Dance In The Mix welcomes Jessica Collier as our student guest blogger sharing the thoughts she has been developing during her undergraduate work at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK.
How My Dance Degree Has Helped Me Through Nursing School
“Oh, so you’re going to be a dancing nurse, then? You know, doing spins and leaps while you start people’s IVs?” The first twenty times I heard someone say that when I told them about my double major, I thought it was funny. The next 200+, I didn’t find it quite as humorous. After nearly five years of getting that same joke over and over, however, I’m beginning to think that perhaps the nine-and-a-half out of ten people who ask me this question might actually be onto something.
Currently, I’m on Year Five of a six year degree plan at Oral Roberts University. One of our school’s mottos is “Make No Little Plans Here,” and I’ve certainly done that – I’m tackling two of our most challenging and time-consuming majors available, Nursing and Dance Performance. As a dual-degree student rather than just a double major, I’ve had to say the least a very unique college experience. Many days I lose track of the number of times I change outfits, switching from leotard and tights to scrubs, then into athletic gear for modern class and finally trying to look professional right after as I head to my work study position. I’ve had to extend my time at university an extra two years, simply to fit in all the credits without going over block tuition rates and surrendering an appendage to pay for it (I’m a dancer – I need all of those!). I’m often asked why I chose to go for a full major instead of just a minor or a few sporadic classes in dance, and my standard reply is that I believe both professions have equal importance in my future, so I want to dedicate the same amount of time and effort to both of them. But as time progresses, I think I might change how I answer. I realize now that being a full-time dance student has in many ways made an essential contribution to my success throughout nursing school.
Much like dance, the field of nursing places a high value on performance. Besides hours upon hours spent in lecture halls and memorizing the side effects of hundreds of different drugs, nursing students spend considerable time in simulation labs learning “clinical skills:” starting and stopping an IV, setting up a nasogastric tube, dressing changes, and so on. The instructors give us step-by-step directions on how exactly to perform each skill without contaminating equipment or posing risk to a patient, and at the end of the semester we are required to successfully complete the skills in front of a professor to advance in the program. I had an extremely difficult time with the clinical skills during my third year, until I started thinking of the steps in each process as choreography, like a set of classical ballet variations, if you will. Learning a new piece of choreography takes time and practice, and unless one possesses a most exceptional mind, cannot be completely memorized all in one sitting. Individual steps must be learned before you can hope to string them all together, which reminded me to break each skill down into the smallest possible steps so I could ensure at every point I knew exactly where to place supplies and which hose connects to which tube on the suction equipment. While still paying attention to details, it’s important to remember the basic principles of technique (instead of reminding myself to turn out or pull up through my knees I remember not to touch anything dirty with my sterile gloves), and to be honest, maneuvering around a patient’s bed with hands full of expensive medical equipment is about as difficult as spacing a full-length ballet. Once I began comparing my time in the Sim Lab to a rehearsal for a dance piece, I found myself able to engage with the learning process better – and found my ability to successfully demonstrate the skills significantly improved.
Another important element of nursing practice is what we’ve termed the five-step Nursing Process: assessment, diagnosis, outcome planning, intervention, and evaluation. The semester that this process really made sense to me was the same semester that I completed my second choreography project, a trio dealing with the trauma and ramifications of divorce. As I gathered research to inform my dance piece, I started to notice some similarities between the choreographic process and the nursing process. So far, nearly every dance I’ve considered making begins with observations of a phenomenon or something happening in the world, and the diagnosis of a problem or situation to address. After that, I have to set goals (or in medicalese, “outcomes”) for what the dance work will end up communicating; discover the shapes, movement qualities, and motifs that will meet that artistic need. After creating the movement, I pause to reassess what I have created to determine if it addresses the subject the way I had intended. Noticing the almost perfectly direct correlations between how I create dance and how I care for patients has not only cemented the steps of the nursing process in my mind, but also challenged me to explore how I can be therapeutic and provide opportunities for healing in the way that I choreograph and work with other dancers.
Besides all of that, remaining committed to my dance major has taught me how to manage my time better, cope with stress, remain emotionally stable, and perhaps most importantly, live holistically. I’ve learned through dance that there may always be someone more advanced or more talented than you, but that’s okay. Dance shows me that individuality is acceptable and to be celebrated, which challenges me to learn about the unique needs of each of my patients and care for them in the way that fits them best rather than cutting and pasting dried, formulaic interventions into their plan of care simply because it “matches the problem.” Discovering these correlations and allowing each of my degrees to enrich and inform the other shows clearly that life is meant to be lived all in one piece, not categorized and separated. Opposites do attract, and even the two most diametrically opposed courses of study can relate to each other. So as silly as it may sound at first, I suppose I will be a “dancing nurse.” I’m at least planning to work it into the title of both my senior papers.
photo by Nathan Harmon; dancers: Jessica Vokoun & Rachel Bruce Johnson.
PC: Jeanne S. Mam-Luft
It is a simple philosophy here at THE BELL HOUSE; make connections by bringing people together through dance. Art that seeks to defy a fractured view of the world by creating culture that cares for the soul and is concerned with human thriving. For me, it isn’t enough to just make dance for dance’s sake; it is my belief that it is the connective power of people that makes art worth engaging. We do that by taking our interests and talents and challenging the ways we connect them to something tangible in the human experience. It is through these connections and tangibilities that we see the true power of art and dance manifest back to relationships with and through people. In my view, what matters is people; the time and space of making work refract and overlap revealing and creating new possibilities for human connection.