Sunday 12 November 2023

The Essay

 As I reflect on the enlightening session last week with Peter Thomas in which Peter was exploring what defines an essay, I am inspired to share one of author and professor Alan Wall's pieces of writing for the fortnightly review of books about the written essay.  I am fascinated by Wall's thought of the essay as  'provisional' and something that 'thinks without certainty'. These explorations speak to me in ways which go beyond the fact that this is my dad's work and I wanted to share the full essay here as well as some extracts below in case it is of interest to my fellow researchers.

 Alan Wall on CUP's Companion to the Essay (

'It’s more of an attempt than a final definition. It is by its very nature provisional.'

'Essays do not round themselves off with a definitive QED. They slide away, with a host of other questions arising.'

'The essayistic mind-set has an open aperture at both ends. It does not close itself off with conclusions. It remains provisional, in order to dance on the page. When one begins thinking essayistically, one soon wanders far beyond the scope of the essay.'

'The essay thinks without certainty. It shapes its literary form into a question-mark. It says human thought is a query, not a resolution.'

(Alan Wall, 2022, Fortnightly Review)

Monday 2 October 2023

Process of Autoethnographic Research

 I am half way through my data collection process. 

This is what I notice about autoethnographic research:

The line between data collection and analysis is much harder to maintain. It is very tempting to begin noticing themes already.

I am in a sense trying not to think too hard in my journals but just allow what is in me to dance onto the page.

I am naturally being influenced by the other theories I am reading, and so the line between my own thinking and that of the scholars I read also becomes more blurred.

But the deeper into the inquiry I go, the more I am seeing the interconnectedness of everything and this makes the 'woven feel' of all the stages of the inquiry feel organic and meaningful.

I remind myself that just as a choreography evolves from techniques and outside influences as well as the inner vision of a choreographer, so does an inquiry. So long as this is acknowledged and appreciated and celebrated, there is nothing to be afraid of. 

Friday 15 September 2023

Moving towards module 3

 As I embark on the last stage of completion of my last AOL I have been considering the challenges of these Essays. It seems as though I continuously flit in and out between what happened and the learning that grew from it. How challenging this balance is. Unsure whether it is because my topics deal with the emotional realm and therefore keep drawing me back to memories and making me relive them, getting side tracked from the more academic way of writing.  I am having to frequently step away from the work and return for this final AOL. How hard it is to look back and truly learn the lessons from something.  Although not graded, I cannot bear to submit anything that is not at fully developed place.

I commence my enquiry simultaneously and the timing seems right as I rest from a stress reaction in my metatarsal was not anticipated. I was working so much, I seemed literally to lose my footing as I landed from a jump and this injury has forced me to stop and take time for my body to properly recover. I am approaching the months ahead of my enquiry as a hopeful journey of exploration. 

Delving in to the place of deep ecology and earth understanding through my inquiry:

 'How might a deeper awareness of, and connection with natural environments influence my health, well being and artistic development?'

Grateful to have caught up sufficiently to be staying with the same fabulous cohort.

Monday 12 June 2023

Theoretical framework

Having now finalised my question 'Can a deeper awareness of and connection to the natural environment impact my health and artistic development as a dancer?'
 I am sharing my theoretical framework. Although I have many other sources I will draw on, here are my main 3 sources:

1: Author and professor in the areas of both dance and environmental studies Andrea Olsen provides evidence for the connection between our minds, bodies and the earth and encourages us to explore this interconnectedness through embodiment and greater awareness of the patterns which can be identified through our bodies, lives and the planet around us in Body and Earth (2020). She justifies her theories with strong foundations combining biology, environmental science, meditation and expression through creative exploration.

Although she explores how as human beings, we are part of a large-scale dance as we move an ‘choreograph our days’ she does not specifically refer to the genre of ballet in this work or deal with how dancers of this particularly regimented style would respond to the exercises she has set out. She does however say that ‘All the physical laws of the planet are inherent in our bodies. Movements disconnected from underlying physical integrity are those that create injury or loss of vitality.’ (2020, p.74) With the high injury rate of professional ballet dancers this did make me consider how much physical integrity ballet dancers truly possess.


2: In 2021 Jimenez and multiple authors reviewed the existing studies to assess the impact of nature exposure on health and they discovered that longitudinal observational studies were beginning to look into the effects of nature exposure on depression, anxiety, cognitive function and chronic disease and there are enough studies to suggest that more exposure to green space is linked with better mental health outcomes. (2021, p. 5) Although the studies specifically addressing anxiety and depression are limited and of low quality there was some evidence to suggest that there were improvements in some with a depressive mood after short term nature exposure. There is also strong evidence showing improved cognitive function ‘even after a short time in natural environments as well as improved immune function through an increase in natural killer cells through ‘a potential pathway for improved immune function’ via ‘exposure to phytoncides (a substance emitted by plants and trees to protect themselves from harmful insects and germs). (2021, pp.4-5) However, once again is this research relevant to dancers who live very unique lifestyles?

3: Dwarika and Haraldsen (2023) reviewed the current research on dancer’s mental health and found that this is still an under researched area although ballet dancers have been researched more than any other genre the evidence is ‘still quite anecdotal in nature-revealing topics uncovered, populations left out and, and too little rigor in the methodological approaches.’ (2023, p. 12)

However, there is clear evidence that dancers who find it harder to manage stressors usually possess more debilitative personal qualities such as perfectionism, obsessiveness and ego orientation (2023, p. 8) and that most of the studies examined describe the dance world as an unrelenting environment with pressure to conform to ideals with teachers and directors in such environments adopting authoritarian teaching styles and showing little interest in supporting dancers’ mental health.

The study also highlights how developing psychological skills through training can provide protection and better resilience to cope with some of the pressures of the dance environment. However, it does bring up the question of whether any training can truly protect against ‘abusive’ environments. The study does not seem to be able to fully address this issue. But it does acknowledge that there is a ‘mutual relationship between the individual and its environment. An individual is influenced by the environment…Thus it is not only the absence of psychological flexibility, relatedness or the complex ability to cope with diverse stressors, but also diverse and complex interactions between an individual and its environment that can result in mental health issues. (2023, p.2)

Ballet has particularly high levels of cultural stressors and is described as an ‘authoritarian, hierarchical, cult-like power achievement culture where dancers accept abuse and unreasonable behaviour in a state of silent conformity’ (2023, p. 7) These stressors can lead to poor mental health outcomes and the development of mental health illness, with eating disorders and anxiety among the most common illnesses found. Although some positive mental health outcomes are identified such as life quality, confidence and self efficacy, these are only found in studies also reporting the absence of mental health. (2023, p.9) Although mental health is described as a dynamic state, overall the review found ‘strong indications for both the absence of mental health and the presence of mental illness’ which ‘point to a most warranted change in the dance world to address these issues.’ (2023, p.11)


Dwarika, M S., Haraldsen, H M. (2023) ‘Mental health in dance: a scoping review,’ Frontiers in psychology, 14, article number 1090645. Available at: DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1090645   

Jimenez MP, DeVille NV, Elliott EG, Schiff JE, Wilt GE, Hart JE, James P. (2021) ‘Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence.’ Int J Environ Res Public Health. 18 (9) article number: 4790.pp 3-19. Available at: doi:

Olsen A. (2020) Body and Earth. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press

Window of opportunity

 As I look at my life ahead. 

I remind myself that it is only in this present moment that I can truly exist

The future is unknown to all of us

If I look only for external circumstances to make me feel enough I will waste this life

No experience is going to bring long lasting fulfilment

It is the appreciation of each moment life offers me that that will enrich my existence and bring me true satisfaction

Take this image below, I could look out of that window and wish I was outside by the stream, or I could appreciate the window that I am seeing that beautiful stream through. 

It is easy to lose sight of what is in the foreground of an image such as this and to realise that is part of what makes this image meaningful.

I make a commitment to consciously notice all that is in the foreground and background of my life and not to take it for granted.  

I feel that for the first time in my life I am ready to sit with the stillness and to enter the next stage on the journey to coming home to myself.

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Exploring Ekhart Tolle

 Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly engrossed in the teachings of Ekhart Tolle. His theory of the power of now is something I was familiar with for some years but I have found myself being drawn more deeply to these concepts and being at a place in my life where I am ready to fully embrace this way living. 

The idea that we are separate from our thoughts, that the true essence of ourselves is the space between thinking and doing. I find real comfort in this feeling of the one aspect of ourselves that is constant regardless of external circumstances and external bodily appearance or sensation even. It is that unexplainable consciousness which simply 'is'. This is who 'I' really am. So often when someone says who are you I reply with

I am Ann

I am a ballet dancer

Yet this speaks nothing of who I truly am.

To try and explain who I am would in itself defeat the entire concept because I am my presence not my titles, names or appearance or ideas about what I am.

In a way the essence of each human transcends words. Yet we often know from the presence of someone more of who they truly are. For example we might meet a person who tells us that they are for example selfish and arrogant yet we might sense in them the complete opposite energy. They have been conditioned to believe that is who they are but deep down that is not the essence of that person. Similarly we can meet people who have an exterior of kindness but it is all for their own benefit and we can sense that underneath it there is a untruthful quality. But in a sense this is all thoughts too and defeats the point in itself. I am currently navigating understanding my intuitive side more deeply and understanding the difference between thinking and intuition.

I find this fascinating and I am enjoying losing myself in some of these concepts.

This video was especially enlightening for me:


Tuesday 7 March 2023

Ethical considerations

Ethical considerations Some ethical considerations as they emerge for my research proposal for: An exploration of whether a deeper awareness of and connection to the natural environment impacts the mental health and artistic development of ballet dancers 

 Mental health is an area I will be exploring in my inquiry. I will not discuss this in the interviews with the dancers I plan to carry out in case it is triggering for them. But will send them a short questionnaire following the interview which they can fill in if they wish and send back to me which will address areas relating to mental health and connection to nature.

 I will be addressing mental health with the counsellor who I intend to interview who specialises in dancers. This participant was also a professional dancer so I will ask them questions regarding their relationship to nature throughout his career as well as see if any strategies they now use with clients are nature based. Because I know this participant, I will need to retain objectivity and a certain degree of formality when talking to the individual to ensure we stay on track of the topic.

 I will be interviewing one retired ballet dancer who is now a teacher and character dancer who I know has had a strong connection to nature. Because I know this participant I must be careful to ensure I work in a way that keeps the interview fairly formal I must be mindful that they may share more personal information than what they intend to because they know me. So I will use a semi structured approach and must be very objective in how I interpret the data. 

 I intend to do a call out for 2 Ballet dancers trained in the UK at vocational ballet schools and currently dancing professionally either freelance or in a company. These participants must have performed at least once in both an outdoor and indoor context. I intend to do this across social media groups and perhaps by emailing individuals who can then forward on the information to others. 

 I will be using my own journals and experience as a professional ballet dancer throughout this study. I need to be mindful that revisiting journals does not bring back past trauma and I need to consider how discussing trauma within the study may be triggering for others reading it. 

 If I am asking participants questions related to their training and careers I will retain anonymity of all institutions and companies and any names they may refer to. I will omit any information which makes them identifiable. Apart from the counsellor who in principle has said they are happy for their name to be used.

 I am concerned to ensure I reach a culturally diverse participant base although this is difficult when I am only using a few participants. So not sure whether focusing on UK participants for this research is better in that it is more specific? Or shall I just open up the inquiry and see who comes forward? 

I want to ensure I am being inclusive in this research and considering disabled dancers as well, even though they do not form a large part of the current intake in vocational ballet schools. I come from a place of hoping that this will in the future be the case, therefore I am hoping to consider these dancers throughout the research.

 Also would it be useful to ask if we can disclose ethnicities within the research? Is it right to do this? I am so drawn as to whether or not to ask the other 2 dancers as participants or to do a random call out. There are 2 individuals who I think would be excellent for it, to tackle the area from a number of angles, but I am unsure if this is already twisting the inquiry to how I want it to unfold. 
What are your thoughts? 

 Would really appreciate your thoughts on this MAPP team. 

Thank you💚

The Essay

 As I reflect on the enlightening session last week with Peter Thomas in which Peter was exploring what defines an essay, I am inspired to s...