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Hope College October 2012 : Page 8

Campus Profile Dance Researchers from three academic divisions have worked together on a dance study that has earned international attention Research a Holistic Ideal Hope seniors Ariana Cappuccitti, of Mount Prospect, Ill., and Rachel Cho, of Barrington, Ill., both know that experience first-hand, having been part of the college’s dance program. But they’ve taken that experience one step farther – using their interest in science, as well as dance, to learn about the physiology and psychology behind those feelings. Cho and Cappuccitti have spent the past two years taking part in a unique interdisciplinary research project, involving the departments of dance, biology and psychology, to analyze anxiety levels of dancers and how they differ between rehearsal and performance, as well as before and after performances. “Dancers, performers and athletes all talk about getting in ‘the zone,’ and this was an empirical way to describe that,” said Cappuccitti, a double major in dance and psychology. The study, which involved 73 dance students from Hope, measured the amount of cortisol – a hormone that is released in response to stress – in the saliva of dancers. Participants were also asked about their mental state, before and after rehearsals and before and after performances, through a series of questions. “I was immediately attracted to the research because I have been looking for ways to combine my two passions – dance and science,” said Cho, a double major in dance and chemistry who is planning to attend medical school after she graduates from Hope in May. The study found anxiety levels among the dancers were higher before performances than prior to rehearsals. However, dancers with more experience – at least 10 years of training – were less anxious both before taking the stage and after performance, said Linda Graham, professor of dance and the department’s chairperson. “We’ve had the anecdotal evidence (about anxiety levels), but this is data that proves what we already knew,” said Professor Graham, who was joined in advising the students on the research project by Dr. Greg Fraley, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, professor of psychology and director of general education and interdisciplinary studies. “It shows we need to have performance as a regular and integrated part of our (dance) education curriculum,” Professor Graham added. Hope dance students have an opportunity to take part in four student-produced concerts each year, as well as an annual mainstage concert every March and theatre productions. They also can join one of several affiliated companies, including dANCEpROjECt, IDT (formerly InSync Dance Theatre) and Strike Time By Greg Chandler M uch like an athlete who experiences “butterflies” in his or her stomach in anticipation of a big game, dancers often go through similar feelings of nervousness and anxiety before they take the stage to perform. The interdisciplinary study has earned a variety of honors, including being chosen for presentation this month during the annual International Association of Dance Medicine and Science conference in Singapore. The student researchers are pictured last spring at a venue closer to home, the college’s annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance at the DeVos Fieldhouse. From left to right are Allyson Dreger ’12, senior Rachel Cho, Heather Stiff ’12 and senior Ariana Cappuccitti. 8 News News From From Hope Hope College College

Dance Research a Holistic Ideal

Greg Chandler

<br /> Much like an athlete who experiences “butterflies” in his or her stomach in anticipation of a big game, dancers often go through similar feelings of nervousness and anxiety before they take the stage to perform.<br /> <br /> Hope seniors Ariana Cappuccitti, of Mount Prospect, Ill., and Rachel Cho, of Barrington, Ill., both know that experience first-hand, having been part of the college’s dance program. But they’ve taken that experience one step farther – using their interest in science, as well as dance, to learn about the physiology and psychology behind those feelings.<br /> <br /> Cho and Cappuccitti have spent the past two years taking part in a unique interdisciplinary research project, involving the departments of dance, biology and psychology, to analyze anxiety levels of dancers and how they differ between rehearsal and performance, as well as before and after performances.<br /> <br /> “Dancers, performers and athletes all talk about getting in ‘the zone,’ and this was an empirical way to describe that,” said Cappuccitti, a double major in dance and psychology.<br /> <br /> The study, which involved 73 dance students from Hope, measured the amount of cortisol – a hormone that is released in response to stress – in the saliva of dancers. Participants were also asked about their mental state, before and after rehearsals and before and after performances, through a series of questions.<br /> <br /> “I was immediately attracted to the research because I have been looking for ways to combine my two passions – dance and science,” said Cho, a double major in dance and chemistry who is planning to attend medical school after she graduates from Hope in May.<br /> <br /> The study found anxiety levels among the dancers were higher before performances than prior to rehearsals. However, dancers with more experience – at least 10 years of training – were less anxious both before taking the stage and after performance, said Linda Graham, professor of dance and the department’s chairperson.<br /> <br /> “We’ve had the anecdotal evidence (about anxiety levels), but this is data that proves what we already knew,” said Professor Graham, who was joined in advising the students on the research project by Dr. Greg Fraley, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, professor of psychology and director of general education and interdisciplinary studies.<br /> <br /> “It shows we need to have performance as a regular and integrated part of our (dance) education curriculum,” Professor Graham added.<br /> <br /> Hope dance students have an opportunity to take part in four student-produced concerts each year, as well as an annual mainstage concert every March and theatre productions. They also can join one of several affiliated companies, including dANCEpROjECt, IDT (formerly InSync Dance Theatre) and Strike Time Dance Company. Some 120 students are either majoring or minoring in dance.<br /> <br /> Dr. Fraley, who has studied the impact of stress on brain activity, says the research showed experienced dancers can self-regulate their stress levels before they go to perform.<br /> <br /> “The dancers that have had a lot of experience being on stage, immediately before they walk on stage, their stress hormones dropped to baseline, non-stress levels,” said Dr. Fraley, a fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo who also teaches martial arts classes at Hope. “They’re able to dial it down.”<br /> <br /> Cappuccitti discovered through the research that the dancers’ mind and body did not always experience the same things at the same time.<br /> <br /> “Dancers mentally feel more anxiety before performance, but their body is less stressed, and dancers feel less anxious after (performance), but their body is experiencing high levels of stress,” she said.<br /> <br /> Dr. Jarvis’ involvement with the study gave her a chance to reconnect with her roots. Before entering the academic world and study of psychology, she danced for six years as a member of Mexico’s national ballet company.<br /> <br /> “It gave me an opportunity to use my training as a scientist to look at dance with a new eye,” Dr. Jarvis said.<br /> <br /> Dr. Jarvis says as a liberal arts institution, Hope has afforded the opportunity for many students to combine their interest in dance with other academic pursuits. “You don’t have to be just a biologist, you don’t have to be just a psychologist, you don’t have to be just a dancer,” she said.<br /> <br /> The research project actually dates back to 2005, when Krista Stanton ’07, a dual major in dance and biology, approached Professor Graham about doing an independent study project involving performance anxiety among dancers. Stanton had done some research into such issues among athletes, but had not found any comparable research into what happens with dancers, Professor Graham said.<br /> <br /> Stanton’s initial research, conducted with Professor Graham and Dr. Fraley, was presented to the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science in 2008.<br /> <br /> The most recent research, which also included participation from Hope graduates Allyson Dreger ’12, of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Heather Stiff ’12, of Galena, Ohio, received a research award from the Midwestern chapter of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, in May. Students also presented their research during Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance last spring, and at the Van Andel Institute’s West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Research Conference.<br /> <br /> Ariana Cappuccitti and Rachel Cho will give a poster presentation on the research project at the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science conference in Singapore in late October. Professor Graham says the project demonstrates what can happen when students and faculty members can work together across multiple disciplines.<br /> <br /> “We’re at a liberal arts institution that values the whole being, and this is a research project that reflects that totality of mind, body and soul,” she said. “This is as cross-disciplinary as you can get.”<br /> <br /> Rachel Cho believes her dual major and participation in the research study has helped prepare her well for medical school and life after she leaves Hope next spring.<br /> <br /> “My science classes have taught me important analyzing and critical thinking skills while my dance classes have taught me to be more creative and think outside of the box,” she said.<br /> <br /> Ariana Cappuccitti agrees. “This experience has made me a quicker problem solver in the moment of high stress and little time. It has also taught me how to work with people,” she said.<br /> <br /> Even as the students recognize the ways that they have gained through the research experience, their mentors celebrate their contributions to the process, not least of all their central role not only in conducting the research but in identifying the subject itself. It’s what makes research at Hope truly collaborative, and a learning experience that has a lasting impact.<br /> <br /> “It’s really student-driven. The students ask the questions. We’re here (as faculty members) to help facilitate answering those questions,” Professor Graham said.

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