Kosma, Maria et al. “The Effectiveness of Performative Aerial Practice on Mental Health and the Love of Movement.” Research in Dance Education. (2020): doi:10.1080/14647893.2020.1784868.


The purpose of this study was to examine whether skill-based and performative aerial practice was more beneficial on mental health and the love of movement than only skill-based aerial practice. The total study population included 17 undergraduate college students with no prior experience in aerial practice (mean age = 20.59) who formed two groups. The treatment group included eight participants who learned and performed dance skills or physical theater in the air on two pieces of fabric (silks). The control group included nine participants who learned only skills without performativity qualities, such as sharing emotion and telling a story. Based on the study results, levels of depression and stress decreased over time for both treatment and control groups. Both groups experienced positive psychosocial and physical changes and made improvements in their lifestyles. The treatment group expressed increased interest in continuing with aerial practice, while the control group experienced more challenges with aerials silks than the treatment group. Researchers suggest that beyond skill development, including performativity qualities in aerial practice (dancing, expressing emotion, story sharing), may be key to the love of movement and long-term exercise participation.


  • Both the treatment and control groups experienced decreased depression and stress levels over time.
  • Both groups experienced positive feelings like enjoyment and increased exercise motivation.
  • Both groups enjoyed a supportive instructional atmosphere, emphasizing constructive feedback and enhanced learning.
  • Both groups mentioned that aerial practice increased their strength, and especially their upper-body strength. Additionally, the treatment group emphasized changes in their flexibility.
  • Many participants in both groups indicated that they either enhanced or changed their workout by emphasizing upper-body strength, endurance and flexibility.
  • A few participants in both groups shared that aerial silks motivated them to make nutritional improvements to their diet.
  • A few participants in the treatment group attributed additional health benefits and lifestyle changes to aerial silks, including improved endometriosis symptoms and sleep pattern, and smoking cessation.
  • Following the aerial silks program, all treatment group participants expressed interest in continuing with aerial silks because of enjoyment, including the joy of performativity. Five out of nine control-group participants said that they did not plan to continue with aerial practice, or they were not sure about it.
  • Some students in both groups mentioned that their only negative experiences with aerial practice were injury, bruises, pain and feelings of frustration from slow progress. There were more participants in the control group who expressed negative feelings than the three students in the treatment group.

Significance of the Findings:

  • Dance and theater educators may need to balance skill development and performativity elements in aerial practice. Researchers highlight the importance of incorporating both skill development and performativity qualities, including expression of emotion, creativity and sharing a story in dance and theatre education programs.


This was a mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative), quasi-experimental study (participants were not randomly assigned into groups) among 17 undergraduate college students who enrolled in an undergraduate aerial practice class for beginners, which took place over the course of two semesters at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La. The hour-long classes were held three times a week, (about 48 class sessions/group) and were taught by the same instructor. The instructor was a trained undergraduate teaching and research assistant and advanced aerialist. A trained MFA graduate and advanced aerialist also facilitated Instruction.

The emphasis in the treatment group/class was on both skill development and performativity, including choreography, storytelling and artistic expression. The emphasis in the control group/class focused only on skill development. The first author interviewed the study participants in person at pretest (before the program’s implementation) and posttest (following the program), addressing aerial practice goals and experiences and health aspects. Participants also filled out two questionnaires regarding perceived stress and depression levels. Audiotapes of the interviews were transcribed verbatim, and, after reading the transcripts and notes multiple times, the data were coded to develop themes and sub-themes. Two-Way Repeated Measures ANOVA were conducted to examine potential differences in depression and stress levels based on group (treatment vs. control), time (pretest vs. posttest) and their potential interaction. Cohen’s d effect size was also calculated to examine the meaningfulness of the effect (important differences). The study population included 17 undergraduate, diverse students (mean age = 20.59 years old; 12 females and five males), who were beginners in aerial practice.

Limitations of the Research:

  • Researchers did not conduct a follow-up assessment to reassure the long-term positive effects of performative aerial practice.
  • Although there were performative expectations for the treatment group, the emphasis was on skill development for both groups because they were beginner aerialists.
  • This study included young, active adults and the findings cannot generalize to other populations, such as people who have difficulties with movement and older adults.


Questions to Guide New Research:

  • How can aerial practice be modified for diverse populations (for example, people with disabilities and older adults)?
  • How does skill and performative-oriented aerial practice influence populations with limited access to art movement activities?