9 Questions for Dr Sanna Nordin-Bates

SNB jan 2013 bwDr Sanna-Nordin Bates completed her PhD on “Imagery in Dance” at the University of Birmingham in 2005 and is now a world-leading expert in the psychology of dance based at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.  As Dr Jennifer Cumming’s first PhD student, who graduated before the BRIO group was “born”, we thought it was only right that she had the honor of being the first academic interviewed for our blog.  She describes her post-PhD journey and shares her thoughts about dance imagery.

1. What have you been doing since you completed your PhD in Dance Imagery?

I left Birmingham after finishing my PhD in September 2005, and took up my first post doc the following week. That was a manic weekend of moving house, city, and jobs! The new post was at the London Sport Institute at Middlesex University in London, where I worked for just over 2 years. The fact that I had a lot of freedom meant I could finish up papers from my PhD, start new collaborations, organize a conference (a one-day symposium on dance science), and help write the grant application which got me my second post doc. But before that came through, I was brave and became a freelance academic for 8 months! It sounds odd, but I sincerely recommend it. I lectured in a few places (on the BA programme at the Royal Academy of Dance, the diploma programme at Cambridge Performing Arts, and on the MSc in Dance Science at Wolverhampton University), and worked as an applied psychology consultant for English National Ballet. I also did freelance research, in the form of research-style evaluations of two performing arts projects: one for disadvantaged youth for the organization Leaps & Bounds, and one called Dance4Health for Warwickshire county council.

In 2008 I started my second post doc, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. This was on a large-scale project investigating a wide range of dance science topics under the umbrella of a talent development scheme known as Centres for Advanced Training (click here to download the report from this project).  I headed up the psychology side, and co-supervised Imogen Aujla who completed her PhD within the project. On the side of this post doc, I continued consulting for English National Ballet and started doing so also for the Royal Ballet School.

At the end of 2011, the project was finished and it was time to move again. This time, I went a bit further – though closer to home! – and started a lectureship at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm. Now, I have been there for just over three years and keep busy with the “normal combination” of lecturing, research and admin. My consulting has been on hold since I moved to Sweden, though I am ¾ way through Stage 1 of training in psychotherapy (a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for elite sport run by our national sports federation). I also teach a bit of psychology at the Swedish Royal Ballet School, and have started a research collaboration with them.

2. How do you use imagery?
I firmly believe that imagery is in almost everything we do, though most of the time we are not particularly deliberate about it. So while I am no longer an athlete and do not mentally train for sport, I imagine very frequently. In particular, it is helpful when planning and goal setting for work.

3. Do you have a favourite imagery quote to share with us?
There are lots, and especially from quote-master Einstein… but here is one very good one:
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” – Albert Einstein

4. What is a myth or misconception about imagery that you think should be corrected?
That it is something new, and unknown that needs to be taught to athletes from scratch. Because imagery is part of basic thinking, I believe that it is mostly about helping the athlete become more aware of what they imagine, what works for them, broaden their repertoire somewhat, and – in particular – how to make it more systematic and effective.

5. What is the study or project you are most proud of?
That is a hard question! I am not sure there is a particular study or project that stands out. However, I am proud that I did a mixture of quantitative (experimental and questionnaire-based) and qualitative (interview) studies during my PhD. This has put me in good stead for later studies, and I really like using mixed methods.

6. Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
Ok that is a far easier question! Jennifer Cumming, certainly.

7. What role do you think dance teachers could play in encouraging imagery to be used by dancers?
I think they often do play a pretty big role in generating and encouraging the use of metaphorical imagery, in order to help dancers with movement quality, choreography and the like. However, I think they could play a far greater role than is typically the case when it comes to imagery as mental practice. For instance, they could encourage (or initiate) imagery practice in short bursts when dancers wait their turn, or end classes with a guided imagery rehearsal of what has been learnt. They can also encourage imagery outside of class for dancers who want more training time, to help them reinforce their learning, and to exercise their creativity.

8. What could researchers do to help bring more attention to imagery in the dance world?
I think we need to use many different forums and communicate broadly – scientific papers are not enough. The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) have several which can be useful including their Day for Teachers (in connection with annual conferences), their Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers. They also make posters on several dance science subjects – perhaps we should encourage them to make one on imagery?!

9. What advice would you give to those who would like to do research in the area of dance psychology?
To go for it! We need more research across the whole spectrum of dance psychology topics, and it is a very rewarding area to be involved in. The dance science community is very collaborative and enthusiastic and so great fun to be involved with. At the same time, there is a great deal to be learnt from sport science, as the state of dance research is rather far behind. Altogether, this means a nice combination of feeling that there is much to be done, but a supportive community to do it in.

To download some of Sanna’s recent papers:

Nordin-Bates, S. M., Hill, A. P., Cumming, J., Aujla, I. J., & Redding, E. (2014). A longitudinal examination of the relationship between perfectionism and motivational climate in dance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36, 382-391.

Nordin-Bates, S. M., Quested, E., Walker, I. J., & Redding, E. (2012). Climate change in the dance studio: Findings from the UK Centres for Advanced Training. Sport, Exercise, & Performance Psychology, 1(1), 3-16.

Nordin-Bates, S. M., Cumming, J., Sharp, L., &. Aways, D. (2011). Imagining yourself dancing to perfection? Correlates of perfectionism in ballet and contemporary dance. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 5, 58-76. ( )

Nordin-Bates, S. M. (2014). Resource paper: Perfectionism.