This year, the Codarts programme Student Life has its tenth anniversary. In 2012 the first steps were taken to realise an integral programme around the well-being and physical and mental health of students in the performing arts. Ten years later we have a leading, student-oriented programme around health and talent development – fully integrated within the various study programmes, from dance, circus art and music to music theatre and art education. Stephanie Keizer-Hulsebosch, head of Student Life: ‘Receiving the Higher Education Premium 2022 from the Ministry of Culture, Education and Science is a wonderful recognition!’
‘How can I jump even higher?’ ‘How can I manage my energy better with my diet?’ ‘How do I deal with the enormous stress I always have before a performance?’ Just three of the many questions that Codarts students can find an answer to at the Performing Arts Health Centre, part of the Student Life programme of the university for the arts. A unique ‘Team Around The Artist’ approach (TATA) helps students to become self-aware, resilient, and independent and thus maximise their potential during their studies. All in preparation for the high demands that will be placed upon them in a career in the professional world of dance, music or circus.
Taking it step-by-step
Stephanie Keizer-Hulsebosch: ‘The official start of Student Life was in 2012. Before then, we did provide some health-related services, such as an in-house physiotherapist, but it was all fragmented. There was no shared vision and it was mostly reactive. To put it bluntly, we were just applying band-aids. Starting in 2012, we started operating more and more proactively, to prevent injuries and mental health problems, and then we took it one step further. With Student Life we make our students aware of their own physical and mental health in all aspects. They get to know themselves and their own limits and they also learn what to do when they reach those limits. They know where to go for help and advice. At Student Life we combine education, research, screenings, and support. This varies from (para)medical support or learning how to deal with pressure to achieve, to help in finding a place to live and taking out proper insurance.’
From sports dietician to performance coach
All the professionals of the Performing Arts Health Centre have a background in either the performing arts or top sports. More than anyone else, they know what problems students may encounter. A team of ten professionals works in-house and can be consulted any day: from physio-manual therapists, a speech therapist, a sport dietician, a psychologist and a mental coach to a performance coach, a hearing specialist, and human movement scientists.
Stephanie: ‘Plus of course our specialised teachers such as Pilates and yoga teachers or power training coaches. And there is our external network of medical experts who are knowledgeable about the performing arts.’
Students can book a consultation free of charge. They can do so on their own initiative, but they are also frequently referred by the study coaches and teachers. In addition, each month students fill out questionnaires about their physical and mental health. Stephanie: ‘They are asked questions such as how much tension or pain have you experienced in the past four weeks? How much and how well do you sleep? How much anxiety do you feel before a rehearsal or performance?’ All these data are stored in the Student Life Monitor. The outcome of the questionnaires is immediately and individually provided as feedback to the students, via a personal dashboard with visual presentations and advice. This enables students to monitor their own physical and mental development and implement improvements where necessary. In addition to this online tool there are physical tests and measurements that are tailor-made for each study programme: from jump tests to measuring lung capacity. Stephanie: ‘Also, we link theory to practical exercises in class in our “health and well-being” curriculum. And students exchange their experiences. It all leads to active learning.’
A unique tool
So far, the Student Life Monitor is the only digital instrument in the world to map the physical and mental health of students so meticulously. The tool was developed not just for, but also together with students, in collaboration with the Performing Arts Medicine research group. Stephanie: ‘It is an important tool for us in many ways. For students the monitor is an educational instrument; our scientists do focused research based on all the data we retrieve; and for our department managers it is a handy management tool. For instance, if there are many injuries in a particular production, I will inform and advise the study programme of this. Promoting the expertise of teachers is one of our focus points, so that they can coach the students even better.’
A change in culture
For students to gain insight into their physical and mental health and, if needed, to be referred to specialists, has been quite a change in culture. Stephanie: ‘Before, students would just go on and on and the motto was “no pain, no gain”. Now our teachers and students are constantly looking for the right balance between load and load capacity. Students learn to take control of their own health and pick up health problems in an early stage themselves.’ And this pays off. An example: Dance students at Codarts have six times fewer injuries than students of similar study programmes abroad. Both Dutch dance programmes and schools as well as those in other countries are eager to implement the programme too. In addition to fewer injuries there is less dropout and it improves the self-regulating ability of students.
Are there any future ambitions? The Higher Education Premium provides a variety of opportunities, albeit on one condition: the money has to be invested in education. Stephanie: ‘We never pause and of course there is always room for improvement. We used an earlier recognition as “excellent programme” to set up a performance lab, following the example of and collaborating with the Royal College of Music in London. The lab provides a safe, interactive try-out environment for students and has all the facilities they need. We would like to further develop this test environment and also implement it in other disciplines, such as dance, music groups, and music theatre.’
‘We also would love to further fine-tune specific curriculums. The Student Life programme has by now pretty much taken shape within dance and circus arts, but within the music department we can still make it a more integral part of the DNA of the curriculum. Finally, thanks to the programme, we retrieve an enormous amount of knowledge and scientific data which can lead to many more great insights. But first we will celebrate winning the third prize. Usually our entire health and well-being team have both feet firmly on the ground, but now it’s time to celebrate these great results together!’