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Dancers Have a Right to a Safe Dance Environment


Viewpoint calls for research and action on safeguarding and abuse prevention in elite dance.



Image description: Photo of a dancer jumping in the air with a blacked-out background.



Recent media stories and legal cases from the UK and around the world tell us that abuse is happening in the world of elite dance, and this could be harming dancers’ health, well-being, and performance.


Professor Jennifer Cumming of the SPRINT Project at the University of Birmingham recently led on a new viewpoint published in the BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine that calls for research and collective action to help make dance environments safe for dancers.


“Compared to sport, we have very little research evidence on abuse in dance despite the numerous allegations made in the media and social media. What is encouraging is that we know of a number of organisations who are already working to reduce and prevent abuse in dance. There are also examples of good practice that need to be shared and celebrated.” – Professor Jennifer Cumming


Image description: Screenshot of a tweet by Erin Sanchez, co-author of the recently published viewpoint.



Also authored by Dr Sanna Nordin-Bates, Carrie Johnson, Erin Sanchez, and Dr Steven Karageanes, the viewpoint calls for research and policy engagement as well as offers suggestions for health practitioners to support dancers who have been harmed by abusive dance environments. 


 

Dr Sanna Nordin-Bates, Associate Professor in Sport Psychology at the Swedish School of Sport & Health Sciences, and Affiliate member of the SPRINT Project shares her thoughts on the importance of raising awareness of abuse in dance environments.


“While we should emphasise that many, many teachers have fantastic practices, we also know that abuse - including physical and sexual, but especially psychological - exists. Especially psychological abuse is often normalised and overlooked. We hope to raise awareness and support the dance community in prevention and action in this important area.” – Dr Sanna Nordin-Bates


Erin Sanchez, Manager at One Dance UK and the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science (NIDMS), Doctoral Researcher at the University of Edinburgh, and Affiliate member of the SPRINT Project highlights the current challenges and action needed in the dance community.


“Dance is a powerful activity that can support physical, psychological, and social health. Dance also offers a creative and expressive outlet and contributes to the cultural ecology. However, there are concerning signs of abuse in some dance environments, affecting both children and adults. Dance currently lacks research evidence and statutory governing documents that make it compulsory for organisations worldwide to protect dancers from abuse and make all stakeholders aware of what is expected of them to promote safe dance environments. By enhancing awareness of risk factors, developing a robust evidence base, and enacting effective regulation, we can promote a safe and thriving dance community for everyone.” – Erin Sanchez


 


Further reflections by the authors of the viewpoint centre around defining the term 'elite' in elite dance, and the comparison to sport.


Individuals in elite dance include dance professionals or students who work in dance, or aspire to, whether performing or creating. Our focus is on western theatrical dance, especially classical ballet. Abuse can occur in other forms of dance, though addressing and resolving these concerns should be considered in the context of the unique culture, history and traditions of the dance form.


There is a wider, societal issue around the abuse of power, and we are also seeing this in dance environments, as well as sport. However, there is not enough research to create position statements, consensus documents, or other key frameworks to enact change in dance, as we have seen in other domains.



 


Here at the SPRINT Project, in partnership with One Dance UK and NIDMS, we have gathered research evidence on safeguarding policies and practices from UK dancers and dance leaders. Key findings centre around the importance of safeguarding knowledge, the power of positive relationships and collaborative ways of working. Access the reports here and here.


 

Also look out for some of our latest research on this topic to be presented at different conferences this summer:


PhD student, Maria Kolitsida will discuss her research on how dance teachers in private dance schools are responding to self-harm this May at the Annual Dance Science and Medicine Symposium in Wolverhampton, UK.


ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Grace Tidmarsh will be heading to the European College of Sport Science congress in Glasgow this July to share the views of dancers and organisational leaders on safeguarding and abuse prevention, including what are the key features of safe and unsafe dance environments.



 


For anyone with safeguarding concerns in dance, One Dance UK has provided useful resources which are accessible via their website here and here.



 


References


Cumming, J., Nordin-Bates, S. M., Johnson, C., Sanchez, E. N., & Karageanes, S. J. (2024). High time to enhance dancer welfare: a call to action to improve safeguarding and abuse prevention in dance. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 10(2), e001811. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2023-001811 

 


 

 

Image credit: Canva, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, & Erin Sanchez.

Written by Prof Jennifer Cumming, Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology & SPRINT Project Lead, Dr Sally Reynard, Post Doctoral Researcher in the SPRINT Project & Erin Sanchez, One Dance UK, NIDMS.



 

 

 

 

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