Exploring mental health through dance: UCL Dance Society ‘Breathe’ fundraising show

UCL Dance Society decided to dedicate their annual ‘Blooms’ performance to explore the theme of mental health in their show aptly named ‘Breathe’. We spoke to Alkistis who explained why, as young adults, mental health is high on the society’s radar, and how the cast used movement to convey emotions and thoughts.


“UCL Dance Society produces several shows a year, some of which the profits go to charity. This year for our annual themed show known as “Blooms” (as it is held at the Bloomsbury Theatre) we decided to donate funds to Mental Health UK. The production team decided to fundraise for the charity because their work is rather holistic, not only raising awareness about mental health and challenges people may face, but also actively supporting those in need, disseminating  knowledge, and more. Our theme, ‘Breathe’, tapped into the various challenges young people may face, questions we may be asking and the answers we might be seeking. Mental Health UK was a charity whose work really resonated with our vision for ‘Breathe’ 

Breathe was a cathartic experience for everyone in the production team, our choreographers and our dancers. Our goal as artists, as people who grew up using dance to express ourselves, or in some cases found dance when coming to university, is that we use dance to make a home away from home. Aside to the links between exercise and wellbeing, being part of a dance show like ‘Breathe’ allows the cast to feel they belong to a community in which they can use movement to express themselves. As a production team we wanted to create a safe space for our cast. The rehearsals allow dancers to “leave” their problems at the door, before entering the rehearsal room, and for a few hours focus on their love for dance. It is such a unique and beautiful experience – creating a show from scratch, making lifelong friendships, while rehearsing dances that have so much meaning to the choreographers who bring in the vision at the rehearsals, and to the dancers who bring the vision to life on the stage. Although the production week was physically and emotionally exhausting, our cast bonded so much during the 6 days we spent at the theatre these are the memories we are holding onto until we can do this again! 

"Although dance can be time consuming and demanding, it momentarily allows us to forget the academic stress and escape from the worries we might have as young adults."

– Alkistis

We’re also very aware of how stigma still exists surrounding having mental health challenges, which is why we were keen to be open about the topic to raise awareness and encourage people to feel less alone. Breathe was an invitation to explore emotions through dance, communicating feelings such as anxiety, heartbreak, grief, joy and so many more experiences and emotions. Our show had three acts – Stillness, Chaos, and Solace – each representing a different state when navigating an emotion. We wanted to showcase that no matter the turmoil or the chaos you feel you’re experiencing, solace will come again, you will breathe again, and things will be okay. We wanted to celebrate the memories and emotions that bring joy to our cast, acknowledge the moments and situations of challenge and sorrow, and demonstrate that we have been able to dance through this all. We wanted our audience to feel inspired Breathe was an invitation to our audience to pause for a moment and reflect on their own experiences, and emotions  

We wanted to create a safe space for our choreographers to become vulnerable. Learning to accept and manage mental-health related challenges can be a scary and isolating experience. Like many young adults, dancers may not only experience symptoms of depression, generalised anxiety or of other conditions seen in the general population, but also symptoms which are often more prevalent in dancers, such as body image disturbance, and performance anxiety, amongst others. It was important to us that dancers can share these experiences in a place where they feel supported. 

We were so blown away by everyone’s support for our fundraising event, and we were so pleased to raise £4500 for the charity. We never imagined we would be able to raise the amount we did! We are so grateful to our choreographers for trusting us with their visions, our cast who performed it all so flawlessly and to our audience members who came to watch our show. We cannot wait to see the positive impact this donation will make.”

You can download the performance here or learn more about UCL Dance Society.

‘Breathe’ production team:

  • Alice Wright & Ziqian Wang: Co-Directors
  • Henrietta De Assis: Assistant Director
  • Tayo Rajitola & Sarina Seth: Marketing Directors
  • Alicia Halbach & Klára Burdová: Assistant Producers
  • Alkistis Saramandi: Producer

Photography and film: John Plimmer from GSD Media


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