Flow, also known as “the zone”, is a positive enjoyable psychological state often linked to
optimal performance. The aim of this study is to explore professional ballet dancers’ subjective
experiences of flow in a current performance context. Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) model of the
flow state is used for its applicability to professional ballet dancers. Furthermore, the study
aims to gain an understanding of the role of music in dancers’ experience of flow.
Seventeen ballet dancers from two South African ballet companies shared their experiences
in separate semi-structured interview sessions. The interviews took place during the 2013
productions of Don Quixote in Johannesburg and Camille in Cape Town respectively, so that
the dancers could draw on recent performance experience in their recollection of flow. The
interviews were transcribed and analysed deductively and inductively using interpretative
This study found resemblances with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) dimensions of flow in professional
ballet dancers. The three dimensions that stood out as most predictive of flow in this study were
the merging of action and awareness, autotelic experience and loss of self-consciousness.
Music clearly played an important role in dancers’ experience of flow. Dancers’ varying levels
of awareness of and engagement with music during flow could suggest differing intensities in
flow among ballet dancers. The study argues that processing music places an extra demand
on dancers’ concentration, which presents a unique insight into their experience of flow.