Imagery, Research, and Practice

Author: Katie Pavlik on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators’ Commitee 

We start our new year with a series of posts by leading experts in the world of dance imagery and creativity. This first post by Katie Pavlik introduces simple and immediately usable ways for us to embed the use of imagery in our classes from both teaching and dancing perspectives, a great way to invigorate our practice. 

Did you know that imagery can be a powerful tool that can affect how you learn, remember, and perform dance? When I first became interested in dance imagery, I thought of it in simple terms: as mental rehearsal of steps to remember choreography, with a side of pretty metaphors thrown in to aide my performance quality. Little did I know that imagery is so much more. Dancers can not only use it to learn movement, but also to reach goals, handle anxiety, and even change their performance. 

Imagery is a conscious action. The dancer uses their five senses to create a mental image, which approximates a real or fantastical experience. Perhaps they envision themselves executing a grande battement; this is called technique imagery, which is the mental rehearsal of movement. If they’re aiming to perfect their turns, they may imagine themselves completing a flawless double pirouette. This is an example of goal imagery, or images of working towards and reaching dance-specific goals. Mastery imagery describes images of planning, controlling anxiety, and staying focused, such as a scene of performing with calm confidence. Finally, role and movement quality imagery contains metaphors and often pertains to characters. For example, a dancer may create a mental script of a rushing river in winter for use as they dance. Technique imagery seems to be the most common type of imagery, while mastery is the least utilized in dance (1). 

Each type of imagery can serve many different functions. Dancers use imagery to inspire movement for choreography and solve problems within pieces, such as sorting sequences or figuring out spacing. Teachers use imagery to clarify technique as well as the thoughts and feelings surrounding the movement. Imagery can be used to inspire strong emotions or regulate an individual’s mood. Dancers even use it to ease anxiety or increase motivation during difficult situations such as tough performances or auditions. Research has shown that technique and role and movement imagery may be especially valuable in helping dancers interpret anxious feelings as useful in stressful situations (1).  

Performing artists, teachers, and students image. They image in rehearsal, class, and performance. They image before, during, and after movement. Anyone can use imagery, and anytime is a good time to image! If you plan to image, utilize all your senses to create a rich scene, especially your visual and kinesthetic senses. Memories, pictures, and sounds can inspire imagery, but so can movement itself. It is helpful to plan imagery prior to use so that you can tailor it to your specific needs and desired outcomes. Teachers can even design imagery for specific classes or individual students, allowing them to learn about imaging through direct use. Even though time is short in class, moments can be set aside to show students the importance of imagery. For example:

a. Before warm-up, as a time to focus and set goals.
b. During transitions or while students are waiting, to review steps; small movements that accompany the imagery, or marking, can be especially helpful at these times.
c. While students are dancing, to enhance the quality of their movement.
d. At the end of class, to review, set goals, and prepare for future classes.
e. When injured, to reserve their resources. 

Research has shown that certain types of imagery can increase self-confidence,(1,2) lower anxiety,(1,2) and enhance movement.(3) As such, performers, teachers, and students can all benefit from this powerful psychological tool. For further reading and imagery ideas, please see:

  1. Using Imagery to Optimize Dance Training and Performance by Sanna Nordin-Bates, PhD
  2. Dance Imagery: A Literature Review by Katie Pavlik, MSc and Sanna Nordin-Bates, PhD in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, Volume 20, No. 2, 2016, pages 52-63
  3. The History and Research of Dance Imagery: Implications for Teachers by Lynette Overby, PhD and Jan Dunn, MS
  4. Enhancing Sport Performance Using PETTLEP Imagery by Dave Smith, PhD
  5. Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance by Eric Franklin 

Forthcoming posts over the next months will focus on the application of imagery in dance learning and making, with a specific focus on creativity. Keep a look-out for those! 


Katie Pavlik is an independent dance scientist based in Chicago, IL, USA. 



  1. Nordin SM, Cumming J. Measuring the content of dancers’ images: development of the Dance Imagery Questionnaire (DIQ). J Dance Med Sci. 2006;10(3/4):85-98.
  2. Fish L, Hall C, Cumming J. Investigating the use of imagery by elite ballet dancers. Avante. 2004;10(3):26-39.
  3. Hanrahan C, Tetreau B, Sarrazin C. Use of imagery while performing dance movement. Int J Sport Psychol. 1995;26:413-30.