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Arts-based health research has increased dramatically in recent years. Many academics are collaborating across disciplines including health and social sciences, humanities and the arts. Using artistic modes of research representation allows for a different way of participating and may enhance the likelihood of making an impact (negative or positive) on the audience and, consequently, on artists and researchers. This paper focuses on the concept of ‘dangerous emotional terrain’, used to describe the potential negative impacts of using the arts, in this case dance, in research dissemination. We focus on a seldom-explored area – the impact on artists embodying research results of difficult lived experiences. The potential for harm to performers engaging in arts-based research requires consideration. Actors and other artists and their experiences of depicting suffering and pain, for example, remain relatively unexplored. What are our responsibilities to performers taking on this role? What are the ethical implications of engaging in such work? This paper explores these questions and identifies four strategies to tackle emotional impact: reflexive practice, creation of a safe and supportive environment, address issues of audience, and focus on balance between types of performance, and between work and home.
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