There is an unfortunate but pervasive perception, even among professional dancers, that imagery is an innate ability that cannot be taught (Nordin & Cumming, 2006a). In general, more advanced dancers tend to use imagery more frequently and to use more complex imagery (Nordin & Cumming, 2007). In particular, they use more multi-sensory images with greater quality, complexity and control of imagery (Nordin & Cumming, 2006a). Despite this, imagery is something that is frequently incorporated into dance training (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates, 2016), even if it is not explicitly identified as such.
- Technique, which involves mental rehearsal of movements;
- role and movement quality, involving metaphorical or character-based imagery;
- mastery, which relates to confidence and focus; and
- goals, imagery relating toward achieving dance goals.
The PETTLEP model of imagery, proposed by Holmes and Collins (2001), considers the role of physical, environmental, task, timing, learning, emotional and perspective factors in effective motor imagery.
Wakefield and Smith (2012) had the following tips for structuring imagery using the PETTLEP model:
- Physical: Wearing costume items, holding props or adopting relevant postures while engaging in imagery
- Environmental: Complete imagery in the environment where performance will take place, or evoke that environment through photographs, videos or use of a similar environment
- Task: Use imagery of the exact task being performed and adapt as skill level increases
- Timing: Imagery should occur in ‘real-time’ – the imagery should take the same amount of time as the real action.
- Learning: Imagery should be updated as learning occurs, and remain consistent with your skill level
- Emotional: Incorporate the emotions associated with performance into the imagery
- Perspective: Generally, an internal perspective is most useful. External perspective can be useful for improving form.
- Structured use of imagery is beneficial. Just as we get the most out of structured practice, we’ll also gain most benefit from structured imagery.
- Try to engage your senses in the image – the more vivid the better!
- For complex imagery, build up layer by layer (i.e. footwork and lower body, then upper body, arms, head and facial expressions, mood or feel etc).
- Think about the purpose of the imagery to help decide what type of imagery will be most useful. Experiment with visual, kinaesthetic, narrative and metaphorical types of imagery to see what gives you the results you want!
Of course, this is not an exhaustive overview of this topic nor should it be considered a comprehensive how-to guide for use of imagery, but I hope it's provided some useful ideas to increase confidence and skill in using imagery to enhance our learning and performance as dancers. I certainly found some new ideas in the course of researching this post, and am keen to increase my use of imagery in my dance.
Thanks for reading and happy dancing!
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Nordin, S. M., & Cumming, J. (2006a). The development of imagery in dance part I: Qualitative findings from professional dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 10(1-1), 21-27.
Nordin, S. M., & Cumming, J. (2006b). Measuring the content of dancers' images development of the dance imagery questionnaire (DIQ). Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 10(3-1), 85-98.
Nordin, S. M., & Cumming, J. (2007). Where, when, and how: A quantitative account of dance imagery. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78(4), 390-395.
Pavlik, K., & Nordin-Bates, S. (2016). Imagery in dance: a literature review. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 20(2), 51-63.
Wakefield, C., & Smith, D. (2012). Perfecting practice: Applying the PETTLEP model of motor imagery. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action,3(1), 1-11.