What is imagery
Imagery is a process of creating a mental image or intention, which a person would want to happen or feel and it engages all the senses. Using the mind, the athletes are able to re-create these ideas again and again and strengthen their skills through repetition, which is similar to physical exercise (Williams & Krane 2015). Imagery is often referred to as visualisation, however imagery is a more complex process, which includes all the senses such as visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory and kinesthetic (Nordin & Cumming 2005). Dancers reported, that they are implementing all of these senses while imaging (Nordin & Cumming 2005). The imagery from dancer’s perspective could be described as a conscious ability to use senses to create or re-create an either real or imaginary experience in the mind, that may affect the movement (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). According to research, imagery is considered as a powerful tool as the human brain interprets the images created during imagery process completely identical to the actual stimulus situation (Williams & Krane 2015). A good example of this could be a breakdancer creating an image of himself in a showcase scenario doing his powerful dance routine for the audience and during this process, his brain will interpret his images and contract the muscles as if he was actually on stage doing the performance (Williams & Krane 2015). The main power of imagery is in that the athletes might practice their skills, strategies and mental skills without the need of being on an actual training or competitive environment (Williams & Krane 2015). Dancers images about movement are typically visual (what the dancer “see” in the imagery) or kinesthetic (e.g how the dancer can “feel” the movement or an action) or the combination of both (Cumming & Williams 2013). While using visual imagery, the dancer is able to see through the mind’s eye either from first person perspective (internal) or third person perspective (external) depending on a desired outcome (Cumming & Williams 2013). For example, in internal perspective, the dancers see the image as through their own eyes, whereas in external perspective they see the image as they were an audience member (Overby & Dunn 2011; Goldschmidt 2002). To achieve the most of imagery it has been suggested that the environment should closely match the actual environment where the behaviour would occur (Wakefield et al. 2012; Holmes & Colins 2001). That being said, if the dancer’s goal is to reduce the anxiety or fright on a stage, the perfect image would be himself standing on an actual stage, where his performance would take a place (Cumming & Williams 2013).
Imagery might affect several aspects of a dancer’s performance as it has been shown that dancers use their imagery before, during and after classes, rehearsals and performances (Nordin & Cumming 2007). Additionally, dancers use imagery in both static and dynamic states, while athletes use imagery predominantly in static state or doing only minimal gestures (Vergeer & Hanrahan 1998). According to Pavlik & Nordin-Bates (2016), imagery is used by dancers of all ages and levels as a tool to enhance dancing in some way and they also reported, that the more experience the dancer has the more frequently he uses imagery.
How imagery impacts dance performance
According to Dance Imagery Questionnaire (DIQ) created by Nordin & Cumming (2006), there are four types of imagery used in dance (Williams et al. 2013; Williams et al. 2011). Mental rehearsal of movements or sequences is associated with Technique imagery, whereas Mastery imagery is connected to focus, anxiety control and planning (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). As an example of technique imagery in a real world could be dancer preparing for a stage performance creating images of himself doing the actual movements and routines in his solo, whereas for master imagery, the dancer would create an image of himself staying calm, confident and focused during the performance. The third type of imagery is a Goal imagery which could be beneficial in boosting arousal and motivation in a dancer (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). Goal imagery is related to dancer’s images of achieving specific dance-related goals. For example, this could be either image of walking off stage to roaring applause after flawless performance or images of achieving an excellent execution of some difficult movements. The fourth type of imagery is called Role and movement quality imagery, which includes images of roles and characters and most metaphorical or indirect imagery (Pavlik & Nordin-Bates 2016). During this type of imagery, the dancer is creating an images of how a character within a ballet might feel or an image of the dancer’s arms turning into wings. According to Nordin & Cumming (2008), dancers predominantly use technique imagery, while mastery imagery is used the least. For instance, in 2005 the National inquiry into dancers health and injury in the UK found that over 50% of the participated dancers suffered from low self-confidence (Nordin & Cumming 2006). Pavlik & Nordin-Bates (2016) suggested that dancers should examine the effect of using more mastery imagery as this type of imagery is related to an increase in self-confidence and decrease in anxiety (Nordin & Cumming 2008; Fish et al. 2004). When dancers used images created from their own bodies, abstract ideas and the space around them, they reported that imagery helped them to create and enhance their movement, choose where in the space to move and sort the sequence of the dance (May et al. 2011). Using an image of strong emotions might also have an impact on dancers who need a dramatic element in their performances as well as anatomical images for improving posture or jumps (Vergeer & Hanrahan 1998).
Strategies for improving dancer’s imagery
According to studies, the imagery ability might not be a static quality and it could be increased by using multiple interventions (Williams et al. 2013; Williams et al. 2011). Nordin & Cumming (2006) stated that the best development of dance imagery is in a dance settings. Also, imagery is not only a naturally occurring complex psychological skill but it could also be impacted by individuals themselves as well as others, for example dance teachers (Nordin & Cumming 2006). It is suggested that both dance teachers and dancers should learn about imagery as well as use it creatively in order to achieve its valuable potential (Nordin & Cumming 2006). According to Karageorghis et al. (2012), the imagery frequency in dancers could be improved by the implementation of voice enhancement technology or relaxing music into imagery training as it enhances the vocal clarity on attentional processes. In addition, the best results were achieved when the relaxing music was played in the background of an actual imagery training (Karageorghis et al. 2012). That being said, this method might be able to increase the efficacy of imagery interventions (Karageorghis et al. 2012). It had been also found that both movement execution and observation could be used to enhance the ease of imaging in athletes (Williams et al. 2011). This method enhances the individual’s imagery ability and therefore it could be used for the enhancement of the effectiveness of an imagery intervention (Williams et al. 2011).