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To mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we sat down with London Contemporary Dance School’s Mental Health Advisor and alumni Archana Ballal to discuss the importance of dancers maintaining good mental health.

Q: Thanks for chatting with us, Archana! Please could you tell us about your role at London Contemporary Dance School…

Archana: As the Mental Health Advisor at London Contemporary Dance School, I am the first point of contact for students who are experiencing any kind of mental health challenge and I work with the rest of the student support team to make sure the students get the right support. Every situation is very different; some students may need counselling, learning support or help with something going on physically in their bodies. It’s my responsibility to listen and sit with them, to identify what they need going forward.

When we think about mental health we immediately think of the mind. But it can mean the entire body, so it is about shifting that focus. Embodiment is such a universal language!

Archana Ballal

Q: What’s led you to this role at London Contemporary Dance School?

Archana: I’ve always been connected to the school – I was actually a student here once upon a time! In terms of mental health specifically, I’ve worked across different communities for a few years now, starting with migrant women. This experience made me realise that when we move, we really connect from an emotionally deep place, and it interested me in various ways.

After that experience I wanted to learn more and develop, so that I could really hold spaces and explore them. A great deal of emotive and difficult material can come up during these experiences and you have to be able to contain it and hold it.

In 2014, I started my MA Dance Movement Psychotherapy at Goldsmiths, graduating two years later. This course enabled me to learn the specific skills I needed. It also helped me to facilitate conversations that are safe and useful. Facilitation is really important in terms of helping an individual process what they’ve been through in a secure way.

Since this period, I’ve undertaken dance for wellbeing projects with South Asian dance organisation Akademi, and worked as a therapist with survivors of sexual violence, care leavers and in a youth offending institution. As and when I’ve worked with these different communities, I’ve seen how emotions are embodied and how they can impact people in different ways.

Q: Could you tell us more about your understanding of the relationship between embodiment and mental health?

Archana: When we think about mental health we immediately think of the mind. But it can mean the entire body, so it is about shifting that focus. Embodiment is such a universal language!

When I work therapeutically with different groups of people even if they aren't used to moving or dancing, there's an awareness which grows of their bodies, and how their body is moving through the world. Our bodies hold a lot, and sometimes if we've experienced trauma this can be held at an embodied level. Sometimes it's about working through that somatically, or sometimes it's about being able to put words to that experience. The most important thing is creating a safe environment in which such things can be explored.

Q: Why is it important to look after your mental health?

Archana: As artists, we need to look after our mental health. Things got very hard during the pandemic, and it continues to be tough! When training and working as a dancer there is so much pressure – being creative, getting funding, going to auditions – it can impact your sense of self and self-worth.

It’s important that our students think about their mental health from the first stages of training so they can stay well and be resilient. There isn’t a single remedy to good mental health, but some general tips would be:

  • Have a routine
  • Identify a sleep routine that works for you
  • Be rested when you work hard
  • Fuel your body in the right kind of way
  • Share how you feel with those who are there to support you. It is so normal to experience challenging times, talking it through can help!

Just to add to this list, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is loneliness – something which many of us experience yet so little of us talk about. At a time where for the past two years or so we’ve been socially isolated, connect with people around you that make you feel positive. Working on these meaningful connections is key, as genuine relationships with people are so important for your mental health.

If you're a student at LCDS and need to speak with Archana about your mental health, please get in touch.