Exploring the dimensions of flow and the role of music in professional ballet dancers

28 Aug 2015

Flow, also known as “the zone”, is a positive enjoyable psychological state often linked to optimal performance. The aim of this study is to explore professional ballet dancers’ subjective experiences of flow in a current performance context. Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) model of the flow state is used for its applicability to professional ballet dancers. Furthermore, the study aims to gain an understanding of the role of music in dancers’ experience of flow. Seventeen ballet dancers from two South African ballet companies shared their experiences in separate semi-structured interview sessions. The interviews took place during the 2013 productions of Don Quixote in Johannesburg and Camille in Cape Town respectively, so that the dancers could draw on recent performance experience in their recollection of flow. The interviews were transcribed and analysed deductively and inductively using interpretative phenomenological analysis. This study found resemblances with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) dimensions of flow in professional ballet dancers. The three dimensions that stood out as most predictive of flow in this study were the merging of action and awareness, autotelic experience and loss of self-consciousness. Music clearly played an important role in dancers’ experience of flow. Dancers’ varying levels of awareness of and engagement with music during flow could suggest differing intensities in flow among ballet dancers. The study argues that processing music places an extra demand on dancers’ concentration, which presents a unique insight into their experience of flow.