Anxiety Levels in Dancers During Performance Compared to Rehearsal, Part I: Changes in Salivary Cortisol Levels Associated with Stress.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Gregory Fraley, Hope College
Professor Linda Graham, Hope College
Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, Hope College

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In dance performance, the objective is not competition or technical improvement, but to artistically engage an audience through physical expression and dynamic image. Little is known about the physiological stress response in performing dancers. The purpose of this study is to directly compare salivary cortisol changes in response to differences in perceived stresses in dancers. Seventy-three female participants from The Hope College Dance Department were asked to provide samples from 9 different states: 1 control sample of expectorant and 4 samples each per rehearsal and performance (1 hour before, 5 minutes before, 5 minutes after, and 1 hour after). Samples were prepared for analysis of salivary cortisol by enzyme-linked immunoassay (EIA). All salivary cortisol levels were normalized to the individual’s control levels and presented as percent differences. Data were analyzed with an ANOVA and a Tukey HSD posthoc test using MacJMP (SAS, Inc.). A significant difference was observed in relative changes in salivary cortisol levels depending upon sample state (F(8, 202) = 2.48, p = 0.05). The highest levels of salivary cortisol occurred 1 hour prior to performance; interestingly, 5 minutes prior to performance, salivary cortisol levels dropped to control levels, then increased again 5 minutes after performance. We further analyzed salivary cortisol levels at each of these states taking into account the individual’s experience level (expert = 12+ years of performance experience, novice = < 12 years). We found that expert dancers had significantly (p < 0.001) lower relative levels of salivary cortisol at all states except for the controls compared to novices. Our study suggests that both psychological and physiological stressors are important factors associated with dance performance, and that dance experience may play an important role in learning to ameliorate these stress factors.


Research was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (to GSF and MLG) and by a Frost Center Grant (to LHJ).

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