Imagery in Dance– Using the Mental ‘Zone’ to Visualize, Optimize and Maximize


by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

Movement artists and athletes alike report entering a place in their minds, sometimes referred to as ‘the zone’, during creative or sport performance. This mysterious place is different for each individual and can be physically and mentally transformative on many levels. While in the zone, seemingly impossible feats of technical prowess are displayed, often to the marvel of audiences and spectators. In addition, the zone can be an incredibly focused and surprisingly quiet mental place, from where dancer-athletes report higher jumps, increased speed, and greater accuracy for example, during balance or turning skills such as pirouette and sustained releve´. Mental practice has also been shown to improve motor performance when used in conjunction with physical practice and, surprisingly, is not limited to early stages of learning. {3}

Dancers at many different levels often utilize mental imagery to improve aspects of their performance. Elite dancers report engaging in many types of imagery in order to improve movement performance, retention of choreographic sequences and qualitative movements. {1}

Motor imagery specifically refers to imagining the body performing a movement in the absence of concurrent motor output. {2} This imagery can be delivered via first-person (kinesthetic) or third-person (visual/auditory via a coach or instructor). Dancers train in both the physical and mental domains and may capitalize on the benefits of motor imagery practice. {4} Interestingly, the timing of this mental imagery seems to matter, with elite dancers engaging in the practice more often just before but also during movement execution. {1}

Dancer-athletes experience this phenomenon in various ways, depending on personal approach, training and environment. Athletes that have reported a higher level of motor function may also have increased proprioceptive abilities, especially at the elite level, where a more sharpened proprioceptive inflow may provide a dominant sensory input to the brain, therefore more accurately representing the body in space. {5}

In their paper entitled, Motor Imagery Modality in Expert Dancers, Coker et al conclude that, although further study on motor imagery in elite dancing populations would be beneficial, motor imagery practice is a highly accessible training tool that is already familiar to most dancers. {4} This tool can be used by any dancer at any level and at any stage of training.

While the efficacy of this method of training is often subjective, there has been some research on the subject, as well as a few texts which may shed more light on the process of utilizing imagery for technical and qualitative gains. The following publications may help focus exploration of this subject:

  1. Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance by Erik Franklin
  2. Conditioning With Imagery for Dancers by Krasnow et al; Dance research journal, 1997.
  3. Taking Root to Fly by Irene Dowd

Please also refer to the references at the end of this article for further reading.

I encourage dancers and teachers alike to consider the validity of utilizing mental imagery for performance optimization. Visualize your shape, optimize your performance and maximize your gains!

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong!

Janine Bryant
Director of Dance Programs
Eastern University
St. Davids, Pa.
[email protected]



  1. Nordin SM, Cummin J. Measuring the content of dancers’ images: development of the dance imagery questionnaire (DIQ). J Dance Med Sci. 2006;10:85-98.
  2. Jackson PL, Lafleur MF, Malouin F, et al. Potential role of mental practice using motor imagery in neurologic rehabilitation. Arch Phys Med Rehab. 2001 Aug;82(8):1133-41.
  3. Feltz DL, Landers DM. The effects of mental practice on motor skill learning and performance: a meta-analysis. J Sport Psychol. 1983;57(10):1-10.
  4. Coker MA, McIsaac TL, Nilsen, D. Motor imagery modality in expert dancers an investigation of hip and pelvis kinematics in demi-plie´ and saute´. J Dance Med Sci. 2015;19(2):63-69.
  5. McCormik K, Zalucki N, Hudson M, Moseley G.Fautly proprioceptive information disrupts motor imagery: an experimental study. Aus J Phys Ther. 2007;53(1):41.