Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Containing Chaos Through Dance


The strength, stamina, emotional understanding, and situational awareness that dancers develop over time can also benefit healthcare professionals.  

Dance is an intense form of expression. It incorporates anatomical and physiological connections of the human body, aligning them through coordinated movement, emotion, and narrative. When dancing for an audience, dancers exist in a state of vulnerability as spectators watch this dynamic interaction of body, environment, and story.  


In “Sensational Knowledge,” Japanese dance scholar Dr. Tomie Hahn describes nihon buyo, a traditional Japanese dance form rooted in theater and spirituality. As Hahn explains, practitioners of nihon buyo are trained to appreciate states of energy and flow, allowing dance to exist as a tool through which sensation can be processed.  She writes, “disorienting encounters pose challenges to our experiential knowledge. Believability is called into question, and through the process of sorting out the experience there is a possibility for growth.” 


For a dancer, space, time, and emotion all influence one another. A dancer must learn to understand the timing of music while simultaneously recognizing the limitations of their surroundings. Dancers develop skills to respond to sound cues within situational and spatial boundaries, while also acknowledging the audience’s reaction to the movements presented within the confined performance space and adjusting accordingly. This interaction between time, space, and emotion creates a busy, complex environment that is artistically controlledit represents a state of situational chaos that is contained by the dancer.  


Like a dancer performing amidst chaos, a healthcare professional often experiences much of the same sensational disruption throughout their training. When interacting with patients, a clinician may transition from strikingly different patient personalities and illnesses, one after another, all in one setting. On the individual scale, a healthcare professional must understand the specific needs of each patient. On a population level, the clinician must also maintain awareness of their role as a provider for an entire community. As a leader, a clinician must coordinate with different members of the medical team to give organized and informed care. Additionally, the environment in which most healthcare professionals practice can be disruptive, filled with alarms and announcements, new test results, developing information, and shifting health statuses of patients.  


When a dancer contains the chaos in their surroundings, they channel that disorienting sensation through an array of movements, a performance of physical and emotional stability. They use their training to find structure and foundation to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the disturbance around them. Through this process, dancers grow in their strength, skill, and emotional intelligence. They respond better to audiences, capture and present stories with more nuance, and develop stamina to persist through challenging pieces.  


Clinicians may not have a direct means of channeling disorienting encounters through performance, but they certainly have a unique opportunity that few others experience. Caring for patients is an unrivaled privilege. Each day of a clinician’s training that’s challenging is an opportunity for growth. The same strength, stamina, emotional understanding, and situational awareness that dancers develop over time can also apply to being a clinician with a growth-mindset.







This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.