Ballet for the Brain

(gif courtesy of Tumblr) 

Although it’s seen as solely elegant by the mass, the act of ballet has been said by dancers to affect one’s mental state, whether it is positive or negative.

When ballet originated back in the 15th century, the impact that it could have on one’s psyche, was not popularly taken into consideration. When the dance became popularized in the 19th century, it was still simply seen as just another graceful dance that young women practised in their spare time, and something the public watched in large performance plays such as Swan Lake.

Kathleen Barbieri and Sarah Mariotti, both students at Ryerson University, grew up living a street away from each other, but officially met when they danced together at the same studio where they live, in Vaughan, ON. “We met through our studio because we were dancing together, but also because [our] sisters started school together, and it turns out [they] live a street away from me.” said Mariotti.

Ballet can be used as a coping mechanism, and is better for the mental state. Anchorage Ballet defines dancing, specifically ballet, as a movement to improve the function on the brain and relieve stress. The act of ballet helps the muscles in the brain relax, and the focus shifts on the movements on the arms and legs, and the accuracy of the body, rather than stress. Through ballet, you can become more aware of what your body is capable of.

(gif courtesy of Tumblr)   

Mariotti, a second-year journalism student, fully committed to dancing at the age of 10, was really big on ballet, but also focussed other dances such as contemporary and lyrical. “It’s so beautiful,” she said of ballet. “I love watching it, it’s the best thing ever.” Mariotti stopped dancing intensely when she started university because she says she didn’t have much time, but it did have a positive impact on her mental health. “Ballet specifically, is something that I’m passionate about, and when you have tight bond with yourself, it’s good for you; dancing makes me feel good in the moment.”

According to My Mental Health Day, ballet is beneficial for one’s mental state, unlike what it is portrayed like in popular films such as Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman. The website says ballet “helps you learn how to manage that anxiety; it teaches you that it is ok not to be perfect.” Ballet is not an easy dance to master, as it involves a lot of precision and accuracy, which is not something we all are necessarily built with. It can take months of practising ballet to finally understand a concept such as a plié, or pirouette.

However, Barbieri, who is a member of the Ryerson Dance Pak, and current nursing student, recalls having a good time in the studio when she around the age of 10, saying that the dance studio is where they had your mental health as its first interest. When she became a part of the Ryerson Dance Program, she noticed  “[The program] just kind of wanted you to have that typical dancer-ballerina body, which is not healthy at all,” she said in an interview with fellow interviewee, Sarah Mariotti.  

Although she did not stay in the dance program, Barbieri says ballet has an important role in her training, saying in conversation with Mariotti: “It’s the foundation of everything right?” She says dancing is something she will continue to do as it gives her a sense of life and purpose. “It makes me feel so good.”


For a bit of comic relief.​ (photo courtesy of Indulgy) 


So.. Where can I try this?

Although it’s too late in the semester, Ryerson offers a number of dance classes, ballet included, mainly at the Recreation Athletic Centre (RAC). Check out the list here for next semester. If you’re feeling extra daring (because sometimes we are), The National Ballet of Canada offers drop-in classes, starting at the beginner ballet level here.  

*The team of Her Campus are in no way professionals, so if you are experiencing any sort of uncontrollable distress or mental illness, please seek professional help.