Dance Gazette is our highly-respected international digital dance magazine.
Published three times a year (February, June and October) it is a benefit of membership of the Royal Academy of Dance, delivered to our worldwide membership of teachers and students in 89 countries. Find out more about RAD membership.
An extract from the latest issue
Our collective mental health and wellbeing is deteriorating year on year. Study after study seems to conclude the same thing: the Covid-19 pandemic worsened our mental health. And this has been especially the case for young people.
Before the pandemic, one in nine children and young people in the UK (aged from six to 16) were affected by a mental health condition. By October 2020, eight months after the virus was first detected in Britain, this figure became one in six children – which might represent several young dancers in a classroom or studio. And during the lockdowns, each will have spent prolonged periods of time in isolation and experiencing loneliness.
‘There’s far more anxiety present and a lot of pressure on pupils,’ says Tim Arthur, CEO of the RAD. ‘I think it’s a generational trauma that has happened, particularly with younger people through the lockdowns. Society has just tried to move on as if it hasn’t happened, but a lot of our teachers have been telling me that the children that they see as students in their dance classes are bringing mental health problems into the studio with them.’
For Francesca Harper, Artistic Director of Ailey II (the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York), acknowledging and validating the traumatic lived experiences of her students was an important first step. ‘They were at the height of their training,’ she says. ‘To be given this opportunity and to not be able to train, perform and live this dream that they’ve been aspiring toward to for so long was very traumatic.’ Ailey II were on hiatus for 18 months. Over this time, teaching and learning completely stopped, leaving the students anxious about their future careers.
News reports described schools and academic institutions reporting higher levels of stress among pupils than in pre-pandemic years. Alarming numbers of students contacted helplines about anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. New mental health conditions appeared but young people with previous mental health conditions were also relapsing.
‘I think we are at the part of the journey which is a learning phase,’ Arthur says. ‘As with anything connected to mental health, it’s a constantly developing and evolving area, and quite new area for the RAD to focus on.’
Since taking up his post in 2022, Arthur has prioritised mental health and wellbeing of students and teachers alike, driven by his own training to become a psychotherapist. Working collaboratively across the RAD to develop new resources, a webinar was held earlier this year in partnership with Young Minds UK charity to support adults in understanding children and young people’s mental health in order to promote safe, supportive and positive outcomes.
‘There’s a marked difference since the pandemic,’ says Joanne Ward. The Principal of the RAD Dance School has noticed a significant rise in anxiety in teachers and pupils alike. ‘It’s across the board,’ she adds. ‘From young pre-schoolers who spent the first couple of years of their lives in covid times so when they get into the studio there’s separation anxiety, right through to advanced level students.’ These changes add to the struggles young people face. ‘I get a lot of issues from eating disorders and self-harming,’ adds ballet teacher Ruth Henry. ‘I have to talk to safeguarding a lot more deeply than ever before.’
The RAD Dance School has robust processes in place. As soon as a concern is raised, teachers fill out forms, followed up by safeguarding officials. Contemporary dance teacher Laura Heywood has supported several students through this process. ‘I’m not in the safeguarding team but I do get feedback on what is happening with the student,’ she says. ‘We’re also asked if we want to continue being a support for that student if we can emotionally handle it.’ This process feels intuitive and supportive, she says, but there is an understanding across the RAD that more can be done.
The RAD teachers have become each other’s support systems, with added support from a safeguarding manager. From this space of care, they’ve been better equipped to care for the changes in their students.
For ballet teacher Raquel Ashton, this has meant reimagining her teaching approach. ‘I decided to train as a Heartmath coach, therapist and meditation teacher. Over several weeks I noticed a change in how they were thinking and feeling. They seemed more present in class, with sharper concentration skills and effective application of corrections. We reconnected with the emotions that inspired them to want to learn to dance and this brought joy and artistry into their work.’
Meet the Editor
David Jays is the Editor of Dance Gazette. He also writes about dance and theatre for the Guardian and Sunday Times and is dance critic for the Evening Standard. You can find him on Twitter @mrdavidjays – and to get in touch about any aspect of Dance Gazette, or if you have an idea for the magazine, contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org.