Gene Moyle is Professor, Head of the School of Creative Practice, and incoming Assistant Dean (International & Advancement) in the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.
Her research focuses on the interface between psychology and the performing arts, elite sports and corporate sectors.
She trained and danced with the Australian Ballet Dancers Company and Queensland Ballet before retraining as a psychologist and continues to hold a number of board and advisory committee memberships in those professional areas.
My research focuses on the application of psychology into the performing arts, alongside research in sport and exercise psychology. Having been a professional ballet dancer who retrained as a sport and exercise psychologist, I was really interested in the application of sport and exercise into the performing arts.
Performance psychology spans everything from strategies to enhance performance, personal health and wellbeing in performing arts, right through to career transition. The spectrum is broad because of the combination of my two areas of research: I have written and published a lot about the ethics of performance psychology practice and the supervision of psychologists who want to work within the performing arts.
A number of projects I’ve been involved in look at how dance can play a role in health and wellbeing, or, as I call it, creative health. How dance can assist in developing resilience in addition to physical, mental, emotional and social health and wellbeing.
When I was training at the Australian Ballet School, I experienced a significant injury that required me to have three months off between the end of my second year and the start of the graduating year. So I was starting my final year recovering from injury and struggling with self-confidence and doubt. There was no one I could go to for professional support who had a background in dance or performing arts. It was the early ‘90s in Australia, so sport and exercise psychology practice was in its beginning phases.
That’s where the idea came from, that after my dance career ended, I would retrain as a sport and exercise psychologist. I was interested in overlaying those two careers, so all my research, through my undergraduate level, postgrad, and master’s, focused on anxiety, coping and stress in professional ballet dancers, with my doctorate research exploring psychological predictors of injury in elite athletes. I’m still a registered psychologist and still practise, but that’s what’s driven me to focus my research on performing arts psychology.
Challenges and Highlights
Athletes, dancers and performing artists face the same daily and life challenges as most people, however due to the way in which their careers operate, financial, social, emotional relationships – all of these things can impact upon their performance. Therefore integrating everything from understanding from a neuroscience perspective how their brain works and why they think the way they do, battling the thought processes that can occur and be barriers to their ability to perform, right through to coping with motivation, stress, and dealing with difficult circumstances in their professional and personal settings, is critical. There’s a spectrum of things that can range from the ‘pointy-end’ performance enhancement, to mental health and wellbeing, right through to preparation for what’s next post-performing arts career.
One of the challenges I faced during my career was doing my doctorate on top of full-time work and running a small private practice. Thankfully, I could tie in one day a week working at the Queensland Academy of Sport and that’s the population I did my doctorate research on. My other job was with a global consulting company. I had a family with young stepchildren at the time and a really supportive husband, which was great given I had to balance working almost every night and every weekend. It was difficult, but I’m really glad I did it and I would encourage people to complete a PhD.
As an academic, the knowledge I give others doesn’t mean I can always follow it myself. Typically you can’t be your own best psychologist. The main challenge I’ve faced is that constant pull in terms of what my workloads are: how do I balance the commitment to teaching with the need to be researching, and how do I set projects up and keep them going? Research, teaching, engagement, balance.
As a head of school, how do I help influence the culture or put things in place to support people to achieve the best they possibly can and not burn out? So along with my individual challenges as an academic, as a senior executive in a university it’s how I think about those challenges that are brought up culturally.
Impact and Legacy
The ability for psychology to be part of a curriculum in dance programs is something I was instrumental in starting, certainly at QUT. As a sessional lecturer I created and integrated a curriculum focused on performance psychology for pre-professional dancers.
I have wanted to advance my research in that area so it feeds out more broadly, to advance the recognition, not just in dance but in performing arts more widely, that psychological skills development, mental health and wellbeing are critical not only for fantastic performances but for sustainable careers.
A legacy would be the confirmed knowledge of how important it is to include psychology within training, recognising that if we want people to perform really well regardless of what that is, then the psychology side is critical.
Advice to Younger Researchers
Don’t forget about advancing yourself, not only in your knowledge of teaching or your research but as a person in terms of your skill development, by building networks and by taking opportunities to get out there and meet people. I think it’s also about being generous with your time.
Don’t be scared to put yourself forward. Don’t be scared to connect. Go for those opportunities you might not think you’re ready for.
Stay open to opportunities. Be open to saying yes to things that might not naturally seem to fit, because you just never know where they could lead you. Even if things don’t turn out to be what you wanted them to be, they actually might even be better than what could have been. Trust in yourself. Everything’s going to be okay.