circumstances might not have to apply and audition and so forth. My outcome was positive because my family had resources: I wound up going to the same magnet school for a different program a couple of years later, thanks largely to a lot intervention that cost a lot of money. Where would I be now if my family hadn’t had that money?

In short, quite probably, dead.

I keep thinking about this in the context of my own experiences, both growing up and right now: I was lucky because I could afford to take ballet classes, and I am still lucky because I can still afford to take ballet classes.

However, there are a lot of people out there who could benefit just as much as I can or even more, but who can’t afford it, even at LBS’ extremely-reasonable rates. And, of course, health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of ballet classes (and even if it did, a $25/co-pay would be a higher per-class rate than I’m paying right now!).

I also think that opportunities like this shouldn’t just be available to kids, but making them available to kids is a good place to start.

Maybe getting ahead of myself isn’t such a bad thing. That’s how you come up with goals, right?

I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting behind a desk. I also know that I am too much of an interfering busybody to keep from trying to find a way to make everyone else on earth try ballet 😛 Perhaps there’s some way I can turn all this into some kind of meaningful thing that would be useful to humanity.

So, anyway, this is far longer than I ever intended it to be. That’s it for now. Keep the leather side down!

Legrand, F. D., & Thatcher, J. (2011). Acute mood responses to a 15-minute long walking session at self-selected intensity: Effects of an experimentally-induced telic or paratelic state. Emotion, 11(5), 1040-1045. doi:10.1037/a0022944

Mata, J., Hogan, C. L., Joormann, J., Waugh, C. E., & Gotlib, I. H. (2013). Acute exercise attenuates negative affect following repeated sad mood inductions in persons who have recovered from depression. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 122(1), 45-50. doi:10.1037/a0029881

Steinberg, H., Nicholls, B. R., Sykes, E. A., LeBoutillier, N. N., Ramlakhan, N., Moss, T. P., & Dewey, A. (1998). Weekly exercise consistently reinstates positive mood. European Psychologist, 3(4), 271-280. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.3.4.271


About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2014/03/26, in balllet, life. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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