continnect July 2016 - Page 11

“BLACK SWAN” FAIL AND THE BALLET ROAD TO WISDOM “Black Swan” Fail and the Ballet Road to Wisdom Stav Dimitropoulos What jumps out of your mind when you hear the word ballerina? Is it an image of a waif like a-la-BlackSwan’s-Nina-Sayers antihero? Probably a woeful, willowy creature, maniacally counting the calories of her sans-dressing cucumber salad, in the very rare moments when she is not toiling away at the barre of shame? What if you found out that inside that twirling head of hers hide demons and insecurities, but also wisdom—lots of wisdom, in the making? anxiety they possessed—characteristics designated as the building blocks of wisdom. The scientists eventually found ballet dancers to be less wise than, for instance, meditators, but also found prolonged ballet experience to be positively associated with wisdom. “Wisdom is one of the oldest subjects studied by humankind as an intellectual pursuit, but as a scientific pursuit, it is one of the youngest. The relationship between ballet and wisdom, in specific, is a mystery to us,” confesses the researcher of thepioneering realm of Embodied Cognition. “We can hypothesize, however, that the successful management of pain and resilience to adversity that are part and parcel of a ballet dancer’s life might forge paths to wisdom.” Continnect drew on this research and chronicled the experiences of three dancers of different level and ability; has dance really made them wiser—how, and why? I spent years crying, alternating between triumph and gloom—but have never been depressed starting then Helena Sgouramani already knew at three years of age that she would be a dancer. At six she started practicing daily, and at eighteen she joined Niki Kontaxaki Dance School (and later the Greek National Opera Dance School). Ballet leads to increased wisdom: Research In her second professional year, she auditioned in front of the director of the famous Ecole-Atelier Rudra Maurice Bejart Ballet School, Michel Gascard. With a resounding “Ballerinas and danseurs undergo years of hard physical yes, she packed her suitcases and headed for Lausanne, and mental training, enduring intense anxiety about both Switzerland. performance and personal body image. Those who stick with ballet are also those who learn the tools needed to manage negative experiences and perceived failure,” says “At a sensitive age (nineteen), I was in a foreign country Dr. Patrick Williams, who was a Postdoctoral Scholar in alone, pursuing a wild dream. Where others still played, the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, I worked full-time.” In due time, the number of dancers and lead researcher of acutting-edge recent research titled: that entered the professional arena ahead of their peers “The Relationship between Mental and Somatic Practices started dwindling like a hourglass sand. “Out of the forty and Wisdom”. dancers that got accepted in my year, eight graduated. Williams and the rest of the team first framed wisdom as: Every three months we had assessments. Several were “A deep and accurate perception of reality, in which insight kicked out, others dropped out of their own accord,” says into human nature and a diminished self-centeredness are the dancer. acquired through life experience and practice in perspective taking,” and then sought to track how it develops along some structured mental and somatic practices. They Sgouramani, standing erect, spindly, with a balletic body had 298 practitioners of four different physical practices pliability that gives the illusion of bonelessness, was one of answer a psychological questionnaire inquiring into the the lucky dancers, physically well-suited for the demands amounts of empathy, compassion, self-transcendence and of classical dance. Few are the injuries under her balletic By Paata Vardanashvili from Tbilisi, Georgia (Swan Lake) July 2016 Edition from m B Page 11