Can Theatre or Dance Help You Cope with Cancer?

by Team Onco

In the latest session of our cancer support group, Talk Your Heart Out, poet, performance artist and folk singer Vibha Rani spoke about how expressive arts like theatre and poetry helped cope with her cancer treatment.

What are performing arts?

Any form of art where the artist uses her voice and body to create art can be called a performing art. The most popular forms include theatre, dance and music. 

Although performing arts as a way of healing has been in use for several centuries, it is only in the last few decades that it has gained wide-spread acceptance within the medical community. 

Today, art and music therapists are employed in international hospitals and rehabilitation centres to help improve the physical, mental and emotional health of the patients. 

Watch artist Vibha Rani speak about how art helped her with her cancer treatment:

How can it help me?

Even if you do not have access to a fully-qualified art therapist, you can employ an art of your choice to help you unwind, relax and improve your faculties. Let’s look at some ways in which performing arts can help cancer patients and survivors (or achievers) cope with the effects of cancer and the side-effects of cancer treatment. 

  • Grounding 

Grounding is a technique used by therapists to distract a person away from distressing thoughts or emotions. The goal is to help the person refocus on what is happening in the present moment.

Since all performing arts require a degree of concentration, the mind is prevented from dwelling upon distressing thoughts for that span of time. This helps reduce anxiety.

  • Improving memory

A possible side-effect of cancer treatment is loss of memory and mental fog. Performance arts exercise the memory through the learning of dialogues, dance routines, musical notes etc. 

  • Dealing with negative emotions

Performing a role through dance, drama or music enables the person to feel and express negative emotions under the pretext of playing a character. This provides an acceptable outlet to feelings of grief, anger and confusion that the person might suppress in everyday life. 

It also portrays these emotions as normal and justified, thereby reducing the guilt that might accompany them. 

  • Self understanding

Practicing a form of art helps a person understand their own limitations and strengths better. Taking up a new hobby can help explore talents and abilities that they were previously unaware of, unlocking new aspects to their personality and improving the quality of their life. 

  • Restoring balance

Cancer tends to bring several negative experiences and emotions into your life. To balance this, it is important to increase self-care, relaxation and happy experiences. Learning a new art can help with this. 

  • Self-esteem

Being able to perform before an audience can improve the self esteem and confidence of the performer. Apart from providing a diversion, it also becomes a part of your identity.

  • Appreciation

All forms of art involve appreciation of nature, the human body and the talent of other artists. Learning to see value in things around you creates a positive outlook, providing purpose and hope. 

As Vibha Rani explains, art does not require large spaces, or expensive props. She runs a room theatre from her living room and encourages solo acting during this pandemic. 

Here are some ways to take up a performing art during this pandemic:

  • Start by watching other performers

You can view performances of other artists on youtube and similar platforms. This will help you decide if you are interested in learning that form of art. 

  • Take an online performance arts course 

There are several inexpensive options available from well-known institutes and universities online. You will even receive certification on completion of the course. The timing and pace of learning are flexible allowing you time for your treatment and recovery.

  • Join a drama club

If you prefer to learn with a group, find an online drama club that interests you. You can find options on social media and websites of your local art centres. 

  • Find a personal coach

If you are interested in learning music, you might find teachers that can take classes online just for you. This will ensure a personalised learning experience and might help you learn faster.

Artist and teacher Vibha Rani has a message for all cancer fighters and survivors (whom she refers to as achievers). In her own words, “Cancer has given me an opportunity to understand the importance and value of life.” She celebrates cancer because of this reason and uses her life and her talents to help other cancer fighters enjoy a fuller life through art.

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