Ballet might seem to be more about movement than music, but music is clearly integral to ballet’s impact: so it’s the latest music genre I’m exploring in my occasional series on why different styles of music might boost wellbeing in different ways.
One genre I recently focused a blog post on was musicals, songs from the shows. Ballet might strike you as very different from musicals, but there is common ground. Like musicals, ballet is a multi-faceted art form. So, woven in with the music there’s a story to follow, a narrative, as well as a strong visual element (sets, lighting and costumes). Obviously ballet has a primary focus on movement, a further stimulus. Not only is it inspiring watching dancers’ sheer athleticism, even acrobatics, but seeing how music and movement work together draws out a specific response to the score. It highlights the music’s particular moods through performance.
But the music can also stand alone. Famous ballet scores like Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia have become familiar to many of us who have never seen those ballets performed onstage.
Ballet seems enchanting and other-worldly. Many ballets draw on fantasy to create an imaginary drama: so they can prove a refuge and an escape from the everyday. Ballet music also covers so many different moods and emotions. Traditional, classical ballet may have more impact on some people, while others might respond more to recent or experimental ballets.
Two years ago two important institutions began to collaborate on a dance project. One was King’s College London, a major university, the other was English National Ballet, one of the UK’s foremost dance companies. Their focus was how ballet could boost wellbeing for people who have Parkinson’s Disease. The project combined live ballet music with dance, rhythm and voice. And this is far from the only initiative looking at dance’s impacts on Parkinson’s: research at the University of Hertfordshire for one has highlighted how dance can build people’s physical confidence as well as their mood, making them feel more positive as they live with Parkinson’s.
There’s also evidence that ballet can even have a beneficial impact in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. A 2019 research study stated that dancing regularly could reduce risk by over 75%. Key to this impact is thought to be the way dance provides mental as well as physical stimulus and exertion, as a mental workout is known to be helpful in preventing dementia.
Many people find that dancing boosts their mood, while dance specifically for wellbeing or therapy grows and grows, mainly for mental health and self-expression. Ballet is only one of many dance forms used for this – and dance does not have to be limited by mobility or fitness issues either. I recently heard about seated rock ‘n’ roll dance sessions taking place in some care homes. Dance’s strong communal element can also contribute to its impact on wellbeing by drawing people together, even if that has to be online for now.
All in all, maybe ballet reveals how movement added to music enhances music’s power: and how music added to movement enhances movement’s power as well. Have you found this to be true? It would be great if you would like to share how you respond to ballet music in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!