Bridges between dance and health: how do we work with pain?

By Bernie Carter and Emma Meehan

The Somatic Practice and Chronic Pain AHRC-funded network explores what somatic practices, such as Alexander technique and Feldenkrais, offer to people living with chronic pain. Somatic practices work with self-reflection on movement habits and opening up movement capacity, and have been integrated into many dance and theatre training programmes. In this network, we ask: how might the principles of these somatic movement practices be of value in supporting people living with pain? We also consider how the experience of working together can inform the practices of health professionals and dance artists, such as how they use touch and language.

Somatic Practice and Chronic Pain Network Video

In this series of two blog posts, we will firstly give an overview of some of the topics that we have explored to date in the hope that this may be of value to theatre and dance practitioners who work with health and/or live with pain. In the second blog post, we share our experiences of working across disciplines and reach out to readers to tell us about your experiences of 1) how you have worked across performing arts and health 2) how you have worked with pain through theatre and performing arts techniques. We aim to develop a larger project from the network in the longer term on somatic practices and pain, so your viewpoints, concerns and ideas will support this process. By posting on the TDPT blog, we want to interrogate arts-based perspectives on health topics, and also acknowledge that many performers suffer pain and injury throughout their career.

The network operates currently through a series of small and focused workshops to invite exchanges between researchers and practitioners in health, dance, and digital technologies. The first workshop focused on defining somatic practices through discussion and movement, thinking through how the practices might be understood by health professionals; and how they might support pain management. We also gathered opinions on somatics, chronic pain, assessment, and treatment. This was to gauge an initial understanding of members attitudes, for example on working across disciplines; or on observing/describing bodily movement as a form of pain assessment. 

Image by Christian Kipp

The second workshop theme was ‘dialogues across disciplines’, which included presentations and hands on sessions from dance, somatic practices, psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and nursing. Topics covered include the relationship between somatics and psychology; systematic reviews and arts based research methods; working with children in pain; qualities of touch in patient care; along with ideas of physical and social support in pain management.

The next workshop will focus on the role digital technologies could play in sharing somatic work with a wider number of people, such as those who cannot travel or have not yet accessed treatments. This is important since so much somatic work is currently only available in fee paying, one to one sessions, that exclude a large number of people. This workshop will also explore the different ways we could utilise technology, whether for patients to practice alone or to develop creative ways of expressing pain to family members and staff. In addition, there are impact and public engagement events such as an introductory session for pain management staff; and in future there will be a workshop for dance artists working with their own or other peoples pain.

Image by Christian Kipp

Central to the network is the enquiry into how to work across disciplines. As dance and health professionals come together, it is clear that we come from epistemologically different starting points. The way we use language is embedded in distinct frames of being and, typically, approaches to research tend to arise from differently framed research questions. Touch, movement and physical interaction in our disciplines arise from belief systems informed by the contexts we work within. Core to our network is valuing each other’s knowledge and expertise, using the meetings as opportunities to expand our horizons, challenge assumptions and think in new ways about our practice and praxis. Ultimately this brings surprises, new ideas and questions.

In the next post, you will find the voices of the two people leading the network, dance researcher Emma Meehan and professor of children’s nursing Bernie Carter. We share personal experiences of working on the network, and at the end will turn the invitation back to you to share your own experiences of working with dance and theatre training techniques in health contexts; and in working with pain.

More information can be found on our website

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