2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.
Scottish Ballet currently runs two Dance Health programmes: Time to Dance for those living with dementia and their carers, and Dance for Parkinson’s, delivered in partnership with Dance Base. We are also currently developing Elevate, a brand new initiative for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. Dance can help people with these conditions physically, mentally and socially, aiding mobility and improving overall feelings of wellbeing.
Bethany Whiteside works across the evaluation and development of these programmes. She is also Research Lecturer and Doctoral Degrees Coordinator at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
We spoke to Bethany about some of these benefits of dance for health, and she gives us her top tips for pursuing a career in research.
What's your education background?
My first degree is actually a BA (Hons) in History. I have always loved history but between the ages of 3-18 years old, I took examinations with the Royal Academy of Dancing and International Society of Teachers of Dancing and knew that I wanted to return to dance. In 2009, the University of Edinburgh launched an MSc in Dance Science and Education. It was this course that made me realise that I wanted to keep studying. I was very lucky to be offered an ESRC CASE Studentship through the University of St Andrews to undertake a Sociology of Dance PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and everything went from there!
What inspired you to focus on dance health?
My research has always centred on the two-way relationship between the dance being performed and the dancers themselves. Ultimately, I believe, this is what dance for health is all about: individuals coming together for a range of reasons and creating a breadth of experiences; it is my role to seek to understand the multifaceted impact of the dance activity in question.
‘"This is a particularly exciting time to be involved in Dance for Health research: approaches and methods are ever developing and the focus is highly topical, socially impactful, and has real potential to shape people’s lives and policy."’
Can you tell us a bit about what research you’ve done with Scottish Ballet, and the benefits of dance health?
I have worked with Scottish Ballet since 2015 on a variety of research projects, evaluating programmes such as Dance for Parkinson's and Time to Dance. I am also currently undertaking research on the pilot Dance for Multiple Sclerosis programme working with US academics based at Georgetown University and the University of Florida.
From the perspective of the dancers involved, the Dance Health programmes positively impact on physical symptoms, enable self-efficacy, encourage autonomy and generate and utilise support networks, through creativity and collaboration. The benefits all come back to what dance is, and how Scottish Ballet ‘joins the dots’ and works with the whole dancer.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your current role?
Academics often have multiple ‘hats’ so juggling competing priorities and deadlines is a key challenge! Alongside my work with Scottish Ballet, I also coordinate the doctoral programmes at the RCS and teach on the BA Modern Ballet programme. It is also important to share and disseminate research and findings through presenting and publishing. The work is so rewarding and, crucially, all the ‘parts’ of my role make the other elements stronger.
What would your advice be for someone thinking about pursuing a career in research?
Undertaking a formal qualification (e.g. an MRes) provides one means and experience to undertake research. Super obvious but it’s crucial to really know the subject area, topic or line of enquiry that you wish to take, why you have this interest, where the gaps in knowledge are, and how you are going to seek understanding. Most importantly is the need for curiosity - you have want to know answers to questions.
What’s your ‘get up and go’ song?
When I was PhD-ing, I had some firm favourites to get me through the long hours of writing. Right now, however, it’s all about Six the Musical and the title song in particular: