We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. — Aristotle
I (Faia) have been a ballet dancer since I was 4 years old and have always had the passion to be on stage with an audience watching. My definition of dance is a series of movements that match the speed and rhythm of music. Dancing is more than just movements to a rhythm of music; it is and will always be a gift in my life.
I am now a sophomore in nursing school. Many times I find myself applying the nursing concepts that are being taught to the art of dance. We are taught that nursing is an art and a science. How does one integrate the art of dancing into the art and science of nursing? I find myself exploring how I might grow creatively in nursing as I have grown and continue to grow creatively in dance. My dancing is a skill and a gift. It’s already an integral part of my life. I’m told nursing involves lifelong learning. I need to discover how dance and nursing (my newest gift) might co-exist as I go forward.
When I’m dancing and I sense my body and muscles tensing, I have the opportunity to face this tension and relax. The same is true in nursing. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts physiological needs at the base. Without meeting my physical needs, I can never meet the needs that come after physiological needs, such as safety needs, love and belonging needs, self-esteem and finally, self-actualization needs. Relaxing is a physiological need. The way I relax in dancing is the same way I can relax in nursing. I deep breathe, and I listen to meditative music if only in my mind when I am caring for others. The calming effect is the same. It is an awesome gift.
When I journal as a requirement for my dancing or nursing classes, I have wonderful opportunities to reflect on what I have gained and what I still need to work on in dancing and in nursing. I can be honest with myself through my dancing and nursing each week. I don’t need to fret; I can be honest with myself. The instructors usually look over journals, but they aren’t graded—a gift from my teacher! When I’m dancing, I think about the ideas I incorporated in my dancing journal. And when I’m in nursing class, I often think about nursing as a dance: A dance I am mentally doing as I care for the patient. Learning to relax in nursing can have a deep learning curve. Evidence-based practice, culturally-competent care, and the latest research push me to understand concepts along with the latest care innovations. Although dancing may not be as deeply researched as nursing, it has its own culture and research to support it.
Within the second semester of dance in a college setting, I noticed a small positive change. When I think of it now, it definitely was not small. It was big and it was positive. I recognized that I don’t need to be perfect and know all the answers. I learned that when I dance, if I don’t strive for perfection and let my body enjoy the art of dance, I relax, let my body take over, and enjoy it as the therapeutic art from that it is. The same, I have found, is true in my practice of nursing. Letting go of the need to be perfect and know all the answers will ultimately improve my dancing and improve the art of my nursing. My favorite nursing instructor taught me there is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to a patient’s question. The only error would be leaving the patient without an answer. It’s always appropriate to say, “Let me look that up for you.” I can do research, use the process I was taught in nursing school, and find the answer to the patient’s question. Accepting my limitations, just like honing the science of research may take some time to accomplish. In dancing and nursing research, practice makes it more beautiful, but certainly never perfect.
This semester we did a dance performance for our dance class. The theme of the performance was “Falling.” I have not succeeded and “fallen” many times in life, especially regarding scholastics. I struggled and fell behind compared to others around me. In my dance, when I fall, there are always others to help me get up, and I can help someone else who might fall. The same is true regarding falling short in nursing. In my education at Widener, there are many support systems for a sophomore who is working hard and wants to succeed. I know as a nurse, my responsibility will be to prevent the patient from falling. I will be there to help my patient up if the patient does fall. I’ll follow the advice from an anonymous source: “When you stumble, make it part of the dance.”
I achieved many of my personal goals doing dance, and I have found many of these goals to be similar to my nursing goals. Giving back is important in dancing and in nursing. During school breaks, I return to visit my dance teachers and friends at dance school and continue to take classes there throughout the year. During Nutcracker season, I go to the dance school on weekends to help teach the younger girls their parts. In the classic text From Novice to Expert, Patricia Benner notes that nurses have roles to perform as they progress from beginner to an expert. The roles that I adhere to every day are those of teacher and advocate. I’m a teacher for the young girls at dance school and their advocate. In nursing, I continue both these roles as I teach and advocate for my patients. Everyone needs someone to help them. My favorite nursing school instructor said to me one day, “Why do you think they call today the present, Gianna!” Then she answered herself and said, “Because it is a gift.”
Next semester is my final semester of my sophomore year in nursing. I look forward to dance class and additions to my dancing repertoire. I also think that nursing is a kind of dance. A dance I perform as I care for the patient. My dance card for nursing is only now just filling up; I have much to learn!
The biggest takeaway from this semester of dance and nursing is remembering that when I fall, I can always get up. Sometimes I may require the help of others and other times, patients may require my help. From this perspective, I view dancing and nursing as similar. They are both gifts—gifts that I give myself and gifts that I give others.
Gianna Faia is a nursing student and Judith Bonaduce is a nursing educator at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania.